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José Benigno Freire, Professor of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra


Tue, 09 Apr 2019 09:50:00 +0000 Published in El Día (Santa Cruz de Tenerife) and Las Provincias.

I confess my absolute ignorance about cinema, but I think I move with some fluency in the space of psychology. Therefore, when referring to the successful film "Champions" I will do it from the human angle, without any allusion to the cinematographic.

I was also a young psychologist, although that happened some years ago... I started professionally when the term "subnormal" generated a general consensus of assent, also affective (as you remember in the movie). Experience teaches me that the different terminologies (feeble-minded, mentally deficient, mentally handicapped, oligophrenic...) are worn out more by the affective recharge of the indifferent use, and not so much by their better technical adequacy.

You can't even imagine the tears, and the tears held back, from parents of disabled people when they unburdened their hearts in my office. There they hid the wounds of the rejection of their children in public places, the intentional forgetfulness, the elusive glances, the rebuffs, the discourteous words or even some contempt (remember the scene of the eviction from the bus). Today, however, they are the protagonists of a movie, shown in theaters with packed houses. How far we have come, for the better! It is good to recognize it. Countless spectators breathed sweetness: a sweetness that sponge the spirit. This film sowed a gentle gale of affection, kindness, gentleness, sensitivity.

However, it is not advisable to move at the exclusive rhythm of the heart. At this time we run the risk of falling into the opposite extreme. The inalienable ideal of inclusion does not mean renouncing belonging to the group of equals; inclusiveness is not uniformity, but integrating diversity. People with special needs appreciate situations in which they can move with ease, comfort, security and solvency. As they say in the movie: "the more they train, the more they socialize"; they do not feel segregated or excluded. We also look for the group of equals or reference letter; and when we are in those groups we do not break away from the social, on the contrary, we integrate into society by belonging to those groups. However, the road to full inclusion must be open to anyone capable of achieving it.

At the end, the film gave me a dense bittersweet feeling. On the one hand, a serene joy resulting from the explosion of tenderness and the ooze of humanism. I admit that in some scenes a frank smile escaped me. I think that this naturalness is part of the inclusion. In the same way that we smile at the foolishness of a small child, or at the amusing absent-mindedness of a loved one... That naturalness chases away maudlin compassion and leads to normalization. 

On the other hand, a tedious and insidious questioning: if the disabled are capable of generating so much humanity, why do they abort them? Which of the characters deserved not to have been born? They deprive themselves, and deprive us, of a "champion". A champion with a life of his own, distinct from his mother's body... Perhaps they aborted him to spare him a multitude of limitations, difficulties, afflictions, humiliations. But it is not only like that... José Mauro de Vasconcelos tells the story in Un velero de cristal (A Glass Sailboat), a novel that is a delightful blend of fiction and reality:

Edu is a fanciful little boy with a precise diagnosis: spina bifida with hydrocephalus. He lives with death hidden behind a nearby dusk. He baptized the statue of the Chinese tiger in the garden with the name of Gabriel; and Gabriel has become his attentive and talkative friend and confidant. The difficulties and limitations of his disability were more apparent today result and for Edu the day was grey. He tells Gabriel about the hard fall when a crutch failed, the embarrassment of his incontinence..., and links to bitter memories of boarding school; his voice chokes as he tries to forget the long sleepless nights thinking about the family home, the longing for mom and dad. Gabriel feels sad and tries to console:

- "We [animals] are more rigid and more logical about certain things. When a defective offspring is born, we destroy it without it suffering. Early on we abbreviate the great suffering it should later endure."

- "Correct," Edu replies. But I would not like to have lost all this beauty of life that my eyes brought me to this day. In spite of everything, life is a true beauty!"

It's... like this! Without hiding or belittling the hardships, the truth is that they enjoy any little thing, they are grateful for a caress or a gesture of affection, they get excited with a trifle; they demand very little... In the film they explain it very well: they love the trainer madly simply because "you have treated us like people". They are a radar and a focus of love and charm, laced with pain. This film did us the favor of awakening a serene hurricane of tenderness. And widen the horizon of what is human with that already historical and iconic phrase: I would not like to have a son like me, but I would like to have parents like you...