Making charity my business
John Parker is a Freedom from Torture supporter. He supports the charity in a number of ways, including with a gift in his Will.
I don't remember when I first heard of Freedom from Torture. It was a few years ago, when their name was The Medical Foundation [for the Care of Victims of Torture]. It may have been through the internet or a leaflet., I don't remember. What I do remember are the feelings that were instantly evoked - and the thought that has remained with me ever since: that if you can't show compassion to someone who has experienced torture, then who will you show compassion to? (And in the unlikely event that my English teacher happens to read this, yes I know one should not finish a sentence with a preposition. I know I should have thought "If you can't show compassion to someone who has experienced torture to whom will you show compassion?") But I can't change the order of the words I thought and, more importantly, I can't change the thought itself.
I made a donation, perhaps it was 2006, it doesn't matter when. I felt impelled to donate and that I had no choice. I was surprised to receive a phone call from Charlotte who invited me to come to the London centre. On visiting a few weeks later I was so impressed with all the people I met, often unsure as to who was "staff" and who was a "client". The whole building had a sense of peace and serenity. I met Perico who had experienced torture and yet he had no sense of revenge or anger, just compassion. Charlotte took me to stand outside a room and told me that inside were stored all the written statements of all the survivors who had been interviewed. Symbolically, within that locked up room all the screams, the moans, the agony, the tears, the anguish and helplessness of so many people were captured and held timelessly. What a sense of shame that we humans allow this to happen on our planet, to our people.
I guess most of us have experienced some forms of neglect, rejection, bullying or prejudice and I think if we can really connect with our feelings, it allows us to have some tiny sense of what it must be like to live under the shadow of violence and torture. And just how sobering is it to reflect on how much fuss and nonsense we create living in the UK about our comparatively petty personal injustices and deprivations? What do we really know, how much can we really understand?
In the path of life when the dice were rolled I think I got lucky, a fast track, smooth and level, wide and clear, stretching away to a distant horizon. Born in the UK, educated, middle class, white, male and with no particular psychological or physical disadvantages, I think that is what's called privileged. It doesn't make me any better than anyone else (far from it) it just makes life a little easier, I guess.
With Freedom from Torture in mind, about five years ago I asked the owner of the business I ran about whether we could donate some of the fairly significant profits we were making to charity. I felt it was the company's responsibility. My suggestion was shot down in flames and I think it was that moment that was the catalyst for my decision to work for myself, so that I could choose what happened to any profits. It took a further two years to get the courage of my convictions to set up my own company but when (a couple of months ago) I was able to make a donation to Freedom from Torture from my company's profits I did experience a sense of pride and achievement.
When writing out the cheque to Freedom from Torture, yes there was a momentary thought of what I could do with the money if I spent it on myself, but compared to the billions who go without, I have more than enough. I reminded myself why I had set up the company in the first place, not just for me and my objectives but to be able to make just a tiny difference for others.
I believe that in part it is the massive inequalities in the world between the haves and the have-nots that fuel unrest, disillusionment, disempowerment, hatred, war, terrorism and torture... And if our planet is going to have a long-term future worth living in, then in the West we all individually have a responsibility to step out of our cosy, cosseted, insulated environment and wake up and smell the (fair trade) coffee.
There are no winners; I cannot see any picture in my mind of anything whatsoever to do with torture which includes any smiles anywhere, anytime. We all lose; those who perish, those who survive, those who perpetrate and those of us who look on. And it those of us who look on, those of us who are horrified at the fate of so many and touched by the plight of the survivors, it is our responsibility to do what we can in whatever way possible to speak out.
I came across a very sad statistic the other day, that on our planet we have two bullets for every single living person today. When will we realise that is not one bullet too many but two too many.
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
Martin Luther King Jr