Follow your heart, not the hate

Alice Wu says amid all the rancour in Hong Kong, it's easy to forget we can find meaning by opening our hearts and connecting with others

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 3:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 3:08am

There is a reason why I wrote "when humanity calls" last week, and this is it: one day last month, my husband came home and told me he was going to shave his head to help raise funds for childhood cancer research.

It's certainly not news-worthy: hundreds of thousands have done it before. Since his decision, we've been touched by the outpouring of support and generosity of our friends and family. There are many reasons for him to do it. It's pretty much the only way to feel a minute fraction of what cancer patients have to go through. It's also an expression of support for the kids, an act of solidarity. All are just small efforts of raising awareness of childhood cancers.

But how my husband came to that decision taught me an important lesson. He saw a banner recruiting people, and it tugged at his heart. It was that simple.

Since then, we have learned so much more about childhood cancers - how different they are from adult cancers, how the side effects of treatment are so much more pronounced in children (and how many have died from them), and how underfunded their research is. We thought about the kids and their families, read their stories of hope and loss, and we felt we must do what we could, and give what we could. These kids deserve hope amid their pain and helplessness.

In that light, the row over urine and faeces, along with the discovery of unsavoury parcels sent to a government minister in retaliation, is pointless and dispiriting. Our tendency to focus on what divides us is so great that we're willing to go to great lengths to prove it. We channel so much energy into being right and severing ties that it's easy to lose perspective.

We forget that we're wired to build and foster human connections. While we spend time being nasty to one another, people are suffering from our inattention, from our efforts to disconnect.

We've become desensitised, so tugs on the heart are easily brushed aside. We feel there's little we can do to make a real difference. Perhaps that is why, sometimes, we choose to do crazy, sensational things that have no real purpose or substance.

But there're plenty of good each and every one of us can do for a purpose larger than ourselves. As insignificant as it may seem, what we do matters; if enough of us give a little, and make small sacrifices in our own ways, we can make a difference.

Different things and causes will tug at our hearts. It may be because of our past experiences, it may be because of our families and friends, or there may be no real reason at all.

But not only is giving more rewarding than receiving, there're more to life - purpose and meaning - than our daily squabbles. The human condition requires that we fight the disconnect that modern society's emphasis on highlighting differences has produced in us. Confronting our own insignificance can open our hearts and minds to more.

By the time you've finished reading this, at least one more child will have been diagnosed with cancer. Feel the tug that this fact has on your heart. Feel that weight on your heart. That's something faeces can't do.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA