There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”
– David Foster Wallace, This Is Water
This is a short parable that the late writer, David Foster Wallace, used to start off his famous speech titled “This Is Water”. The parable explains that sometimes the most important, universal and inescapable realities are the realities that are the hardest to see, experience, and talk about.
Often, we are too busy with our own problems and the mundanities of our own lives to acknowledge others around us, and to immerse ourselves in their stories. We all have a default setting that tells us to assume simple things about others and concern ourselves only with our own lives. It is easy to go into this default setting because everything that we experience can only be felt by ourselves in our own shoes. Think about it: you can really only know how you feel and think and in your lifetime you can only go through life experiencing it as you do, not through the eyes of others. Yet, this should not be an excuse to constantly enslave yourself to this dead-eyed, dead-brained mode of thinking.
We have to constantly remind ourselves to move away from this default setting of ours, the setting that makes us selfish and individualistic in the actions we take in day-to-day life. Next time you are on a crowded MRT, instead of complaining about how tired you are or how uncomfortable it is, take some time to appreciate that every person in the MRT has a story behind their quiet and unspeaking exteriors. Maybe that girl who just pushed you needs to hurry to the hospital to visit her sick mother, or that man who is talking loudly into his phone is talking to his wife back home in another country, whom he misses so, so much because he hasn’t seen her in many years. It is often too easy to succumb to our own thoughts and aspirations, without immersing ourselves in the stories of others.
Hair For Hope is just another opportunity for us to begin thinking, feeling, and viewing the world from the eyes of others. Although we do know that there is no amount of shaving or reading up that can come close to the experiences of a child cancer patient, the symbolic and physical act of shaving one’s head is a step forward in choosing to empathize, and a conscious choice to move away from our own default settings. By shaving, a shavee chooses to put aside societal norms, their own egos and their own default settings to stand in solidarity with children suffering from cancer. They make a bold statement that child cancer patients have the potential to be anyone they want to be, and that their cancer is not merely a limitation, but a testament to their strength and dignity.
We can achieve greater empathy towards patients not only by shaving, but also by advocating for and educating ourselves about the cause. By doing so, we choose to be spend more time getting to know the human stories behind an issue that can often be compressed into statistics and numbers. We get to learn about the survivors of child cancer, and the current patients who continue to fight through countless hours of treatment and therapy to achieve the dreams and goals that come much easier to us. We learn to become more compassionate and caring individuals, who move beyond thoughtless donations and careless remarks. Hair For Hope is much more than just an event where people shave their hair. It is an honest, loud and sincere statement to childhood cancer patients that there are people who believe in their strength and are willing to involve ourselves in their stories, in whatever ways we can.
So thank you to Little Flower Hut, for being part of Hair for Hope in your own way, for showing support to these brave souls. Support counts, and any financial aid provided to Children’s Cancer Foundation goes a long way too – to fund chemotherapy, education, psychological aid, and a wide range of programmes for these patients. Ultimately, life is about giving in ways we can, so thank you for all you have contributed.
Details of RI Hair for Hope:
Date: 12 May 2016
Time: 2pm – 6pm
Venue: Raffles Institution Multi Purpose Hall