putting our money where our heart is

You May Say I’m A Dreamer

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“A measure of society is how we treat our weakest members.”

This has been said by many different people over time – Gandhi, Jimmy Carter, Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Dostoyevsky, Truman, to name just a few.

At first I avoided reading the articles in circulation about Vince Li. I kept seeing comments on facebook about his upcoming unsupervised day trips. I finally decided to dive into it this past weekend. First I read the article my friend had posted and then I read all 58 comments in the thread that followed about whether or not he should be allowed to walk free. Most of the people who commented did not think he should enjoy any freedom ever again. I went on to read more articles. I could only read some of the comments at the bottom of those articles. It’s difficult to read so many hateful remarks. Before I published this post, I also read the victim impact statements of Tim McLean’s mother, sister and father (bottom of linked page). Their pain and suffering will never be undone. Still, I wanted to know more about schizophrenia. I read through the pages on the website of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada. I decided to make a donation. Then I made a matching donation to the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime.

I can’t argue with Tim McLean’s family about Vince Li. This was a tragedy beyond measure. Who am I to say what decision should be made in this case? What prompted me to write this post was an interest in deepening understanding about schizophrenia. Further to that, I wanted to write about vengeance because I’ve been reading more opinions about vengeance than about justice.

I added my own comment to the facebook debate:

“Ok, been meaning to catch up on this for days! Read everything. Not an expert on mental illness by any means but I’m not much for the whole “an eye for an eye” philosophy. I personally believe that no matter what another person does, your response should be consistent with your personal values – and for me that means that I don’t believe in harming people, I believe in helping people. I believe Vince Li deserves to be helped. I believe that if all people held this philosophy, the world would be a better place. I truly deep down to my guts believe this. I think that as a society we should respond to “broken people” by fixing them. He has schizophrenia and he is a victim too. I wish him all the best in his recovery. I truly do. Not only does he have this illness to live with, he will be in his own kind of hell every day of his life for what he has done. I think he deserves kindness and I think that if people can be kind to those who have done the worst you can imagine, that our civilization will flourish.”

I was expecting to be attacked in the comments to follow mine but I was surprised to see comments made by people who seem to have an understanding of mental illness and was relieved to see that a link to another article expressing a similar opinion was also posted.

Do I think Vince Li will re-offend? I honestly don’t know. Do I think they are making the right decision to give him unsupervised day trips at this time? I’m really not sure about that either. But what I do think is that schizophrenia is real and treatable. I think that people who suffer from it can be helped and should be helped. He’s been in treatment since 2008. His care team trusts him. I know that for some, Vince Li could only pay the price for what he did through equally brutal loss of his own life. For someone suffering with schizophrenia, what right do they have to recover and return to a healthy life? I think that’s why this case is so intriguing – it’s so extreme that it tests our ideas of what is right, ethical and just.

When I made my donation online, I was able to add comments. I wrote this: “I don’t have a lot of money to give but have been involved in a debate about Vince Li. I wanted to make a gesture in support of what you are doing to help people with Schizophrenia.” There was also a field where you could make a dedication. I chose to make my donation in memory of Tim McLean. I also decided to do what I could to raise awareness about schizophrenia through this post.

I know a few people who suffer from mental illnesses. I know someone who has schizophrenia. Even though I won’t mention his name, I still won’t share any personal details of his life, but believe me when I tell you they would break your heart. I would encourage anyone who has been engaged in this debate to not only read the articles about Vince Li but to take this opportunity to learn more about Schizophrenia.

“Schizophrenia is an extremely complex mental illness: in fact it is probably many illnesses masquerading as one. A biochemical imbalance is believed to cause symptoms. There is as yet no cure, but there are good and effective schizophrenia treatment options, and recovery of a quality of life is possible.”

The FAQ on this website is an excellent place to start. The answer to question #10 really struck me:

Q: Why don’t people with schizophrenia seek help for themselves?
A: There may be a variety of reasons why a person with schizophrenia does not seek mental health help, including lack of insight due to the illness; the brain is not functioning as it should; it cannot “tell” the person what is wrong. Also, society’s prejudices about mental illness discourage people from disclosing their symptoms and seek schizophrenia treatment. There is fear of the mental disorders stigma and subsequent rejection and isolation.

Vince Li’s case is allowing for some very important conversations to happen. This story is bringing light to the greater issue of mental illness and as a result I hope it will bring society to a new level of awareness about people who suffer from mental illness. Perhaps some of us will realize that we are part of the problem – that our ignorance is actually a contributing factor to incidents like the one at the very heart of this debate. Perhaps if mental illness wasn’t so stigmatized, Vince Li could have asked for help and this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.

“Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders – especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment.” Facts About Mental Illness and Violence

Many of the comments I read made me sad. Many people think Vince Li should get the death penalty. Someone even wrote that they thought that people on his side should experience what it’s like to raise a child and have him brutally murdered before they decide whether or not Vince Li should be free. Some don’t believe that his mental illness was the reason he did what he did. I believe it was and I can’t imagine what life must be like for him now. What happened to Vince Li could happen to anyone with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is not something only “bad” people get. It’s a disease and it doesn’t discriminate. Can you imagine what it would be like to recover from a schizophrenia induced psychotic state and have to deal with the fact that you brutally murdered someone? Is Vince Li not also a victim?

“A measure of society is how we treat our weakest members.” This has been said by many different people over time – Gandhi, Jimmy Carter, Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Dostoyevsky, Truman, to name just a few.

While commenting on that thread, trying to communicate the idea that as a society we have a responsibility to care for people with mental illness and that in doing so, we are stronger for it, the words to John Lennon’s Imagine came to mind – in particular, this line, “You may say I’m a dreamer.” It’s such a beautiful song:


Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon

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Thank you to everyone who reads this post. Please forward it or share it if you liked it and please comment. Keep the discussion going.



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