One Saturday morning I went to downtown Winnipeg to see The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. A Canadian lawyer, called Izzy Asper, founded it. He aimed at drawing attention to the fundamental rights of the human person.
Inside the edifice there were no stairs. To go from one floor to another I followed ramps bordered by walls in alabaster about one meter high.
On the ground floor there was an exhibition on Nelson Mandela and apartheid. Upstairs, there were displayed objects and videos about racism, intolerance, genocide, and the Canadian legal system.
Moving from one wing to another of this very interesting and unique museum, I stumbled on two words I had never heard before. One was holodomor, the other prom.
Holodomor is a Ukrainian word. It means murder by hunger. It describes the genocide of the Ukrainians by mass starvation when that country was ruled by the Soviets.
The other word, prom, is an English words. I didn’t know it because we don’t have this kind of celebration in Italy. Prom means a formal dance that is held at a high school. I read on a caption that in 2013, just five years ago, American students at Wilcox Country High School in Georgia organized their own first racially integrated prom.
Persecutions and discrimination can affect not only ethnic or religious groups, but also a class of people. The disabled have been the object of intolerance over the centuries. In the ancient Greek city of Sparta, newborns with imperfections were thrown from Mount Taygetos. As for madmen, until not so long ago, they were secluded in asylums. In Italy, some lidos even refused entry to kids with heavy physical disabilities.
“Recently, in the United States and in Italy, the device that kept the patient alive was disconnected. Consequently, they died. In my opinion, this is a case of intolerance.
When I volunteered in England at a center that provided holidays for disabled, I looked after a young man who was completely paralyzed and could only move his eyes. He lay on a stretcher. I still remember his name, Neil. I asked the nurse how to feed him.
“You have to spoon-feed him as if he were a little bird. When he wants to say yes, he raises his eyes, and when he wants to say no, he lowers his eyes. It’s easy,” the nurse answered.
“So I did. At the beginning the spoonful I gave him was too big. He couldn’t swallow the food and coughed. By and by, I found the proper mouthful, and he ate quietly. He was not able to smile, for every part of his body was paralyzed, but looking at his eyes, I noticed he was happy at that moment.
According to some, people like Neil should be eliminated as they suffer. This opinion springs from an incorrect concept of happiness. They think that only good fitness gives rise to happiness. This assumption has no evidence. It may be refuted. There are the eyes of the body, and the eyes of the soul. The latter enjoy when they see someone taking care of their body.
Every now and then in human history, there are great souls, like Izzy Asper. Thanks to them the world goes on.
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind