How do sharks swim?

by Helene Louise  

A couple of years ago, I visited the New England Aquarium with my daughters. It is a magnificent facility that has, as its main feature, a giant ocean aquarium. You can walk along a ramp that runs all the way up to the top of the tank and there, at the surface of the water, you can watch the sea creatures as they are being fed.  At the same time, there is a guide who provides information on the aquarium and answers questions. When I was there, a little girl no more than five years old, asked a simple question, “How do sharks swim?” The answer was something along the lines that sharks swim by propelling themselves with their tail, whereas fish use the muscles on the sides of the body to wriggle from side to side and stingrays, wave the sides of their bodies like wings to get wherever they want to go.

 Many times during my daughter’s rehabilitation, I was told how she should be doing things—the proper way to cut paper and hold a pencil or the only way to solve a problem. I am grateful for the advice that I received and in general, I agree that there are normally good reasons for aiming to do things in a more standardized way. But in retrospect, maybe there is also scope for greater flexibility in how we do things. Maybe, there is room to do the same things differently and not to pressure both the children facing the challenges of physical rehabilitation and their parents, to adapt to a single “mainstream” way of doing things. For example, I type very quickly and I follow the “proper” way of typing that I learned decades ago on a clunky old electric typewriter. But, I have seen people typing very efficiently using only two fingers of each hand. This “improper” way of typing is by no means reflected in the final product.  That is, the final documents look the same—the outcome is equivalent. 

 The same is true with the way that we hold a pencil or a paintbrush. The standard way is probably the most efficient, but the paintings by artists who hold a paintbrush in their mouth or between their toes are certain to be much more beautiful than anything that I could ever create holding the brush between my fingers like you’re supposed to. These artists don’t hold the brush “properly” but what they have is drive and passion which in this case are perhaps even more important than the “right” way of doing things.  

So, in the same way that the sharks, fish, stingrays, turtles and other sea creatures get to the same place using completely different ways of getting around, maybe we too could be more open to different ways of getting the same, or similar, results.

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