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Showing posts from 2013

Christmas is about Hope

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Beyond the glittering lights on Orchard Road and the sound of carols at shopping malls, I reflect on the meaning of Christmas. Clearly, it means different things to different people. For millions of Christians from all traditions, it is a celebration of God’s kindness and love in the birth of Jesus Christ whom they acknowledge as Lord and Saviour. For others, it is the beginning of the year-end holidays – a time to give and receive, a time to party and have a good time.

For me this Christmas, the word HOPE keeps popping up. HOPE, aptly described as the little voice you hear whisper “maybe” when it seems the entire world is shouting “no”. It is a powerfully positive emotion and in many instances it is the kindest gift of all.

I found this in Unbroken, a powerful World War II story of Olympian Louie Zamperini who survived some 40 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean without food and water, and more than two years as a POW. Clearly, it was HOPE that kept him and his friends alive i…

An American Perspective on Kindness in Asia

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In August this year, at the Opera Estate Street Party, I met Darrin Couch and his wife, Dominica Kim. He hails from Tallahassee, Florida in the United States and has worked in many countries in the Asia Pacific region and lived in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia and South Korea over the last 20 years. He is an Account Executive looking after Global Accounts for Hewlett-Packard and is married. They have resided in Singapore since July 2011 and they love good food in Singapore, walking around the East Coast Park and learning about local customs. Here is his perspective on kindness in Asia.

I am an American who spent the last 20 years living and working in many countries in Asia. I have enjoyed my time living in Asia and met and married my wife, Dominica, while I was working in Seoul, Korea. We have lived in Singapore for the last 2 years and it feels like home. Recently, I met Dr. Wan at a Big Makan event and he asked me to share my perspective on kindness. And I am very glad to do…

Who was being kind to whom?

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Serendipitously following last month’s post by my friend about kindness around the world, I am indeed on holiday in Canada during this next posting, which I have asked my associate, Cesar Balota, to contribute in my absence.

In August, I volunteered for a 2-week mission to provide cheer to lonely displaced survivors still living in temporary housing (kasetsus) all along the Iwate cost. In other words, I was supposed to be a part of the kind party.

Yet, things turned out very differently. Oh sure, we did do what was requested of us – including leading sing-alongs, preparing simple Singapore-style meals at mobile cafés, providing material for and guiding interesting craft activities, and even learning to do hand massages for the mostly elderly participants in our daytime programs.


But we found ourselves not just witnessing, but being on the receiving end of many kindnesses.

The local workers we were meant to be assisting, were so solicitous in making sure that we could actively interact…

Around the World with Strangers of Another Kind

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I believe that there is innate kindness locked in the hearts of everyone of us. Recently I met Danielle Chan who is the Founder/Director of Sunshine Daughters. She confirms my belief. I appreciate her contribution below.
“When I graduated from university in Canada, I took the road less travelled. Instead of embarking on a career path, I chose to wander the world to experiment and find out the truth about the true nature of humanity. As a lone sheep entering different herds, I wondered if I would be accepted or rejected by their society and standards. I was 22 years old and for the next nine years I travelled to big cities and to the most remote parts of the world.

My experience unfolded to me that humans have an innate kindness that wants to come out and is often suppressed by fear. Since I did not have an agenda, I was open to almost anyone and anything. Carrying this attitude, I have encountered many more kind people than people who tried to take advantage of me. There were…

Foreign Green Bird in Little India

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On a recent Sunday afternoon, my friend Teng Lit and I joined up with a group of Japanese residents who called themselves the Green Bird.  Green Bird, according to their website, is a Non-Profit Organization founded in Harajku and Omote-sando.  Their motto is “A clean town also makes people’s hearts and minds cleaned.”  Their primary activity is trash-picking “to clean the towns we live and love.”

Junko, a young Japanese businesswoman, is the leader of the group. Norie, a Japanese volunteer at our Kindness Gallery, introduced us.  There were 6 other Green Birds all ready to don on the green vest and gloves.  Armed with a litter-picker and litterbags, we fanned out into Little India for 90 minutes. We returned with our bags full of litter.


Along the way, we were looked upon with curiosity and amazement.  A few stopped to find out who we are, and I never failed to tell them that foreigners are helping us to keep Singapore clean, ending with a question, “Will you join us?”  Some said, “T…

Resonating with Kindness

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One of my goals when I first took on this role a little more than 2 years ago is to raise public awareness of kindness and the need to be kinder. I had this vision that if we could implant kindness in the public consciousness, we will create a destiny where kindness becomes a way of life.

In thinking this way, I am influenced by Mahatma Gandhi who said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny.”



