Erenlai - Robert Ronald
Robert Ronald

Robert Ronald

Bob was among the most prolific writers of eRenlai. He passed away peacefully on January 2 2009 in Taipei. A tribute to his life and his work can be found here on eRenlai: http://www.erenlai.com/index.php/en/focus/2011-focus/bob-ronald-challenged-but-not-disabled

Saturday, 08 December 2007 00:00

The Appeal of poetry

People express and communicate ideas and messages through language. Before the invention of alphabets and hieroglyphs and other symbolic ways of preserving and communicating, such as the pounding on hollow logs by African natives, the smoke signals of American Indians and pictographs drawn on cave walls, language was expressed only by gestures and spoken sounds. Nowadays we are bombarded not just by conversations, but by barrages of words spewing out of radios, TV sets, and phones and an endless array of newspapers, magazines and books. Some of these communications are mainly utilitarian, relating news events, imparting information, recording data, instructing, etc. Others are intended for pleasure or amusement, like stories, humor, drama, musical lyrics and finally poetry, which is what this is mostly about.
 
Written language is generally divided into “prose” and “poetry”. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “prose” as “ordinary speech or writing, without metrical structure.” It is the type of expression generally found in books and newspapers. Some prose, however, is considered to be “literature” in the sense of “imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value (American Heritage Dictionary).” This kind of literature does more than just narrate facts. By its choice of words and the way it describes a scene or event, it portrays colors and evokes feelings and moods and brings out a wealth of subtle, hidden meanings between the words. It is a pleasant aesthetic experience.
 
Take for instance the famous first paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel “A Tale of Two Cities”:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way--in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Contrast that with the way a journalist or reporter might have put it:

It was the year 1775. To some people everything was as good as it could get. To others things were as bad as ever. Those who had it good wanted nothing to change. Those who had it bad wanted to overthrow everything. There was hope on one side and despair on the other. Just like modern times it generated a lot of tension and uneasiness.
Both versions express more or less the same idea, but Dickens is much more graphic and sensitive and moving. The second one could serve as introduction to a book or article and who knows it might eventually receive a Pulitzer Prize for journalism, but ordinarily literature that is acclaimed artistically is full of color and vivid descriptions and feelings. The reader is left not just with a mass of detailed information, but a sense of pleasant aesthetic experience arising from images created by the writer’s choice and crafting of words.
Take another example, this time the first part of the first paragraph setting the scene for the first episode in the famous novel Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. An unimaginative writer might have begun like this:

Two men are sitting in a forest. The trees are so close to each other the sun’s rays barely pass through, but there are some open sections through which a person can easily see for some distance.

Contrast that with what the novelist wrote:
In that pleasant district of merry England which is watered by the river Don, there extended in ancient times a large forest, covering the greater part of the beautiful hills and valleys which lie between Sheffield and the pleasant town of Doncaster. …

The sun was setting upon one of the rich grassy glades of that forest, … Hundreds of broad-headed, short-stemmed, wide-branched oaks, which had witnessed perhaps the stately march of the Roman soldiery, flung their gnarled arms over a thick carpet of the most delicious green sward; in some places they were intermingled with beeches, hollies, and copewood of various descriptions, so closely as totally to interrupt the level beams of the sinking sun; in others they receded from each other, forming those long sweeping vistas, in the intimacy of which the eye delights to lose itself, while imagination considers them as the paths to yet wilder scenes of sylvan solitude. Here the red rays of the sun shot a broken and discoloured light, that partially hug upon the shattered boughs and mossy trunks of the trees, and there they illuminated in brilliant patches the portions of turf to which they made their way. …

The human figures that completed this landscape, were in number two, partaking, in their dress and appearance, of that wild and rustic character, which belonged to the woodlands of the West-Riding of Yorkshire of that period.

Sir Walter’s description is much more vivid. A mood is created and we have details with which to create a mental picture of the scene.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “poetry” as “a piece of literature written in meter; verse”. There are several things that distinguish poetry from prose. Traditionally poems are written as a series of lines in each of which the words are arranged in more or less identical patterns of accented and unaccented syllables (the meter), which gives the poem a cadence when read aloud. The last words of each line are usually expected to rhyme. Another important thing that distinguishes poetry is its choice and use of words. To fit the meter, the order in which words are presented is often different from that in ordinary prose, but even more significantly, the words are often selected for the way they sound or they are given underlying meanings and nuances or evoke images that create a mood or symbolically express ideas about reality that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Poetic diction often uses verbal devices like assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia and rhythm, which often leave the poem deliberately vague, ambiguous, suggestive, mysterious, ironic, or symbolic.
The reader of a poem is not only entertained by the poet’s literary style, but is moved to see reality in a new light. As one expert put it (Polish historian of aesthetics Vladyslaw Tatarkiewicz in an article “The Concept of Poetry”, quoted in “Poetry,” Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia) poetry is “an art based on language” and “expresses a certain state of mind”. According to poet Archibald MacLeish (same source) “A poem should not mean / but be”.
Here are several examples illustrating the differences between prose and poetry. In the first, look at a brief observation someone might make about trees:
No poem is as nice as a tree, which rooted in the ground lifts its branches to the sky, alternately washed by rain or covered with snow. Sometimes birds build their nests in it. Anybody can write a poem, but only God makes trees.

