IN many countries in recent years a new consensus of public thought toward disabled persons has been emerging. Handier parking spaces are set aside. Access ramps have been built. There are laws against discrimination. And most important there are signs of a new public attitude that deplores prejudice and embraces, welcomes, cheers on everyone in the human family. Those considered handicapped often say what they most value isn't condescending sympathy but treatment as equals.
It raises a basic question. How do you treat someone who to all appearances isn't quite equal, whether physically or mentally, as equal? And yet this is clearly the need.
Doesn't it have to begin with our own perception? We may have to challenge some of our most fundamental prejudices. For example, say someone is physically deformed. Do we recoil -- inwardly or outwardly? And if so, why? Isn't it largely because we've been taught by society to equate attractiveness, even goodness, with certain physical standards? Yet does that really make sense?
Employing a quotation from the Scottish poet Robert Burns, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes, ``...the loss of a limb or injury to a tissue is sometimes the quickener of manliness; and the unfortunate cripple may present more nobility than the statuesque athlete, -- teaching us by his very deprivations, that `a man's a man, for a' that.'''1
Great practical progress can come as we stop supposing that man is defined by the full complement of limbs he has or his senses or by the conformation of his physical looks. We'll then increase our conviction of the wholeness of the individual. We'll think of him in terms of qualities.
This will have to extend to someone who is disabled mentally as well, which is often the most difficult task because, again, we have been taught that someone's attitude or behavior is indeed his very character. But we really know better. We know, for example, that someone who lashes out may be suffering from an old imposed pattern of being abused himself. When this is lifted off, his character proves to be far more resilient than supposed. There is a goodness underneath.
It begins to be clear, doesn't it, that this article is not so much about helping the handicapped as helping all of us to give up our handicaps of limited thinking. Isn't what's producing progress in every direction the breaking away from the traditional limiting of man to matter?
In the sentences just prior to the one quoted earlier, the author writes: ``What is man? Brain, heart, blood, bones, etc., the material structure? If the real man is in the material body, you take away a portion of the man when you amputate a limb; the surgeon destroys manhood, and worms annihilate it.''
Mustn't this way of discerning man have been native to Christ Jesus? He didn't look at the man at the pool of Bethesda as ``a cripple.'' He knew him as man, the spiritual child of the spiritual Father. He looked beyond what he saw to what he knew. In Jesus' life we see the ultimate tangible outcome of this extremely different understanding of man. It wasn't simply loving and encouraging; it was healing.
This view that man is spiritual, that God holds man intact and perfect in His image, and that love and spirituality enable us to discern more of this wholeness, underlies healing through prayer in Christian Science. It also puts a special demand on all of us who seek to understand more fully the true, spiritual nature and worth of man. Don't we need to be certain that because we are strongly committed to the spiritual perfection of man, we are not unwittingly drawn into feeling uneasy with someone because his or her physical or mental limitation hasn't yet been completely overcome? And we also need to check to make sure that we are not being pulled into thinking that a disability is necessarily caused or continued by someone's sin or lack of spirituality. We have only to think of St. Paul and his ``thorn in the flesh''2 to have a potent reminder not to judge!
To understand that man is spiritual is to continue in it whether or not the flesh has yet given evidence of responding to this spiritual fact. The whole man, without handicap or any finite definition, is surely divine Love's only concept of man. And it is this view that offers the deepest kind of healing to humanity.
1Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 172. 2II Corinthians 12:7.
This is a condensed version of an editorial that appeared in the March 14 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel. - NO BIBLE VERSE TODAY -