Throughout our lives we are told to be our brothers’ keepers, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, to show kindness and consideration to each other, the list goes on.
We are also encouraged to respect and treat with dignity those who are different and in this category we have the mentally, intellectually, physically and emotionally challenged, those who within the recent years are being referred to as the ‘special needs’ amongst us.
With special days and months dedicated to awareness of the autistic, those with Down syndrome, a physical disability or mentally challenged, I believe there is indeed a heightened awareness and a change in the attitude of the members of families and by extension the society, in how we treat with the differently abled among us. Even the language we use in referring to them is now more acceptable and shows that the awareness is bearing fruit.
Terms such as ‘broko foot’ to refer to a person with a physical disability, or ‘mongoloid’ when speaking about those with Down syndrome, or ‘deafy or dummy’ when referring to the deaf and mute, are hardly ever heard anymore.
In many countries, special programmes have been introduced where there is more integration and interaction in the mainstream activities allowing the differently abled to be seen, heard and become involved.
Movies, documentaries, reality shows are just some of the areas in which we are seeing more of their involvement which augers well for the generations to come with regard to understanding, accepting, treating with and welcoming them in the society.
All this I pondered after viewing one of the ‘Pass It On’ filler commercials on television. The US-based Foundation for a Better Life produces inspirational short commercials on a variety of topical issues in a bid to create awareness, consideration and understanding about them.
The episode showed a group of special needs children, males and females, preparing to run a race at an athletic event. The stands are filled with families, spectators, etc. It is a hot, sunny day and the race is about to begin.
The athletes line up at the starting line and as the race starts, they take off to the cheers of the spectators. A male participant leads and is running way in front of the others, when he trips and falls. The others pass him and then a female participant turns around and looks at him lying on the ground. She stops and turns back.
Almost immediately the rest, about six or eight of them, turn back. The fallen runner is helped up and then they all link elbows and race together to the finish line, their action being cheered and applauded by the entire stand of spectators. Then the caption appears on the screen, “Sportsmanship, Pass It On”.
I found this so awesome! For those of us who are supposed to be ‘normal’, what is the level of our care and consideration for each other, especially where competition is involved? Is our aim to win by any means necessary, or are we prepared to forfeit victory for the greater good?
While this may not be easily done in the mainstream sporting events it is important to inculcate in our children the mindset that there are those who are different thereby teaching them how to coexist peacefully.
We need to be aware also that this acceptance does not pertain to sports only, but good sportsmanship can be exercised in every aspect of life. So, we think about family, community, workplace, schools, churches, etc., where we encounter the differently abled. We should make a conscious decision to treat with them with love and understanding.