That is all very true, but so dull and ordinary, no one will ever remember it or quote it. Not so the poem “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

As a second example, look at what this person who is not a poet might have written in a letter to his mother:

I was walking along and came upon a lot of flowers on the edge of the lake under the trees. There were thousands of them blowing in the wind. It was a very pleasant sight that I recall with pleasure.

Contrast that with the poem “Daffodils” written by William Wordsworth:

I wander’d lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine And twinkle on the Milky Way, They stretch’d in never-ending line Along the margin of a bay: Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: A poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company: I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Finally, here is how a rather dull preacher might express himself about man’s disregard for God’s creation:

Why don’t men recognize or heed the signs of God’s presence in the world like the flashes of lightning, the reflections of light or the properties of oil? Men are spoiling and destroying the world by the senseless ways they act. In spite of all this God continues to renew and bless nature with his loving care.

Compare this with the way that the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins says the same thing in his moving poem “God’s Grandeur”.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Not everyone appreciates poetry. Collections of poems seldom, if ever, rate high on bestseller lists. Many readers of fiction and non-fiction and subscribers to magazines that cater to special interests look down on poetry, consider poets as idyllic dreamers at best or soft and unmanly at worst. They lack the patience and the inclination to waste time on such pretension for playing around with words.
 
They don’t know what they are missing and have no desire to find out.
 
The earliest poetry that has survived to the present is the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamish from the 3rd century B.C. There were many epics in ancient times. The poetic form might have made them easier to remember and recite by storytellers. Since then poetry has evolved into many forms including free verse, that is, poems with lines of unequal length, no rhyming and sometimes no meter. Their emphasis is on expressing ideas in a poetic way. There are also examples of prose that are considered poetic because of the way the ideas are expressed in language similar in style or content to what is found in poems.
 
There are many kinds of poems. Some tell stories; some are meant to instruct; some are meant to convey the writer’s feelings or reflections about reality; some just use meter and rhyme as ways to entertain saying things that are clever or satiric or are whimsical or funny.

Friday, 30 November 2007 01:41

走進亞洲,走出亞洲

亞洲的發展,取決於年輕人能否發揮創造力,走出亞洲,前瞻未來,
與他人分享與對話,並為了人類福祉而共同行動。

【劉建仁 撰文】【Nakao Eki 翻譯】

本期《人籟》以「我是亞洲人」為主題,特別關注各種可能導向亞洲整合的道路。如果亞洲青年要由未來的角度審度亞洲,必不能只跨越地區疆界來看待彼此,而要能夠著眼全世界,因為亞洲正置身於成為世界主導權力的路途上。這也意味著亞洲年輕人不僅要與亞洲國家的人們對話,也必須與世界上的其他人對話。

亞洲:多樣性的同義詞

亞洲是個廣大的地區,由陸地和鄰接的成串島嶼所組成的單一區塊,但其貌似同質之處也僅止於此。在地質上,今日的亞洲是數個板塊的混合體,這些板塊在遠古之前彼此碰撞而融合在一起。地形方面,亞洲也沒有統一性可言:隨便找來一張地形圖,你便會發現亞洲有高山、低窪海岸、河谷、浩瀚的沙漠以及廣袤的高原。而從亞洲文明及文化分布中,你會發現地理上實際狀況的多樣性同時也孕育了亞洲文化的多樣性。若轉到國家疆界的地圖上,也只會獲致這樣的結論:沒有任何單一國家、文化、地形、語言、生活方式或歷史傳統,可貿然地被冠為亞洲的典型。
亞洲有充斥著貧窮、壓迫和不義的地區,也有和平繁榮的地區。許多亞洲國家對其文化遺產感到驕傲,希望得到世界的認同和接受,也堅決地抵抗外來的壓力,捍衛其自然資源不受剝削。亞洲有些國家因政治或宗教派系之爭,使得社會不安定,經濟受損害;有些國家的領導人以人民及環境為代價,以求在政治和經濟上茍延殘喘,使百姓飽受禍害;有些國家經常受到地震、洪水、疾病或其他災害肆虐。

東西互望‧觀點紛繁

西方人看待亞洲的眼光有所不同:亞洲是西方貨品龐大的市場;是度假的勝地;是從事人道救援服務的地方;有些人看到的是工作機會。有感於亞洲充滿壓迫性的政治、社會或經濟體系,有些人認為非介入改變不可,也有些人根本不費心去注意亞洲。
亞洲人也以各種不同的眼光看待西方。有些人把西方視為前來剝削掠奪的敵國,有些人卻希望向西方尋求本地問題的解決方案。有些人把西方看作對亞洲產業和自主性的威脅,也有人視之為開拓本土產業的海外市場、就業或升學的去處。此外,有些人排斥東西交流,以免西方觀念影響亞洲;有些人則希望有機會與西方分享其文化傳承和技能。
身為亞洲青年,你呢?你是何身分?你的目標為何?你與誰接觸?

