Friday, August 30, 2013

Foreign Green Bird in Little India

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, “Thanks!” and walked away.  I take that to mean “Thanks, and no thanks!”

A couple of them came to show appreciation and admiration.  They said they will certainly participate and make a difference.  I thanked them and trust that they will do so.

We passed LAGNAA, “...the barefoot dinning.”  I had a chat with Shanti who is an associate there.  She expressed appreciation for our efforts and said that she is doing her part.  I thanked her.  As I left to continue my litter-picking, I heard someone calling after me.  I turned around and there was Kaesavan, also from LAGNAA.  He invited us to have a cool drink with his compliments.  I thanked him and said we will take that up after our rounds.

When we returned, Shanti was there, welcoming us with a broad smile.  We were sweaty and clearly in need of a long cool drink. We were about to take a seat on the ground floor when she said, “Please come upstairs.  I have turned on the air-conditioning. It is more comfortable up there.”  This is kindness in action, very thoughtful hospitality.   We enjoyed the lassi and the coke.  Feeling very refreshed and encouraged, we took our leave with much gratitude.  My friend Teng Lit offered a tip for the waiter but Shanti said, “No need to, if you insist, I will give it to charity.”

What did I take away from this experience?

First, we cannot stereotype foreigners and play the blame-game. The state of cleanliness in our city is not caused by foreigners – it is the result of litter-bugs who have no sense of pride and civic responsibility – and it has little to do with being a foreigner or local.

Second, every trip we make to do our rounds of litter-picking reiterates the reality that we are not a clean city.  We are not even a cleaned city.  Is cleanliness an issue in Singapore??  You must be kidding!
Is Cleanliness an Issue in Singapore?

Third, most people appreciate what we do.  They resonate with our action.  But when will they stop appreciating on the sideline, and start getting involved and do their part to make the difference?  We can only hope that our example will inspire them – one at a time.

And finally, there are kind people everywhere.  Kaesavan and Shanti are but two of them.  I want them to know that their act of hospitality to total strangers like us make a great difference.  They encouraged us by their thoughtfulness and generosity.  Because of people like them, we press on in what we do and trust that our kindness to the environment will continue to inspire acts of kindness in others.  Each act of kindness when conjoined will be like trees planted on both sides of a wide boulevard, providing shade and safety for all to enjoy.

This is the vision of a Singapore we want to see.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Resonating with Kindness

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 positive. It does not matter that they are not 100% positive – the point is the public is aware and concerned enough to write about it, and the media interested enough to report it.

1. (Letter) Youth Forum – Small Acts, Huge Impact – The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2013, Page A38 
16-year old Sabrina’s letter was published in which she shared her two experiences with kind strangers who left an impact on her through their gracious acts. She felt that acts of kindness need not always be overt and that the smallest gestures can truly make a difference.

2. (Letter) Youth Forum – Appreciate unsung heroes – The Straits Times, 7 Aug 2013, Page A38
Student Rachel Tan shared her shocking experience of having witnessed a woman verbally abuse an MRT staff who was doing his job and politely requesting for passengers to move further into the carriage. While the MRT was initially taken aback, he responded by apologising profusely to the woman who continued complaining aloud to her friend even after the train had departed the station. She urged everyone to appreciate the unsung heroes in our everyday lives, including but not limited to service staff, and thank them for their kindness and effort.

3. Durian MOB 2013 – My Paper, 6 Aug 2013, Page B8 
Dr Leslie Tay, a popular food critic and blogger, has organised durian gatherings since 2008 that serve as a platform for bringing people together to learn more about the kind of fruits. This year, with the support of SKM, the 12 will see participants sampling a large variety of durians.

Image via

4. (Letter) Towards a city-state of happiness – TODAY, 6 Aug 2013, Page 20 
Reader Sun Xi shared the view that Singapore already enjoys prosperity and progress and it is time to move on to the third component touched upon in the National Pledge – happiness. He cites two outstanding social issues, namely income inequality and social compassion, where Singaporeans are found wanting. He felt that it is difficult for people to live happily in a society where the pressures of competition and comparisons prevail. He felt that the key to a happy society lies more in the solidarity among its members and we should strive to create a Singapore where individuals enjoy quality life while also caring for others.

5. Youths doing charity during the lunar seventh month – Lianhe Zaobao, 5 Aug 2013, Page 12
Youths are taking the opportunity to do charity work while celebrating the lunar seventh month. Their aim is to raise a total of fifty thousand dollars to build a tuition centre for children from underprivileged families. In addition, one of the interviewees highlighted that the participating youths come from all walks of life and that initiatives like this can help to foster the kampong spirit among youths.

6. New Twitter rules to check abusive users – My Paper, 5 Aug 2013, Page A18 
Twitter is handing down new rules to control abusive language, the company said Saturday, a move which follows a barrage of nasty, harassing, and threatening messages directed at high-profile female users of the microblogging site. It is introducing a one-click button to report abuse and updating its rules to clarify that it will not tolerate abusive behaviour. The company also promised to devote more staff to weed out offending messages. The relative anonymity of the Internet means it has long been hard to police abusive or threatening speech, but the issue recently received attention in Britain after several women went public about the sexually explicit and often luridly violent abuse they receive from online bullies, often called trolls. Many argue that trolls are an annoyance which should just be ignored, but the catalogue of graphic threats made public by the women involved have ignited a national debate over the impunity of those spewing the hatred online. Twitter’s new anti-abuse policy will apply worldwide.

7. Yahoo News - Social MP3 experiment draws 1,000 to Sentosa – 5 Aug 2013 
Close to a 1,000 people turned for a social experiment at Resorts World Sentosa on Saturday evening. Organised by social collective The Hidden Good and supported by the Singapore Kindness Movement, the experiment involved random strangers turning up at a pre-determined public location and time, downloading an MP3 file and follow the instructions delivered to their headphones via a narrator called “Ah Meng”. The Hidden Good said the experiment helped participants break barriers and redefine society. "Singapore, this is what a warmer, friendlier society could look like," it said on its Facebook page, which has over 2,500 likes. A video of the event can be viewed on Youtube.

The team behind The MP3 Experiment: Singapore's Soundtrack
Image via The Hidden Good Facebook

What is even more encouraging to me is that in the last 30 days, I was interviewed by several groups of students from Junior Colleges and Polytechnics. They were doing group projects on kindness and graciousness. The topic is entirely their own choosing and they asked pertinent questions like how can we foster a kinder society? Many answered their questions with suggestions of their own. They offered ideas like better interior design for the buses and trains, special retrievable seats for those in need, etc. I found them very refreshing and am very encouraged by their initiatives.


“Are we a kind society after all these efforts?” I am often asked. My answer is similar to that offered by Professor Tommy Koh at our Kindness Conference last year. We are kind, but can be kinder. A kinder society is always under construction. We are arriving but never fully arrived. Since we are interested in a sustainable lifestyle (habit/culture) of kindness, it will take time. We can only win one at a time. But I am positive and optimistic. Mindset change will come in its time. I take comfort in my Malay friend’s reminder, “Sedikit sedikit, lama jadi bukit.”

Wishing our Muslim friends Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri and everyone Happy National Day.