When it Really Counts
We have now had ten days of “bright ideas”, those epiphanies that have greatly influenced mankind throughout the centuries. Many, though, have no one person who receives the credit. The bowl, the dug-out canoe, and other inventions were more creative answers to daily problems and came about as a means for survival. However, one of the oldest and most lasting in semi-original form appears to have been a tool of convenience rather than survival.
The abacus first appeared with the Sumerians somewhere around 2700-2300 BCE. Originally a board strewn with the dust for doing mathematical equations, it became a board with grooves upon which beads or stones were placed for counting. Egyptians manipulated the pebbles opposite to the Greeks and the abacus was also used by the Persians. The Roman and Chinese Abacus was very similar and even Indian writings on Buddhism make mention of counting trays.
A tablet found on the Greek island Salamis in 1846 AD (the Salamis Tablet), dates back to 300 BC, making it the oldest counting board discovered so far. It is a slab of white marble 149 cm (59 in) long, 75 cm (30 in) wide, and 4.5 cm (2 in) thick, on which are 5 groups of markings. In the center of the tablet is a set of 5 parallel lines equally divided by a vertical line, capped with a semicircle at the intersection of the bottom-most horizontal line and the single vertical line. Below these lines was a wide space with a horizontal crack dividing it. The form of the abacus most known today can be traced to Russia. It was commonly used until 1974.
The Aztecs used an abacus based upon the base 20 number system. Today the Cranmer abacus, developed by Thomas Cranmer, allows the blind to do mathematical equations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, equations involving square roots and cubic roots. Talking calculators have enabled the blind to do many things but the Cranmer abacus with its bits of rubber to prevent beads from inadvertently moving, is still very popular and often utilized worldwide.
The invention of the Cranmer abacus is really quite amazing since it connected the ancient world with those whom the world often sees as “lesser” or “handicapped”. It afforded the blind to illustrate that, although they were sight impaired, they were still very capable and able. By standing up for those sight impaired who wished to use an abacus, Cranmer recognized their right to be counted… and to count.
In 1991, during a BBC program entitled “Pride Against Prejudice”, Jenny Morris stated: “Disabled people all experience oppression as a result of the denial of our reality. If our reality is not reflected in the general culture, how can we assert rights? If we do not ‘appear’ as real people, with the need for love, affection, friendship and the right to a good quality of life, how can non-disabled people give any meaning to our lives?”
The Anti-bullying Alliance in the United Kingdom makes an excellent point on their website. “The lack of portrayal of disability in our society is not accidental. Western culture from Greek and Roman times, reinforced in Renaissance Europe, saw the “body beautiful” as an ideal. Those with physical or mental imperfections were seen to be receiving divine retribution, or expendable. The Bible accepts this but also offers pity towards disabled people as ‘sinners’. Until very recently, popular culture has seen disabled people as objects of fear or fun. Such ideas are deeply embedded in myths, legends and classical literature. Today’s media continues to reinforce the tendency to judge people by their appearance.”
In 2007 the first day of school at a local school in Nova Scotia, Canada, saw a male student bullied because he wore a pink shirt to school. The Justice Department of the United States of America estimates one out of four kids will be bullied during their adolescence. That means that at least twenty-five percent will become victims. Statistically speaking, at least seventy percent of all children bullied once will continue to be bullied. Why? No one will take a stand; no one will stand up when it counts for the bullying victim. As suicide rates grow to more than fifty percent during the past thirty years, the term “bullycide” has arisen. Many of these suicides are the result of the victim being bullied. May 4, 2007 David Shepherd and Travis Price of Berwick, Nova Scotia stood up when it counted. They began Anti-Bullying Day, also called Pink Shirt Day. In honor of their classmate, ninth grader Charles McNeill who had been bullied for wearing his pink shirt on the first day of classes, they passed out fifty pink shirts which students proudly wore. In 2012 the United Nations officially declared May 4th as Anti-Bullying Day.
Children and adults alike count; they matter, regardless of whether they are seen as “normal” or not. Children truly are our future and we need to teach them how to see the beauty of all people. The “bright idea” for today is that you can be a hero. It really isn’t a new thing but perhaps you need to be reminded that the best epiphany is to show and recognize the dignity that each of us has and deserves. When we learn to love ourselves, we are open to love others and that is the best epiphany of all. It is also the answer to a positive and effective future. After all, everyone counts.