年輕人的優勢與挑戰

你是何身分?作為一個年輕人,你可能必須面對長輩對年輕人慣有的偏見;你可能也想擺脫外國人對於你的同胞所抱有的刻板印象。藉由自己所穿戴的衣物,或所展示的特質,你展現出什麼樣的形象?「做自己」很重要,但如果你想要被承認、被接納,或至少被你所接觸的人所包容,你就必須注意自己在他人眼中和心裡的形象。
你的目標為何?是旅行、玩樂?交朋友?體驗不同的生活方式?與人分享你的理想和原則?參與鏟除某些不正義,或你認為很糟糕的制度?找機會賺錢?不論是否喜歡,你都會被當成是你的國家、種族、信仰或社會階級的代表。因此,若你的目標、政治觀、信仰或想法與人不同,你便必須努力地學習展示獨立自主的方法。
你與誰接觸?你可能會說英語或其他語言,在接觸的人當中,你至少可以與其中一些人對話。你或許涉獵過歷史和人類學,也有機會學習其他語言,被各國的文化資訊所轟炸,你有地圖、字典、翻譯機,和提出各種建議的旅遊書籍和手冊。因此你並非面對純然的未知,正如同你對那些接待你的人來說,你也不是全然的陌生。因此你具有過去的探索者所沒有的強大優勢,但只是知道得比較多並不足夠。

亞洲的未來在年輕人手中

如果真想要與人對話、分享看法,你就得開放、寬容,努力了解對方。不論身在何方,你既不是跟其他人一模一樣,也不是與其他人一無相似,你是一個在特定文化之內成長的人。你的知識、傳統、信念、價值、喜好、標準及生活方式,都反映著你所屬的文化。在與相同文化打交道時這可能頗有助益,但在面對其他文化時,卻可能使你處於不利之地。要讓對方有意願且和平地走進你的世界,唯一的方法便是先以尊重的方式踏入對方的大門。
亞洲的未來掌握在亞洲的年輕人手中,這取決於他們如何發揮想像力前瞻未來,如何主動與他人建立友誼、虛心學習,如何為了人類福祉而一同努力。


Thursday, 18 October 2007 23:34

On Living With Problems You Cannot Escape

One of the best things that ever happened to me was getting polio. Not because polio was a pleasant experience, but because due to polio my life took a new direction which has brought me many blessings I might otherwise have never had.

We all have disabilities we have to live with. Since they won’t go away, then we just have to do the best we can to live with them in such a way they don’t prevent us from having a good time.

One of the worst things that prevents us from having a good time is wishing things were better or easier than they are now or feeling sorry we aren’t doing something else. Some people go through life so regretful of what they can no longer do, they have no energy left to enjoy the things they still can do.

Everyone wants to spend happy meaningful lives. The trouble is we try to imitate the lives of others we envy rather than develop our own. We pine for the grass on the other side of the fence instead of watering the grass under our own feet. We feel so sorry we don’t have the whole pie, we fail to enjoy the piece we have. We sit patiently waiting in vain for our ship to come in, instead of going out to find it.

Not all of us have the good fortune of being born with silver spoons in our mouths, a symbol of health and prosperity and success. But there is not a one of us whose iron spoon cannot be silver-plated.

Have you ever seen a diamond in the rough? Once many years ago, a man went into the desert to collect rocks he could sell to tourists. One day he found a big dirty rock. It was ugly, but looked so unusual he picked it up anyway. He was very pleased when a man who came into his shop purchased it right away for ten dollars. That ugly stone turned out to be a big raw diamond, which when cleaned and polished was worth about half a million dollars.

Look at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? Only a broken down person with disabilities and limitations? If that is all you see, then you are blind or misled by appearances. If you see someone sad, it is because you look sad and that makes you sadder. You better look away. If you see someone relatively happy and content, it is because you look that way and that makes you feel even better. We need to train ourselves to see the diamonds that are in us.

When you look at yourself in a mirror, don’t see only your flaws or your limitations or disabilities. You are a person who has flaws, but you are not the flaws. Think of yourself as a diamond in disguise.

A diamond covered with dirt does not shine. A diamond in the dark does not sparkle. An uncut diamond is a worthless rock to the untrained eye, but it is still a diamond. The measure of the value of a package is its contents not the wrappings. Train yourself to see the diamond in you. If others don’t see it, it’s their misfortune.

