Claire Wineland – Change the World
Cystic fibrosis activist reveals the most important lesson she learned while living her life in a hospital room. Her powerful speech urges you to transform the way you think to live the life you never thought you deserved.
When you pity people who are sick, you take away their power. I am sick. I will probably always be sick. And yet, I am 100 percent content and happy with my life. 100 percent.
I have something called cystic fibrosis, but I’m actually not here to depress you all about cystic fibrosis. I’m actually here to talk about, how do we change the way that we treat sick people? And that we stop pitying them, and start empowering them.
… Way that our society works, we teach sick people that when they are sick, somehow, some way, they cannot be as happy as normal, healthy people, right? We teach them that their happiness, their contentment in life, their joy in life, is tied to how healthy we are.
And I remember, I was around seven or eight years old, and I was flipping through this magazine, and there was this really beautiful picture of this artist in their New York loft apartment. And I’m sitting there, I look around my hospital room, and I’m like, “I wish I was there.” And I had a moment where I was like, “But I’m stuck in the hospital.”
And I thought, there’s a Target right down the street that has some twinkle lights and some throw pillows, and I have a room. I have furniture. Why don’t I make something out of this room? Why don’t I deck it out?
So, my and my nanny decided to completely redo the hospital room. And I don’t mean just put some pictures on the wall. I mean completely redo the room. We were moving around the furniture. I was sweating. My machines were beeping. The nurses were coming in, like, “What are you doing? You’re crazy.”
And by the end, we had completely transformed the room, and nurses and doctors from all over the hospital came in to see it. And so, every time I ended up going into the hospital, I would deck out my hospital room.
I started to realize that people who are sick, and nurses and doctors, as well, everyone in the medical community, everyone in the health care community, get so stuck in this notion that a hospital room is this cold, sterile, white place where we go to be sick, and that that’s all that it can be. And we get so stuck in that that we cannot see the possibility. We can’t see what we can make out of it. We don’t see what we can do with it.
And I started realizing that our lives, in a way, are like this, right? Our lives are like empty hospital rooms. We get so stuck in the idea that it’s supposed to be good or bad. If we’re sick, then it’s cold and it’s sterile, and we just have to live with it like that. And we don’t let ourself realize, we don’t let ourself see, we can make that hospital room beautiful.
We can make our lives into a piece of art. We all have that ability. We all have that capability as human beings to turn these empty hospital rooms, to turn these lives into something really beautiful.
We look at people who are sick, and we pity them, because we believe that their sickness means that their life has to be inherently less joyous than everyone else’s. Life is not going to stop unfolding itself to you just because you’re sick, or because your life isn’t how you think it’s supposed to be. There’s still going to be beauty.
Now, I can honestly say, a majority of the happiest moments in my life have been when I am sick in the hospital. Honestly. And think about the implications of that, because I have lived the kind of life that all of you spend your entire lives running from. I’ve been sick and dying my entire life, and yet, I am so proud of my life. What does that say? No, really, what does that say about the way we’re all living our lives?
We’re waiting to be healthy. We’re waiting to be wealthy. We’re waiting to find our passion. We’re waiting to find our true love, before we actually start living. Instead of looking at everything that we have, looking at all of the pain, looking at all of the sadness, looking at all the beauty, and making something with that.
That’s how innovations happens. Innovation doesn’t happen because there’s some person who’s in a great circumstance, and everything’s going well, and they just get on on their goal, and they make something for the world. Innovation happens, art happens, because of suffering, and when we clamp down to that suffering, when we teach people who are sick, when you teach little seven-year-old me that because I’m sick, I don’t have anything to give to the world, I don’t have anything to create …
So, I want to encourage you all, next time you meet someone who is suffering, who is in pain, instead of shutting down, instead of pitying them, I want you to think, “I bet their life is so beautiful.” Really look at them, and think, “I bet their life is so complex.” We all get to be a part of this giant human epic story, right? We get to be a part of human history. We get to add to it. We have something to give.
And we realize, it’s what we’re creating that matters. It’s what we’re adding to this beautiful story that matters. When we start looking at that, we change the world.
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