Being Brave While Being Destructible – Mohamed Faizal
1 July 2020 • 10 mins read
Being Brave While Being Destructible: Lessons That I Leant from a Brave Young Man
“Superman isn’t brave….Superman is indestructible, and you
can’t be brave if you’re indestructible.” *1
This story of bravery and courage has a name and a face, but as is perhaps symbolic of the fact that such bravery exists all around us and is often faceless and anonymous, will remain unnamed. But S’ story – S is what I have decided to call the brave young individual who is the focus of this article, given the obvious affiliation of that letter with the eponymous superhero linked to all things virtuous – is one that deserves to be told.
I first met S in 2012. I was invited to sit on a school’s Endorsement Panel of the Edusave Character Award that year and S did sufficiently well to rank amongst the top students academically in his class. From our discussions, it was clear S was a well-spoken, respectful and intelligent boy.
Sometime during the interviews, we were informed of their backgrounds. S suffered from a rare genetic cancer. It was terminal. What was even more remarkable was that S was sufficiently steely and resolute that he initially decided not to inform the school about it, determined to fight the battle on his own. The school only found out when a third party had contacted it after S’ brother passed on (from the same illness), to make sure that S was being cared for. In those discussions between the school and him, it also transpired that S’ dad had passed on from the same disease some time before.
It would be difficult to overstate the challenges that S faced. A 14-year-old should never have to come to terms with his mortality, let alone experience the passing of two loved ones. Few of us in such circumstances would have had the strength to live a vaguely normal life, let alone concentrate in school. But S was not just sufficiently steeled to take the challenges in his stride, but resolute to make the most of life, as his academic performance proved. After meeting him that morning, I started a funding campaign amongst some friends and we raised some funds to provide him some financial support for his battles ahead. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as S passed on before we passed the monies.*2
It is often said that giving back is a good thing. But it is also perhaps true that it possesses a selfish facet to it for it enriches the individual who gives. It affords that individual an opportunity to learn and to be taught, and for considered reflection. And I have two lessons to share from the blessing I had to encounter this brave young man that I wish to share with Singapore on its 52th birthday.
The first is an acute awareness of the mind-set that we need to possess when tackling challenges. Life is chock-full of challenges. And there is always a very real temptation to dread these struggles. To lament that they come at the most inopportune of times. To amplify our challenges beyond what they objectively are. These are all very human, very real, responses to the obstacles placed in front of us. In doing so, we allow the challenges to gain a force of their own and to drive us to wallow in a state of despair and despondency. And it is often easy enough to try and get others to resolve problems for us, or to search for guidance from others, while avoiding confronting the problem.
S’ example, however, to me drove home the message that perhaps the truly brave understand that the challenges, however seemingly insurmountable, only possesses as much force as we feed it and allow it to have. That while others can, of course, help us to define the problem, it is really up to that individual to own the problem and commit to tackling it head-on. Acting is invariably a key step to overcoming any problem. And as no one can divine the future, perhaps we should be fully present in the steps that we take in order to reach the intended outcome. While no one could ever provide any unequivocal assurances to S that his future would be cancer-free, this was not something he dwelled on; rather the focus was always on the challenge before him – to do well in school, in his case – and that was where he placed his full attention on. There is much we can learn from S’ experience and bravery. My hope for Singapore is that we take on the challenges that we face in the exact same manner S has taught me to face them. That we understand that the hurdles that these challenges & set-backs pose are only as insurmountable as we allow them to be. That with the knowledge that we are not indestructible and may lose some, if not many, of these battles, we nonetheless give it our best shot, for only in so doing will we discover, and develop into, our best selves. We won’t always win these battles – indeed, odds are we are going to lose s fair number of them – but we can, and must, always try.
The second is the reality that we have very brave individuals in our midst who often defy the conventional wisdom of how strong we can be as Singaporeans and as a people. Many amongst us, like S, have been given near-impossible odds but choose to fight and try to defy them anyway. Thes individuals have repeatedly found themselves facing challenge after challenge in life, with some of these so debilitating and incapacitating that it would not be unfair to forgive them for bemoaning their lot in life and losing the will to fight back. These individuals are not superheroes in the conventional sense – indeed, if superheroes are indestructible, these individuals are their anti-thesis, for they can be easily crushed by the vicissitudes of life and events beyond their control. But they are tougher and braver than any superhero, comic book or otherwise, that we can conjure up in our minds, for in spite of these vulnerabilities, they refuse to cower down to the challenge, however seemingly impossible the odds might be. Whether be it a single mom living in a rented flat with three kids, a family that suffers the consequences of criminal offending by its’ breadwinner, or an individual facing a host of medical, physical or psychiatric issues with a brave face, each and everyone of us would undoubtedly have personally been acquainted with many of these brave individuals.
And it is important for us to look out for them and to offer a helping hand. This, in many ways, is the lesson we can take from Singapore’s own experience since independence. In the early days, our leaders had to make difficult decisions in the knowledge that there was no safety net in the form of a hinterland to protect us. It was not like we had much choice – our enduring existence was never divined in the stars and we would thrive or perish based on the choices we made. In some ways, this was a good thing for our best attributes as a nation and as a people necessarily arose from difficult and challenging circumstances. Much as a muscle is strengthened the more it flexed, our people became sturdier with every challenge. In tackling these challenges, we worked not as disparate individuals but as a united people who rallied around common causes. Simply put,
And in these uncertain times, it is perhaps even more important for us to band together and to look out for the more vulnerable segments of our community; people who are brave and strong, but who nonetheless can do with a helping hand. We all have individuals like S in our midst and all around us; individuals who are both an inspiration for the bravery and fibre they exhibit in facing the challenges before them but who also concomitantly serve as a clarion call to action for all of us. We are not superheroes. And for that reason, we are not indestructible. But, as S’ example has shown us, it is precisely because we are capable of being destroyed and know it, but nonetheless continue to face the challenges with a dogged drive to overcome these challenges that we have the opportunity to prove our braveness and our courage – both as a people and as a nation. And so on our 52th birthday, I wish Singapore and my fellow Singaporeans all the bravery in the world – may we both as a country and as a people, in facing the challenges that are to come, show the very same resolve, steel and tenacity that S did.
Written & contributed by
Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir
Mohamed Faizal Mohamed Abdul Kadir is a Legal Service Officer with the Attorney-General’s Chambers. He sits on various boards and national committees, including the MUIS Appeal Board and the Singapore Youth Award Central Assessment Board and is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Silent Heroes Awards. He received the President’s Volunteerism and Philanthropy Award (Youth) in 2015 for his work in founding educational scholarships for low-income youths and has been inducted by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. He was appointed Senior Counsel in 2020. All views expressed herein are his own.
*1 This is a line quoted from a 1995 movie with the title “Angus”, a movie about a teenage boy navigating
through some of the many challenges of life.
*2 We ended up forwarding the monies collected to his family for their use instead.
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Published originally from: “The Birthday Book 2017: What We Should Never Forget”
Edited by Sheila Pakir & Malminderjit Singh
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