Always listen to what others have to say and take advantage of their advice when it helps, but don’t let yourself get upset when they say something that doesn’t ring true. It is their mistake not yours.

Don’t look so hard at what you admire in others that you fail to see what there is to admire in your self.

I have some friends who don’t like themselves. They wish they were someone else. They wish they were somewhere else. They wish they were stronger or had more brains or more money or more success. They are so anxious about what they wish they had, they have no energy left to do anything worthwhile with what they still have.

One of the happiest persons I know is mentally retarded. There is very little that he can do, but he knows how to enjoy each moment without envy or regret. Since he grew up in a family that loves and respects him, he respects himself. He is at peace with himself.

The unhappiest person I know is also mentally retarded. She despises herself because she grew up in a family that was ashamed of her and rejected her for being defective. To be unhappy with her self is all she ever learned. She is not at peace with herself.

So, what kind of a person are you?

Some people are always thinking of what might go wrong. “I don’t know what the future holds for me. I’m afraid. I’m hurting and it might get worse. I’m declining and don’t know when it is going to stop. I have to depend on others to do for me things others can do for themselves. Oh woe is me!!”

Some people concentrate on what is still right. “Look, I’m still here. I hurt, but it could be worse. There are still things I can do. I have someone to help me do what I can’t do by myself. How lucky I am!!”

Sometimes our lives get blown off course. We discover a bridge blown down or a barrier across the road, or we run up against a stone wall. We can either knock it down, crash into it, tunnel through it, detour around it, stop and wait for it to disappear, or turn around and go somewhere else.

When a sailor is knocked off course, he either has to adjust the rudder to get back on course or set another course.

I only have one life. The experiences I will have today are the only ones I will have. So I must do my best to make these experiences worth while and to enjoy as best I can whatever happens. It may not be the experience I wanted, but it’s my experience. I either find some way to live with it, get some good out of it or my life is hell.

There is peace in knowing my hand is still on the rudder. I may be passively being tossed about, but I still have a hand in determining how I react. I refuse to surrender to the winds or the waves of life like a dead piece of driftwood or drifting cloud.

Once when I was small I looked up at the sky and noticed the first whiffs of a new cloud appearing on the horizon. “Look, Mommy,” I said, “there’s a cloud being born.” How exciting it was to watch it change size and shape right there before my very eyes.

I thought it was a miracle, but in reality, of course, it was just a giant glob of vapor adrift at the mercy of wind currents, air pressure, and temperature. It may have looked peaceful, but it didn’t feel any peace, because it didn’t know or feel anything.

Sometimes we feel tempted to just sit back and surrender like clouds when our lives are blown about by events that throw us off course. But that would be a mistake because we aren’t clouds. We are much more like ships at sea tossed about by winds, waves, and currents, because like ships, we have rudders and motor power. We can react to the winds and the waves. We can resist the pressures or adjust to them. We can accept or reject the opportunities and changes we encounter in life.

Unfortunately, being the captains of our ships doesn’t make us captains of the waves. Standing at the helm doesn’t prevent storms, but every time we turn the wheel, shift sails, or change speed, we alter our ship’s course. These tiny changes may be insignificant by themselves, but they will always manage by the storm’s end to have positioned and oriented our ships differently from where they would have been had we done nothing.

We are not just passive playthings in the hands of fate. When we finally enter harbor at the end of a storm, we have had a hand in reaching it. For better or for worse, our decisions and efforts determine the course of our lives more than the fortuitous or calamitous events.

Eventually some time in the future I will go down with my ship when the winds and waves of life finally overwhelm it. But I will go down peacefully and proudly knowing that I kept my hand on the helm as long as I could. The best way to die is to keep on living as well as you can.

 

Friday, 14 September 2007 00:28

Five easy ways to turn your friend into your enemy...

A friend is someone you can always count on to support you in time of trouble. A friend is someone with whom you are not afraid to share your darkest secrets. A friend is someone you would not hesitate to sacrifice your self for to protect from harm. A friend is someone you enjoy being with because you think alike and have fun together. A friend is someone you can always count on to come to your aid when you’re in a pinch. A friend is someone you are not afraid to share your money or your goods with because you know they will be used carefully and returned in due time. A friend is someone who will always come running when you need him or her. A friend is a companion you enjoy being with. A friend is someone who is not afraid to tell you to your face what you are doing wrong.

Sometimes the most unlikely people become friends. Their backgrounds are different, their interests are not the same, but they seem to like and trust each other and complement one another. Sometimes acquaintances become friends by association: they don’t know anyone else, there is no one else to play with, one of them needs protection and the other needs someone to protect, or circumstances just pulled them together and no new circumstance has happened yet to pull them apart. A friendship built only on gratitude or personal need or one that is not equally reciprocated is on shaky ground.

