Friday, April 12, 2013

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 smile when snide (vulgarity) around us are always not being gracious? And yet the Government expects us to be more gracious? Reflect on yourselves please.”

Blame the Government, blame the foreigners, blame the stress … basically, many comments rationalise that it is somebody else’s fault that we have become less gracious.

It isn’t my place to comment on Government policies, but I’d like to believe that this drop in the Index would give them a better feel of where people in general are at in social graces.

After all, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in his National Day Rally last year, said, “We have also got to be a caring, a generous, a decent people; people who are gracious and warm towards one another as well as towards others and that is the best way to ensure that tomorrow Singapore will have a bigger heart.”

That we haven’t acted on that as a nation should be a wake-up call for the Government, you, and me to reflect on what we have done, or not done, to bring about this situation.

In other words, I do not think playing the blame game gets us anywhere. If there is any fault at all, it lies with all of us. We are collectively responsible for this deficit in graciousness. How so?

Granted, our MRT trains are crowded, and the rising cost of living is making it harder for us to make ends meet. Rightly or wrongly, we feel like we are in a pressure cooker environment. And we can add to the litany of problems and challenges we face every day.

But regardless of the pressure one is under, we are still at liberty to choose to be kind or unkind in the circumstances.

How we choose to respond to our environment speaks volumes of who we are as a people.

Many of you are probably too young to remember the Japanese Occupation, but for those of you who even have the vaguest knowledge of what Singapore was like then, you would agree that our forefathers were probably living in a worse situation than we are now.

Yet, there were so many stories of extraordinary kindness coming from ordinary Singaporeans in those dreadful times. Who can forget the late Mrs. Mary Seah, the Angel of Changi, who risked death to bring food and medicine to prisoners in Changi and Bidadari?

I did have the privilege of meeting the late Elizabeth Choy a long time ago. She was tortured by the Japanese during the Occupation and when asked by the post-Occupation war tribunal if she wanted her torturers executed, she said no. She reminded everyone that had it not been for the war, her torturers would have been just like her, at home with their families and doing ordinary things.

How many of us today can show that kind of forgiving compassion, that sort of spontaneous kindness?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t express our unhappiness to our leaders, if we feel that they are not doing the job that we voted them to do. Fair enough, speak our mind, do something about it, make a difference – that is our right as a citizen.

But if we are become less kind or less gracious due to the pressures we are facing, we need to reflect and ask why we allow circumstances to make us so. If our forefathers could be kind to one another in the harshest of living conditions, do we forego graciousness just because of the angst and anxieties of urban living?

What does that say about us?