Wednesday, 2 March 2005

Death and living

"The fear of death stops you from living, but not from dying"

Two mornings ago (at 6am no less!), my sis shared with me the above quote over breakfast, which is so good I know I simply have to share it...

If the fear of death and dying can be so paralyzing as to stop anyone from fully embracing and enjoying what life has to offer, isn’t it time to see what all this is really costing us?

As I mused over why and when this fear of death came into our humanly lives, I shared with her what my school principal told us recently, a small gathering of new teachers in an informal chitchat session with him. In his own words, he said, “We (teachers) must be the ones to decide how much risk can be allowed in any activity. Kids this age (17/18) will take all sorts of risk. They think they cannot die”.

He went on to share with us two incidents in his past experience as principal of two other schools, one of where an unfortunate incident occurred in which a boy either leaned too far out or actually climbed onto a fourth-floor railing to untie a banner and fell, hitting the ground head-on. The poor boy didn’t survive.

After patiently hearing my story to the end, my wise sister said, “Ah! That is part of developmental psychology.” She elaborated further on how kids at different ages slowly develop their understanding of death, from a non-existent concept, to a concrete one, and eventually to the abstract notion of what death is. It’s pretty interesting.. read this..

Infant to Toddler (0-2)
The terms "death" or "forever" or "permanent" may not have real value to children of this age group. Even with previous experiences with death, the child may not understand the relationship between life and death. Death is not a permanent condition.

Preschool (3-5)
This is the age of "Magical Thinking". This age group may view death as temporary or reversible, as in cartoons. Death is often explained to this age group as "went to heaven." Most children in this age group do not understand that death is permanent, that everyone and every living thing will eventually die, and that dead things do not eat, sleep, or breathe.

School-age (6-12)
School-aged children are developing a more realistic & concrete understanding of death. Although they attempt to ascribe a more comprehensible meaning to the event by personifying death as a "devil", "God", "ghost", or "bogeyman", this age group is beginning to understand death as permanent, universal, and inevitable. Children (9-12) may experience fears of mutilation and personal injury. They may hence externalize these by focusing on the "gruesome" details of dying and death. Externalizing equals control.

Adolescent (13-18)
Most adolescents understand the concept that death is permanent, universal, and inevitable. Yet, due to adolescent egocentricity, it is accompanied by disbelief in the possibility of one's personal death. A predominant theme in adolescence is feelings of immortality or being exempt from death. Hence, they are least likely to accept the cessation of life, particularly their own. Their rejection of death is understandable developmentally because the adolescents' tasks are to establish an identity by finding out who they are, what their purpose is, and where they belong. Any suggestions of being different or non-being is a tremendous threat to the answer to such questions.

So I guess, sometime after that age, was when most of us typical "adults" started to realize our mortality. Yet, instead of making us merely more cautious and careful, or in the case of risky sports or activities, to be more skilful (which is not a bad thing at all), it very often can become a situation of excessive anxiety, disproportionate apprehensiveness or, as Singaporeans love to say, just plain “kiasi” (one of the three ks, including kiasu and kancheong)

So the quote again:

"The fear of death stops you from living, but not from dying"

is indeed a timely reminder… or perhaps just a new way in which we can look at man’s greatest fear – death... because ultimately, dying, without having actually lived, may be an even riskier choice....

(pardon the morbid topic … it’s been sitting on my mind for a while so I have to put it somewhere..)

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