Thursday, December 12, 2013
Language and Communication
In September of 1983 I returned to Vancouver from Port Edward, B.C., where I had for the previous four summers slung fish at a Skeena River salmon cannery. Rather than proceed from there to Victoria, to resume my studies at UVic, I decided to take a half year off and give more thought to my major, which had me leaning towards the Faculty of Human and Social Development, and from there to UBC to pursue a Masters of Social Work.
Jobs in social services were difficult to come by in those days, but because my summer cannery job staked me, I was open to volunteering. And that's what I did -- taking an "Auxiliary" position at The Lookout emergency services shelter on Alexander Street, where I was tasked with chaperoning residents to Vancouver Canucks hockey games at the Pacific Coliseum.
Something I noticed between my time at The Lookout and my time living around the corner at 441 Powell (1987-1994) was an increase in the number of people with mental disorders, a situation that was exacerbated by a provincial Social Credit government that, like the Reagan administration in the United States, had closed public institutions that cared for the mentally and physical ill -- not because these institutions were inhumane (as they said they were) but because they were costly. While it is fine to close down institutions because they are inhumane (they are), it is not fine to do so without supplying community support, something the SoCreds and the Reagan administration grossly underfunded.
Mental illness was on my mind this morning after reading about the fellow who provided sign language at the Nelson Mandela memorial. As reported in the Daily Mail, the signer was "a fake;" his movements, according to South Africa's Deaf Federation, had "no meaning." When this fellow was asked to account for himself, he replied that he had suffered a "schizophrenic" episode, and was sorry. Is he worthy of our forgiveness. Of course he is. In fact, my forgiveness comes in the same breath as my forgiveness of Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter Pumla, whose preference for "disorientated" over "disoriented" reminded me why I chose linguistics over social work, and my eventual major -- anthropology.