Today I am gratified to note that we are more aware of kindness and graciousness than ever before. More people are talking and writing about it in various media. I take it that more people resonate with it because they believe in it, and are thinking about it.

Take the last 3 days (August 5-7) for instance. The following are just a sampling of the buzz about Kindness and Graciousness in our newspapers. Most are po…

A Quasi-diary: Kindness Seen from the Perspective of a Teen

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by Guest blogger Sabrina Ma, 16, a senior high student from San Jose, California

I came to Singapore expecting to be surrounded by uptight conservatives, arrested for chewing gum, and walking on sterilized sidewalks doused in antiseptic. But, as I stepped into the SKM office for the first time, with kindness paraphernalia littering the floor and embellishing the walls, and gregarious members of the SKM team greeting me, all of my stereotypes were shattered.

Hi! I’m Sabrina Ma. I am 16 a year old senior from San Jose, California. As a high school student, I’ve faced my share of Goliaths, ranging from intense stress induced by academics competitiveness to self-consciousness induced by the societal depiction of beauty. Desiring to make high school a bit more bearable, I established a club at my school called the Acts of Random Kindness (ARK) Club, which has become pretty impactful in my (and surrounding) communities. Desiring to spread kindness utilizing social media, my friend and I lat…

Kindness By Any Other Name

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Last weekend, I was kept busy with the kindness business. I was privileged to have been one of the speakers at two inaugural conferences. On Sat morning, I was at the Keep Singapore Clean Conference organized by the Public Hygiene Council, and I spoke on “Keeping Clean: The Japanese Experience”. In the afternoon, I attended the Singapore Scouts Association’s Annual General meeting as a member of its Council. And on Sunday afternoon, I spoke at the Metta Convention organized by Singapore Buddhist Federation. “Metta” means loving kindness and I spoke on “Hearts Reach Out” in line with their theme “Meeting of Hearts.”

What have these events in common?

The simple answer is that kindness is the common element in all of them. Keeping the environment clean is about kindness to the environment and to one another. Kindness is essentially “other-centredness” or selflessness. It is about consideration for others by giving careful thought and attention to the needs of others.

In sharing the Japa…

Unleash the Singa in You

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After more than 30 years of service, first as the Courtesy Lion and then as the Kindness Lion, Singa has stepped aside.

As Singapore’s mascot for kindness, Singa’s letter calling on real people to step up brought an unprecedented depth of discussion on the topic of kindness. Whether on social media or through letters to the press, Singaporeans were eager to share why they felt Singa should stay or go. There were also serious questions asked of the state of graciousness in Singapore.


It is evident that kindness still matters to people and that is an encouraging sign of our potential for pro-social change as a nation. The conversations that took place were important in helping us to take stock as a people, and set the tone for how we can move forward in our quest for a kinder society.

In his 30 years of faithful service, Singa served as a reminder of the positive values we should constantly strive for. But it is so easy to take what he represents for gr…

A deficit of graciousness: Whose fault is it?

“Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.” James Lane Allen.

By now, most of you would have read about the 2013 Graciousness Index dropping 8 points to an all-time low of 53. The Index serves as a reflection of the state of graciousness in Singapore, but the survey does not ask for the reasons behind the Index’s movements.

However, it is only human for us to want to know who or what is responsible.

The bulk of the response to the story, as seen in online comments, has been to apportion blame. Here’s a smattering of some comments.

“It is difficult to be gracious and to be kind when there are so much stress and frustrations out there in our daily lives. And people are crying out in pain when the leaders hear not. When people don’t have hope, or are in despair due to inequality and injustice, the society will disintegrate from within.”

“Cannot be too friendly with people who come to steal our PMET jobs, depress our pay and discriminate us with their fake degrees.”

“How to …

Many Signs – One Message

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I am known for not having a sense of direction, and have been found lost even in my own office and on the plane! Signs play a very important role in my life.

Having travelled quite extensively, especially in my lawyering days, I am fascinated by the different signs in different countries messaging the need to be gracious.

In Taiwan for instance, there are signs for keeping to the right (we keep to the left) for people using escalators. There are also signs for “Reserved Seats” in the public transport system and for queuing. Clearly they work, for to the best of my observations at several Taipei Metro stations and trains, commuters clearly practice the norms.


 But the Taiwanese go further than us in that they have signs for “Female Waiting Zones” and for “Breast-feeding Stations”.


There are signs for customer service for the handicapped and “free Wifi” and “Mobile Phone Charging Counters”. They encourage the use of stairs in public places “to burn calories”.


Hong Kong public trans…