Monday, March 24, 2014

Olympian Acts of Kindness

The 2014 Winter Olympics was held in Sochi, Russia, from 7–23 February 2014. A total of 98 events in 15 winter sport disciplines were held during the Games. I received several emails from a Canadian friend about acts of kindness that took place at the games.

In the men’s 1,000-metre race, Canada’s top long-track speed skater Denny Morrison had forfeited his chance to race in the finals when he failed during the qualifier. His younger and less experienced team-mate Gilmore Junio had qualified.

In a gracious and generous act of sportsmanship and team-spirit, Junio decided to yield his rightful place to Morrison. He said, “How Denny is skating now, I believe it’s in the best interest of the team if he races…” 

“This is an amazing gesture and I’m ready to make the most of this opportunity”, said Morrison, who promptly twitted publicly to thank his team mate.

Long track speedskaters Denny Morrison, right, and Gilmore Junio arrive
home from the Sochi Olympics in Calgary.

In another event, the Canadian cross-country ski coach Justin Wadsworth, a three-time Olympian, was crestfallen as he wandered over to the finish line to watch the end of the. semifinal in the men’s free sprint. The Canadians were all eliminated early. As he stood there, surrounded by other officials, he spotted Russian Anton Gafarov, an early medal favourite, coming over a rise. Gafarov.

He had crashed on a quick downhill corner and broken a ski. Then he had crashed again. A long, thin layer of P-Tex had been skinned off his ski and he was struggling miserably, ignominiously dragging himself to the finish.

The officials, including some Russian coaches just stood there and stared. “It was like watching an animal stuck in a trap. You can’t just sit there and do nothing about it,” Wadsworth said to himself.

Grabbing a spare ski he had brought for a Canadian racer, Wadsworth ran onto the track where Gafarov was dragging himself along. Kneeling beside him, Wadsworth pulled off the broken equipment and quickly replaced it. No words passed between them. Gafarov only nodded and promptly set off again to ski across the finishing line as a skier should.

Candian ski coach, Justin Wadsworth, came to the rescue of Russian skier,
Anton Gafarov

“I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line,” Wadsworth later said.

These two incidents poignantly illustrate what the Olympic spirit is about. It is about friendship. And friendship is nothing if not kind and gracious.

Renewed friendship: Australia’s Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton put their
rivalry aside as Pendleton retires from the sport at London 2012 Olympics

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Power of Kindness

On Saturday March 15, a small group of avid readers will gather at the Central Public Library from 3-6 pm*.

Sharing a common love for books, they will read parts of The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci. Ferrucci is an Italian psychotherapist and philosopher whose highly-acclaimed book delves into the profound benefits of leading lives of compassion. The Dalai Lama endorses it as “a book after my own heart” in the preface.

The book makes the striking argument that kindness is actually at the heart of all the values we hold dear, including honesty, warmth, forgiveness, contact, sense of belonging, trust, mindfulness, empathy, humility, patience, generosity, respect, flexibility, memory, gratitude, service, and joy.

As it happens, the idea of empathy has certainly been grabbing some news headlines recently. Ferrucci defined empathy as “the expansion of consciousness” and has very definite views about the importance of having it. “Empathy”, he writes, “is an ingredient of the emotional intelligence necessary for acting competently and efficiently in today’s world.” For him, it is “a prerequisite for communication, collaboration, and social cohesion”. He goes even further to say that “if we annul it, we return to savagery – or cease to exist”.

A story of empathy that was told to me recently concerned a wealthy tycoon from Thailand who took time out to be a monk. During his short pilgrimage, he discovered the meaning of empathy when he was led to witness the cremation of a deceased person. As required by his faith tradition, he was to reflect and imagine that the body was his. In his deep meditation , he identified with the pain and suffering of the deceased and in the process, learnt what empathy is about. Emerging from his pilgrimage, he returned to the business world as a completely transformed person.

Three years ago, when I first started to drive this movement, someone responded to one of my published letters. He was critical of my views on a certain issue and offered a few ideas of his own in an email to me. I responded by inviting him to have tea with me. He did. After about 10 minutes, he said,
“I must confess I told my wife that if I sensed that you were not open to listen and seek to understand my views, I would walk out of this meeting. But I am not going to because I can see that you are listening.”

Whatever empathy is, it certainly includes the willingness to listen and not jump to judgments or conclusions. That is the power of kindness. It disarms and builds relationships.

*If you would like to attend the reading of The Power of Kindness, the details are as follows. I will be leading the discussion and look forward to connecting with you there.

Saturday, 15 Mar 2014, 3.00 – 6.00pm
Multi-Purpose Room (Basement 1), Central Public Library
100 Victoria Street, Singapore 188064