Hanging in there
By Han Un-ju
While looking upon the fish swimming around in the small square glass jar, I found myself in a trance. Since last March when I was transferred to this new school, I have kept four fish that I moved from the bigger aquarium upstairs. Whenever I am free from my busy schedule, I unconsciously look at the fish and gain an inexplicably peaceful state of mind. Bit by bit, this has become a source of solace for me these days.
Then one day in mid-April, I was completely stunned to find two new, very tiny objects moving inside the jar. To my amazement, they were tiny newborn fish. These two tiny creatures were literally awesome. That day I was so excited that my colleague was anxious about my driving her to a restaurant for lunch. Literally I was awestruck. Some might think I am exaggerating, but I had never had such an experience.
Afraid that they would be eaten by the bigger fish, I separated them and put them into a small paper cup for a few days. Then one day, one of my colleagues told me to put them back together with the big ones so they could learn how to survive. So I did. Then she added that they looked more active and alert to avoid the lurking danger around them.
Likewise while looking at them, I once again sank deep into my trance. While observing the fish, however, I was surprised to see the big fish constantly harassing the tiny ones. Though I was the one who put them in the world of the small jar, I had no choice but to watch them. Then I thought of a solution: feed the big ones, and they wouldn't annoy the little ones. So I fed them, but it was of no use. They seemed to bother the tiny ones more to keep the tiny fish away from the food. My solution was not the best!
The tiny glass jar looks like a small world similar to where we live. Being harassed and annoyed is sometimes just a fact of life. In reality, we harass others and are harassed sometimes intentionally and at other times unintentionally.
The tiny fish maneuver themselves skillfully enough to avoid the harassment from the larger fish. Like my colleague's remark, they probably look livelier and more vigilant now because of the potential predators. In my view, however, they seem to be literally hanging in there.
Not only the tiny fish in the jar, but people from all walks of life in my world are also just hanging in there. At my new school where only gifted kids are admitted through a tiered screening system, I have already overheard the agony and misery of some students who are lagging behind. To cope with the fast-paced life in this school and the peer pressure, they have been trying really hard and spending many sleepless nights. They all used to be excellent in their middle school days, but here they have to be ranked again according to their exam results against new peers. Under this grueling system, naturally some are placed over others. The swift movements of the poor tiny fish bear an analogy to the students' hustling and bustling attempts to survive at this new school and eventually in the tough reality of the future world.
The English expression, ``hang in there" comes to my mind with a pathetic emotion when I hear that some miserable kids sobbed and cried covertly in the bathroom worrying about the coming exam and the fierce competition in various areas. Resigned to the given situation with no power to control this matter, I try to see things in a positive way: While such trials in life are no fun, by going through these tests they will get the knack of forging their own survival skills and eventually establish firm footing in their chosen fields and the world.
I'd like to say to my suffering students and some other miserable souls in the world, ``Let's hang in there until you become strong enough to stand on your own two feet. Let's face it: a certain degree of pressure in life is rather positive for us to move forward in life." This might be a self-comforting thought for me as well.
Still, though, I feel uncomfortable for I know not all of us are strong enough to hang in there. More and more people let go or give up while trying to hang in there due to lack of strength. Should we think that they are losers and not the fittest in the law of the jungle?
Looking at tiny fish in the glass jar, I murmur to myself. ``Eureka! If the big fish harass the tiny ones too much, then the tiny ones should be put in a shelter until they are fully grown up and able to compete with the big ones. Simple, isn't it? " Then I transfered the tiny ones into the paper cup again.
Why does our society always incite competition over compassion?
The writer teaches English at a high school near Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province. She can be reached at email@example.com.