Dr Ng Wai Sheng

Hairs On The Toilet Seat: The Importance Of Context

Hairs On The Toilet Seat: The Importance Of Context

Hairs On The Toilet Seat: The Importance Of Context


A bit of context first…

I came out from the toilet, and my sister went in next after me. We were in our house.

When she came out, she asked me:

“Why is there so much hair on the toilet seat?”

Now, let’s just think for a moment, if you were in my place, how do you think you might respond to this question?


Hmm…what are you imagining had happened inside the toilet?


How we respond to a situation usually depends on our perception of the situation and the state of our relationship with the people involved. So, at every given moment, there are usually 3 interplaying CONTEXTS:

  1. My context – what i know and don’t know, which the other person may or may not be aware of, thus it is my responsibility to be aware and mindful of how my actions may have implications on others.
  2. The other person’s context – what they know and don’t know, which they may or may not be able to share with me, and I may not always fully understand another person’s experience. 
  3. Our shared context – the space, time, situation and connection that we share with each other, which can be experienced quite differently between peoples, hence there are typically more than one realities or narratives at a given time.


Keeping these 3 contexts in mind, the outcome can be twofold:

  1. If we perceive the situation accurately, we are more likely to respond accordingly and not react out of proportion. In contrast, if we misjudge the situation, we are more likely to act according to our wrong judgment and create more problems to the situation.
  2. If we have a trusting relationship with the people involved in the situation, we are more likely to speak openly and truthfully without fear. In contrast, if we have a distrustful relationship with the people involved, we are more likely to refrain from sharing truths with each other.


Often conflicts between couples and family members, friends or co-workers occur when one or both parties perceive wrongly the situation due to a lack of understanding of the context, or they project their own biased assumptions onto the motives and actions of others. These kind of interactions over time makes the relationship unsafe. When trust level between two parties becomes very low, communication becomes like treading a dangerous minefield. Half-truths, white lies and blatant deception becomes necessary to keep the relationship going. Alternatively, two people may choose to disengage physically or emotionally so they both avoid confronting the uncomfortable truth.

Actually, truths are usually quite obvious and unspectacular to the keen observer. It’s often the drama inside our heads that lead us to over- or under-react.


So, coming back to the question:

“Why is there so much hair on the toilet seat?”

If I were to choose a denying or defensive position, I might say something like “It’s not mine… How am I supposed to know how the hairs got there?”. Or, if I take a distrustful relational stance, I might also say something like “Why do you always blame me for things?”

And you can probably imagine how my response would trigger further hostility, instead of curiosity, in the subsequent interactions. Of course, how we perceive the question may already have triggered us from the beginning. For example, if I hear my sister’s tone of voice as accusing and sarcastic, I might react the same towards her.


Instead, this is how our conversation continued:

“Oh I’m so sorry,” I said, “I went to a saloon just now, there must be hair on my clothes I didn’t notice… Sorry I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so I couldn’t see the hair on the seat.”

My sister just shrugged it off like “it’s no big deal” and said, “Oh I just wiped it off… I was trying to imagine which part of hair you were cutting…”

“Did you think, for a moment, it was….???”

By now, we were laughing our heads off…. 


Article by Dr. Ng Wai Sheng

Photo by Jan Kolar / VUI Designer on Unsplash