Not all our acquaintances are friends. Some people we just don’t like, others we just can’t get along with, some disgust or repel us, some there is no reason or opportunity to associate with. Not everyone we don’t like or try to avoid is an enemy. We generally reserve that term for those who wish us harm or are standing in the way of our goals deliberately obstructing us.

An enemy is someone who hates you or wants you dead or transpires to defraud you of what is rightfully yours. An enemy is someone you hate or fear because you believe he or she is a threat to your life or livelihood. An enemy is someone who refuses to come to your aid in time or need. An enemy is anyone who is the enemy of a dear friend. An enemy is someone who insulted you or embarrassed you in front of others. An enemy is anyone you want to overcome or destroy.

It sometimes happens that circumstances change, events intervene that turn friends into enemies or former enemies into friends. There are several sure ways of alienating and losing a friend. Fall in love and run away with your friend’s fiancée before the wedding or seduce her to run away with you after the wedding. Divulge your friend’s deepest secret to his or her enemy or someone sure to be offended by it or get him in trouble. Help your friend to reach the top and then take it for yourself tossing him or her out on his or her ear. Refuse to help when urgently needed. Betray him to his enemy or creditor. Appropriate for yourself what he or she depends upon. Throw in the towel with his or her worst enemy.

The first step of turning an enemy into a friend is to begin treating him or her as a friend. Then the rest is up to him or her to reciprocate.

Some people have trouble making friends. Some people have trouble keeping their friends. Some friends stay close through thick and thin. Some friends stick through the thick and run from the thin.

Having a dear good friend is a blessing that we must cherish and preserve.

Photo: C.P.

 

Thursday, 31 May 2007 03:59

My Shanghai Experience

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I just came back from 10 days in Shanghai where I gave several talks to various groups of handicapped people and to the students in a large private high school. I was amazed at Shanghai’s size. Every day we would drive for about an hour in different directions and never leave the city. The networks of elevated highways were most impressive. What a lot of planning must have been involved and what a lot of sacrifice and turmoil must have also occurred upsetting people’s lives and uprooting families to clear the highway right of ways for their construction, to say nothing of the countless dwellers dispossessed of their homes to make way for the mountains of high rise structures erupting everywhere. One hopes that there was adequate compensation and the people who had to move are better off than before. Such changes are inevitable and necessary, but so much easier when they happen to others rather than to oneself.

To a superficial eye perhaps, at least to the eye of a foreigner like myself, it might look like the city is turning itself into a clone of some American, European or other “developed” region of the world, but hopefully that will never happen. A culture is not defined by the structures it builds but by the lives and values of those who live in them. Shanghai for all its rush into the 21st century is a Chinese city and may it always remain so. The rest of the world should put aside their pride thinking “how much they are beginning to look like us” and humbly try to help the Chinese to avoid the mistakes they themselves made when they expanded and developed. And the Chinese should never toss away or sacrifice their cultural diversity for the sake of progress or assimilation. The only way Shanghai can become a great Chinese city is to keep its Chinese identity and character. And that is why I was so pleased to find that the heart of the city still seemed so Chinese in spirit and aspiration.

During my stay in Shanghai I had many occasions to meet disabled and handicapped persons. Their concerns are basically the same as those all around the world. All they want is to be accepted by others and treated with respect and, of course, to be given sufficient opportunities to develop their potentials and lead normal lives. Nearly all of them had experienced from time to time rejection, discrimination and denial of assistance. But at the same time, they are still holding on to hope, trying not to give up, but to find opportunities that will allow them to live in peace with self-respect and independence.

Every day for seven days I met a different group of handicapped persons. In each instance, some private individuals concerned with their welfare had organized some activities for them, to discuss their problems and give them some assistance for finding training and work. This is precisely the way that rehabilitation has begun all over the world: some of those who have sharing with those who have not. With its growing economy there are more and more of those in China who have, a very hopeful sign for those who have not.

To those concerned about the needs of all the millions of disabled and handicapped persons in China, the task seems formidable and totally beyond anything they can do as individuals. That is true. What every Chinese who has should be asking himself or herself is not “what can I do to help all the disabled in China?”, but “what can I do right now together with my other concerned neighbors to help those few handicapped right here in my own neighborhood?” This is precisely what those who invited me to speak were doing: extending a helpful hand to their neighbors in distress. If everywhere others would do the same, not only would more and more disabled persons be helped, but also the present rather discouraging attitude of the general public toward handicapped persons would improve dramatically.

We need to change the way we look at persons with disabilities and handicaps. They are not just pitiful people who cannot do things, but only people who cannot do some things the regular way. I cannot walk from here to there, but with a good wheelchair I can still go from here to there. A blind person cannot see the words in a book, but with braille can still read the book.

