Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fireworks of a Different Kind

One of my current pet peeves is how the media today, be it traditional or social, makes it look like Singapore is full of racist, xenophobic and unkind people. Some have even wryly noted that the existence of the Singapore Kindness Movement is proof that Singaporeans need someone to teach them to be kind.

The recent example of the video of the NUS/SIM boy making its round on social media, drawing much anger from netizens, is indicative of this. Yes, the student said some unfortunate things, but many comments from keyboard warriors were equally unkind, if not worse. When the boy’s actions and the subsequent reaction are viewed in totality, it makes Singaporeans look like angry, petulant children. The story even made it to the mainstream media, which further sensationalised the issue.

Some will justify the reactions to say that we must fight fire with fire, but I’ve been brought up to think that the best way to fight fire is with water.

Fireworks at the Marina Bay Floating Platform
On a happier note, last week, my wife and I took our teenaged grandchildren to the NDP. We boarded the MRT from Novena. My wife found one available seat. Jeffrey, his wife and his young son were taking up three seats. He made eye contact with me, took his young son and seated him on his lap, and offered me the seat. I thanked him and sat down. We chatted and found out that he too was going to the parade. I gave him the kindness card.

At the floating platform, I was seated next to Jeremy, another younger gentleman. Seeing me fumble with the clappers, he offered to inflate them for us. It was quite warm and the middle-aged lady seating in front of us was fanning herself. I looked into the fun pack but could not find the fan. I asked her whether it is in the bag. She replied in Mandarin and offered to find the fan for me. She did. I thanked Jeremy and the lady, and gave them both a kindness card each.

When I first took on the assignment to drive the Kindness Movement, I was told that it is a thankless task. Sixteen months on, I have found the going uphill but not altogether thankless. There are many who are very thankful for the work we do. For every negative or cynical response, there are many more positive encouragements and suggestions.

Studies have shown that people remember negatives more because we generally tend to take good things for granted. Negatives tend to be sensational too and they get more “air time” than positives. Not unlike the local debate on foreign talent or people making regrettable remarks online, when a silent majority says nothing, while those who are angry make all the vitriolic noise. As such, it is easy to have the impression that Singaporeans are generally not kind.

This is not to say that the unhappiness is without basis. That is the reason why I am in support of the upcoming national conversations. My only caveat being that these should indeed be true dialogue - not one side imposing their views on the other, and this applies both ways. Not listening is unkind too. When people believe that their views are being genuinely considered, passionate and even heated debate can be conducted in a civil, respectful and gracious tone.

I have reason to believe that the majority of our people are inherently kind. However, they need to be affirmed and encouraged to express not just their angst, but also their kindness by their action. Hence we created a card that says, “Thanks for being a great example for others. Here’s a kindness card for you and hope it inspires you to keep the kindness spirit going…”

The Kindness Card
So as the smoke settles from the NDP fireworks, by all means let us engage each other in an honest and spirited exchange, even disagreement. But let's not be disagreeable, throwing virtual rocks at each other. Let's rock the kindness instead.

Rock The Kindness by Blessings in a Bag

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Is priority/reserved seat an entitlement?

Photo: I don't like to squeeze on the MRT Facebook
Last week, I took the MRT and it was quite packed. I am a senior citizen and I had hoped that someone would be kind enough to offer me a seat, as has happened before. But not this time.

I was standing in front of a younger lady who was seated on the priority seat and busily engaged with her smartphone. I tried to make eye contact with her but chose not to verbally request for the seat. I took the opportunity to do a personal experiment. She looked up at me momentarily, but quickly returned to her smartphone. At the City Hall MRT, we both alighted. I gave way to her as she made her exit and I followed. Quickening my steps, I caught up with her, smiled and said, “Good morning. May I ask you a couple of questions?” She returned a smile and said, “Sure.” I asked her if she would give up her seat to someone in greater need, like a senior citizen. And she replied, “Of course, I would.” I then gently announced that I was the Senior Citizen standing in front of her. In obvious shock and embarrassment, she said, “I am so sorry!!! You do not look like a senior citizen. If I had known, I would have gladly invited you to take my seat. I am really really sorry.” Her sincerity was fully evident in her profuse apologies. I smiled and said, “Thank you, that is what they all say about me. No worries.” I then asked her if she would give up the seat for me if I had requested for it. “Of course,” she said. “ I would have... without any hesitation.” And she continued apologizing. I thanked her for her responses and we walked together towards our offices.

We’ve read or watched Stomp videos of situations similar to what the younger lady and I were in, and those didn’t go well. If I had curtly demanded the seat, I would have either made her lose face totally, or worse, possibly triggered a defensive-aggressive response. So while we might be well in our place to expect the priority seat to be given up for us who are identified as needing it more, we can also ask nicely and without prejudging the person occupying the seat.

My experience reinforced what I believe about our people. We are essentially kind. People do not act graciously because they do not know or are too caught up in their busyness to be aware of the need. If they knew, they would respond. This is why we keep reminding people and we know that many are responding. We need not prejudge, we can do our part by assuming the best of people. Chances are, people will respond according to what we think of them.

Kindness is all about being other-centered. It is a value that should be inside us. But to look out for or not prejudge others, we need to consciously make an outward effort and take some time. And that only takes a moment. That’s why we say, there’s always time to make someone’s day.