Kindness in the London Tube

I am writing this from London where I am chairing the 7th General Assembly of the World Kindness Movement. 12 members from 9 countries are represented here. Some folks at home think that only Singapore has a kindness movement. Let me assure you that the 12 movements represented at this Assembly is only a fraction of the numerous kindness movements in the world. At this Assembly, we hope to come up with a strategy to onboard more members from around the world. When we are able to join the dots represented by the movements with the common goal of spreading kindness, we can make a difference in inspiring a more peaceful world.

My first visit to London was in 1973 and I remember how impressed I was with the London Tube when Singapore was still decades away from having our own MRT. 2 days ago, I took the Tube downtown. It was not crowded as it wasn’t during the peak hours. I noticed that there were signs identifying priority seats, almost exactly like what we have in Singapore except that the signs were also imprinted on the cushions of the designated seats.

A young man boarded my cabin, avoided seating on the priority seat and sat next to it. A couple of stops later, a young lady boarded and even though there were other seats available, she chose the priority seat that the young man kept opened for those in need. As soon as she sat down, she was absorbed with her smart phone. So what is new under the sun?

Interesting signs in London
At Baker Street station we saw a number of interesting signs including “Please stand on the right”, “Take extra care with children”, “Dogs must be carried” etc. Since the London Tube has a much longer history (opened in 1863, it is almost 150 years), you would have thought that commuters should know what to do after all these years. Well, the truth is that commuters in London are no different from those in Singapore. They need to be reminded too. We do share a common humanity.

At another station, I saw something much more interesting – “Art on the Underground” featuring “Acts of Kindness”. The poster reads, “Acts of Kindness is part of Art on the Underground’s Central Line series of temporary commissions throughout 2011 and 2012. The series is supported by the National Lottery though Arts Council England.” It further announces that “Artist Michael Landy’s project Acts of Kindness is a celebration of generosity and compassion on the Tube. Look out for stories appearing in Central Line stations and trains”.

Artist Michael Landy’s project
Acts of Kindness
The project encourages commuters to send stories of kindness. “Have you seen someone being kind-hearted on the Tube? Did someone do something kind for you? Did you help someone out?” it asks encouragingly. “No matter how small or simple your story, Landy wants to hear it” it appeals.

I thought to myself, what a brilliant idea. With 1.2 billion passengers in 2011/12, there must be many kind stories to tell. Telling positive stories of kindness resonates with me because we need to be reminded that while unkindness often captures the imagination of the press and the public, it is still by far an infraction of the minority. I wish the project every success it deserves.

That same evening, I took the Tube to visit my god-daughter and her family in another part of London for dinner. It was during peak hours. Standing on a very busy platform, I asked a gentleman to confirm if I was standing on the right platform. Without saying a word, he pulled an Underground map from his vest pocket, studied it intently as the print is rather microscopic, and then turned to me in response, “Indeed, you are, old chap! It’s nine stations away. Have a jolly journey, old chap!” I smiled and thanked him. “A jolly kind chap,” I thought to myself.

The train soon arrived and it was crowded. I notice that there were no lines drawn on the platform for queuing, but nobody blocked the entrance when the doors were opened. People were streaming out without anyone trying to push in. We all got in all right, but every seat was taken. A young man was reading his evening free papers. When he lifted his head momentarily and saw me, he immediately jumped up from his seat and offered it to me. I accepted it gratefully. He smiled, and continued to read his papers standing up.

I met up with some friends the following day. Jimmy is an Asian Londoner visited Singapore last month. When I recounted the story of the young man who gave up his seat for me, he said, “Did I ever tell you that my wife and I took the MRT every day for 16 days when we were in Singapore? And did you know that every day for 16 days, we always had a seat because there was always someone who offered a seat to us?”

What can I say to that? Common humanity? There’s nothing new under the sun? Whatever it is, I am ever convinced that the milk of kindness is in all of us. Look around us, and celebrate what is kind; let that contribute to the joy of living.

Please stand on the right
A little courtesy won't harm you


  1. I love how your friend, Jimmy, reviewed about Singapore. Looking forward to more kindness stories! (Y)

    1. I am glad you like kindness stories. Check out more on There are many more in our newspapers besides the regular Friday bouquet. If you have a kindness story, feel free to forward to us and we will be glad to post it.

  2. We're the same yet different! In Singapore we stand on the left, in London on the right! Did you get confused? :)

    1. Yes, I was confused at first because my reflex made me stand on the left. But I soon adapted and it was fine.


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