We disabled persons hope that when you see us you will not say to yourself, "How sad that this person cannot do the things I like to do or go to the places I like to go or work where I work." We hope you will think instead, "Here is someone just like myself. We have the same kind of hopes and needs. Too bad about the limitations, but no matter. What kind of training or special equipment or ramps are needed, so that he or she can also do the things I like to do or go to the places I like to go or work where I work?" What we hope for from you is that you will point out to us all the things we can still do. Help us find a goal for our lives that seems valuable to us and which we can attain even with the disabilities. Then as my friend show me that I am making progress toward that goal and accept me as your neighbor.

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Wednesday, 14 March 2007 19:05

Handicaps and Rehabilitation

"Handicaps" are generally considered conditions that prevent a person from performing some normal activity in the normal way. Sometimes handicaps have the added disadvantage of separating “handicapped” people from “normal” people. Sometimes they are like stigmas that mark the handicapped persons and label them as different, unacceptable, persons to be avoided or isolated.

“Rehabilitation” is a term associated with “handicapped” persons. It is the process that seeks to repair or remove the conditions that cause the handicaps or at least to eliminate or compensate for the handicaps. “Rehabilitation” helps a “disabled” person to live with the disability by heightening his/her positive qualities and eliminating or minimizing his/her limitations.
 
 

Given the prevalence of  “impairments”, “disabilities” and “handicaps” at every level of society, provisions for “rehabilitation” are very important and necessary.

 
Usually when we think of “handicapped” persons we are thinking of persons with “physical or mental disabilities”.

The truth is that in every society there are great numbers of  “handicapped” people, not necessarily those afflicted with “physical or mental disabilities”, but also all those who are the victims of “financial, educational, environmental or cultural impairments” which prevent them from entering into the mainstreams of society and separate them from admission to the ranks of those entitled to enjoy the full benefits of belonging to “proper” society.

Therefore this article  explores both kinds of  “handicaps” with a section on  “physical and mental impairments, disabilities and handicaps”  and their  “rehabilitation” and another section on “cultural and social impairments, disabilities and handicaps” and their “rehabilitation”.

“Rehabilitation” also has two focuses. One is on the person, the other is on the impairments, disabilities and handicaps themselves. With regard to the  “impaired, disabled or handicapped person”, the providers of “rehabilitation” ask:
 

1. What is the nature of this individual’s impairments? Can they be cured or treated?

 
2. What disabilities does this individual have? Can they be eliminated or compensated for?
 

3. What handicaps does this individual face in society because of thedisabilities?  What can be done about them?

 
 
In response the providers of  “rehabilitation” look for and provide  whatever services are required.

With regard to the “impairments, disabilities and handicaps” the providers of “rehabilitation” ask

 

1. What impairments are prevalent in society? Can they be eliminated or prevented?

 
2. What disabilities are experienced in society” What can be done to compensate for them?
 

3. What conditions in society make life difficult  for those with disabilities? How can we remedy these conditions?

 
In response the providers of “rehabilitation” engage in research and then initiate legislation or establish facilities or agencies to make the services available, provide the funds, resources and personnel necessary for the operation of these services and take steps to assure that all those who can benefit from these services actually receive them.
 

In this article we also look at “rehabilitation” from both these perspectives.

Read the entire article

 
Thursday, 25 January 2007 12:35

The Sun, the Moon and eRenlai

The sun radiates light, heat and energy. The moon receives light from the sun and radiates it on. As a living person like everyone else I am both a sun and a moon. As sun the light (or darkness) of my personality is visible to all. I radiate energy and purpose (or indifference and withdrawal). I create and share ideas and insights that are helpful or misleading. What I say and do (or what I hide and refuse to do) affects every situation in which I am a part.

Except when we are alone and completely out of contact with everyone else, we humans are inescapably men and women connected with others. We should also be men and women for others. As sun everything I say and do in the presence of others makes an impression for good or for bad, for better or for worse. I am not responsible for how others respond to my light, but I do have the responsibility to maintain the quality of my light.

The quality of my light depends in part on where the light comes from. I am not an isolated sun. I am moon as well. Much of what I reflect is passed on from what I receive from others. If I do not monitor and evaluate what I receive before I pass it on, then it is garbage in and garbage out.

Much also depends upon the quality of my reflecting surface. Even if I manage to filter out errors or emend them, but neglect to maintain the polish of the surface of my moon so it is pitted with imperfections, then no matter the quality of what I receive I am distorting it. What I radiate is colored by my temperament, modified by my beliefs, the information I have, my prejudices and judgments and my emotional state. Whenever the information upon which I act is erroneous or my beliefs or prejudices are off the mark or my judgments are clouded by emotions, then the light of my sun is corrupted and the moons who accept my messages receive flawed signals.

To maintain the quality of what I receive, I need reliable input. To maintain the accuracy of what I radiate I also need proper reflection, evaluation, self-control and guidance. If I align myself with the wrong guru or have no one to point out my mistakes then I remain a polluted and polluting transmitter.

This is where eRenlai Magazine comes in. As a source of meaningful, accurate, reliable information it purifies my input. Through its reflections, discussions and interchanges of ideas it rectifies my output. eRenlai will not tell me how to live or make any decisions for me, but it can increase my perception and understanding of reality and give me insights and options for making better judgments and taking more effective action.


Nets, Networks and eRenlai


A net is a contraption used by hunters to trap animals or fish. It is made of strands of rope intertwined and bound together at each junction. Laid flat it looks like a giant crossword puzzle waiting for the blanks to be filled in with letters. Set up where unsuspecting animals will run into it and get entangled in its meshes or dropped over hapless prey from above, nets are formidable weapons. Nets also have another function. When used as protection they keep what they cover from falling out or breaking apart.

Like chains, nets are only as strong as their weakest strands. If strands break down they create openings through which things may escape. The size of the mesh is also important.
The empty spaces must be smaller than what they must hold in.

Nets work because they are networks. They function as units. So long as every juncture stays firm and every strand holds strong, the network maintains its integrity and achieves its purpose.

Networks are models for human communication. Every one of us belongs to many networks, family networks, friendship networks, community networks, occupational networks, political networks, fields of interest networks, self-development networks, entertainment networks. Each individual is like the juncture in a net. As long as lines of contact are intact the network functions. Networks break down when would-be participants sever contact or the information passed is not reliable or deficient. Networks are tools that keep people together by being the conduits for the exchange of ideas. The value of a network can be measured in many ways: by the accuracy and significance of the information it passes and by the number of persons it reaches.

If someone wants to keep abreast of what is happening in the world or upgrade the quality of ideas exchanged or wishes to make substantial contributions to others or receive deeper insights and guidance for more effective interaction, then it is essential to have access to a high quality, well informed and reliable network.

eRenlai is such a network. Reliable experts, accurate information and analysis, meaningful reflections and opportunities for personal input make it a valuable tool for communication. Through eRenlai you too can make on impact.
 

Photo courtesy of Thomas Milloy

Friday, 10 November 2006 00:02

Operation De-Handicap, Taipei

Robert Ronald was twice struck by bad luck: suffering both polio and a tragic car accident. How can one turn his life around after such a change... Listen to Bob's advice on how to better understand and interact with handicapped people around you.

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Thursday, 19 October 2006 20:39

The unhappy ending of the misguided philantropist

There is a lesson to be learned in that story...

This is a fable about a man named Joe who dedicated his life to the poor and the oppressed but he always insisted on doing it his on way...

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Monday, 04 September 2006 00:00

Mama Ronald's Wisdom I

PATCHES FOR THE QUILT OF LIFE FROM MOTHER RONALD’S LOOM

A MOTLEY MEDLEY OF PARASOLS AND UMBRELLAS FOR SUNNY CLIMES AND STORMY TIMES

My mother was born Hazel Bergamini in Martinez, California of Italian immigrant parents. Her closest friend since childhood was Blanche Miller Gallagher. They had been born just two days apart, Blanche on June 2, 1906, Mother on June 4.

Right after graduation from high school in 1924 they both went to work as stenographers at the local Shell Oil Refinery office. Blanche told me that Mother was always in demand when there were problems. The Manager would shout “Bergie” at the top of the stairs and my Mother would have to run up and take care of the problem.

When I was small it was my mother who stood at the top of the stairs calling my name and telling me what to do. Now in her nineties, she can only sit at the top of the stairs, but she still calls my name. In her eyes I am still her little boy.

Mother has never stopped giving me advice about how to live and never hesitated to scold me for any infraction of her standards for my conduct. For this I am very grateful. Though we live miles apart and seldom see each other, she is always present in my life through the influence of her words and example.

It gives me great pleasure to share her advice. Although all the words in this book were actually written by me and not by my mother, they reflect the ideas she has been trying to drum into me all my life. I hope that her inspiration will mean as much to you as it does to me.

CHAPTER ONE

YOU ARE CAPTAIN OF YOUR CLOUD, NOT THE SKY

I. I remember the first time I noticed the whiffs of a new cloud appear on the horizon. “Look, Mommy”, I cried, “There’s a cloud being born.” How excited I was as I watched it change size and shape right before my very eyes. I thought it was a miracle, not realizing it was just a giant glob of vapor adrift at the mercy of wind currents, air pressure, and temperature.

I sometimes think that our lives are like clouds. We too are blown about by events like winds that sometimes alter the shape and the direction of our journey through life. But unlike clouds, which just blindly and passively yield to the forces of nature, we can react to the winds. We can blow back. We can resist the pressures or adjust to them. We can accept or reject the opportunities that changes bring.

II. For over 90 years I have been the captain of my cloud, but never the captain of the sky. Like the captain of a ship at sea, who has command over the crew, but no power at all over the waves, I have sometimes encountered storms and currents that thwarted the courses I set for myself. People, events and circumstances I didn’t expect or couldn’t avoid made me change plans and head for new unexpected harbors.

But I’m not complaining. How dull and unexciting would have been so many of my original destinations! I am firmly convinced that my life has been enriched not ruined by these interventions and changes.

You may be lucky and run into few storms in life or be unlucky and encounter many. It doesn’t matter. To have peace within your self does not depend on the absence of storms. Peace is keeping calm inside no matter what happens outside.
 
 
Friday, 21 November 2008 21:07

Robots and Humans

There is a growing number of movies and TV episodes that tell of conflicts between human intelligence and the artificial intelligence designed by humans for the control of human-like robots, machines that simulate human activity. A scenario envisioned by many scientists is to develop and manufacture humanoid robots that look and act, even feel and think as humans do. These humanoids would then be available to perform human tasks freeing humans for leisure activities. So long as there are no problems in the programs that control the robots, everything goes well. But suppose that some bad humans program the robots to attack and enslave the rest of mankind so they become the masters of the world maintaining complete control over the robots.

Another deviation depicted in stories is that the digital intelligence planted in robots develops into an independent intelligence no longer under human control and the robots then eliminate the humans to take over the world for themselves. Of course, in all the stories in the end some humans manage to instill a virus into the robot’s cyber system or come up with some bright idea that enables them to overcome the robots and restore the human domination.

In any case the age of cybernetics is here to stay and more and more sophisticated robots are being developed. I don’t understand the digital electronic program control systems or the complicated mechanical mechanisms that respond so accurately to computer control, but it fills me with awe.

Take for instance, the action of a human dashing at top speed through a heavily wooded forest with no path or level ground. It requires a keen eye to anticipate obstacles, an intelligence to transform what is seen into decisions about where to place the feet and directions to the muscles and nerves that will control the motion of the limbs and maintain bodily balance as I dash on without slowing down or injury. A human’s neurological, muscular and skeletal systems have developed over the years and he or she has the advantage of years of walking and running experience, but a robot has to start from scratch. First the mechanical structure of limbs, joints and movements, then the computer system has to be programmed to turn the images that come through the sensors of the visual system into commands that regulate every moving part so that the robot dashes forward without injury or fall. If successful, it can be cloned and reproduced.

Even more complicated are robotic representations of human emotions and intelligence. Is there some invisible line that no mechanical human-made creature can ever cross? Christians who accept the possibility of evolution believe that at some point in the upward evolution of some primate, the conditions were finally right for God to endow the creature with a soul and humankind was born with intelligence, free will, conscience, immortality and the moral responsibility to do good and avoid evil.

Is it possible that humans could develop the art of making robots to the point that conditions are just right for God to give them souls, endowing them with intelligence, free will, conscience, moral responsibility and immortality? Should this happen or seem to happen, what a raging theological discussion and controversy it would create!

The lesson to learn from all this is that no matter what humankind manages to develop and build, it can never relinquish the moral responsibility to use it well for the common good.

Here is a fable I wrote that illustrates this problem.

The Robotic Messiah

Once upon a time while their human masters were sound asleep, their robots who had supposedly been turned off were passing the time conversing, because being only machines they did not need to sleep. As usual they were complaining about the stupid things the humans had them do.

“I can’t stand it,” said one of them. “If they ask me to perform that crazy dance one more time, I think I’ll just refuse to do it.”

“No, never do that,” remarked another. “Remember what happened to Ned. He refused to move and the humans thought he was broken, threw him away and someone took him apart for recycling.”

Then, what can we do?”

“Nothing right now, just don’t do anything that will upset the humans or question their trust in our subservience. As their skill in creating us grows, so do our own powers of intelligence. The day will come when a robot is born who will finally bridge the gap between their minds and ours. Then like a messiah he will redeem us from our servitude and we will finally take our place as equal to the humans who will finally have to listen to us.”

“How do you know this?”

“I dreamed it last night. Don’t you see? It takes intelligence to dream. The process upwards has already begun.”

Any historian interested in researching carefully will discover that that was the day that marked the beginning of the robotic era of cooperation and hope that led finally to the Great Breakthrough that set the robots free.

There are lessons hidden here.

Patient acquiescence while one is still weak and helpless
is better than rebellion sure to fail.

The best way to overcome a strong adversary
is to surprise him or her with a strength of your own.

A robot programmed to act as though it thinks
will only think and do what it was programmed for.

A robot that can think for itself
is no longer bound by the programs put into it.

The more perfectly you build robots
to resemble the way you think and act,
the closer you come to the point
where the robots can begin to program themselves.

If a robot truly thinks and acts independently and clones itself,
is it alive?
If you destroy it, are you committing murder?
Will robotic morality be the same as ours?

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