Friday, January 23, 2015

United by Kindness

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, many have commented on the episode in our newspapers. Most of it is focused on the question of the extent of freedom of expression, and responsible journalism, especially when the discourse has to do with religion in the context of our own multi-religious ethos.

Not surprisingly, of course, there is an outright condemnation of the terrorist attacks. Even on social media discussion, there is overwhelming agreement that the attacks cannot be condoned, let alone justified, and that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

A far more divisive discussion, is whether or not Charlie Hebdo had somewhat provoked the situation by its disrespectful satire of religion. Many seem to follow the line of thinking that freedom of speech isn’t freedom from consequence or freedom from responsibility, and that if one decides to pull the tiger’s tail often enough, at some point in time, the tiger is bound to bite back. Having said that, however, many do not, for a moment, think that the journalists deserved to be massacred.

There are plenty of reasons to support the view that in a society with a diversity of religious beliefs or no beliefs, to live harmoniously, one should refrain from saying anything that would incur the ire of our neighbours who are different from us.

In my desire to focus on things that bind us together as we celebrate SG50, it occurred to me that kindness as a common value can bind us together – whatever our religion, or lack thereof. This is because kindness is a value embraced by all alike. Consider what different religions teach about kindness:
  • Islam: "And what will explain to you what the steep path is? It is the freeing of a (slave) from bondage; or the giving of food in a day of famine to an orphan relative, or to a needy in distress. Then will he be of those who believe, enjoin fortitude, and encourage kindness and compassion." - Quran Chapter 90, Verses 12-17. 
  • Buddhism: “Kindness should become the natural way of life, not the exception.” – Gautama Buddha 
  • Taoism: "He is kind to the kind, he is also kind to the unkind. This is the true virtue of kindness." - Tao Te Ching, Chapter 49 
  • Confucianism: "Forget injuries, never forget kindness." - Confucius 
  • Hinduism: "What use is a melody in an unmusical song? What use are eyes which express no kindness? Other than a facial appearance, what do eyes With no quality of kindness really do? A kindly look is the ornament of the eyes. Without kindness the eyes are two unsightly sores." - Tirukkural 58: 573-575 
  • Christianity: “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” – The New Testament. 
  • Sikhism: “Practice truth, contentment and kindness; this is the most excellent way of life. One who is so blessed by the Formless Lord God renounces selfishness, and becomes the dust of all.” - Sri Guru Granth Sahib, 
  • Bahais: “Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.” ― Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í Faith 
  • Judaism: “"The world stands upon three things: upon the Law, upon worship and upon showing kindness." - Judaism Mishnah. 
  • Zoroastrianism: "Be good, be kind, be humane, and charitable; love your fellows; console the afflicted; pardon those who have done you wrong." – Zoroaster, founder of Zoroastrianism 

Kindness is, of course, not the monopoly of the religious. Humanists, agnostics and atheists may not necessarily believe in God or subscribe to any religion, but kindness is an important value to them as well.

Humanism: “A good world needs knowledge, kindness and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men...” – Bertrand Russell.

Agnosticism: “Intelligence, guided by kindness, is the highest wisdom...” – Robert Ingersoll, a humanist and agnostic, nicknamed ‘The Great Agnostic’.

Atheism: "Kindness comes from altruism, not from seeking divine reward." – Tom Cara, an atheist featured on a Freedom From Religion Foundation billboard put up in Chicago in Dec 2014.

Since kindness is a common value, why not let kindness determine how we use our freedom of expression in a responsible manner? If we are truly kind, perhaps we should ask the following questions before we express ourselves:
  1. Is there a kinder way to express our view of another person’s religion that shows respect even though we may not share the same beliefs?
  2. Is there a kinder way to respond or react to something said or written about our cherished faith without resorting to violence? 
I know that I do sound rather idealistic and, if truth be told, I am idealistic. After all to promote kindness in a world that is increasing fragmented, I have to be idealistic and optimistic. Indeed in this regard, I should muse that,
  1. In an ideal kind world, people shouldn't deliberately offend or insult; and we should not be so easily offended; 
  2. But since we don't live in an ideal world, we need to show sensitivity in what we say; And asking the above questions based on kindness will help; 
  3. Though we are not living in an ideal world, we should at least try to work towards a world where kindness is a way of life; 
  4. Since all people, religious and otherwise, believe in the value of kindness, we should all do our part in influencing our people towards practising more kindness. And the religious among us can help set the standard according to their respective teachings to show us how to turn the other cheek, how to forgive and how to return good for evil.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Resolved to "Love my Neighbours"

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul... Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” - G. K. Chesterton.

It is often said that New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken. I certainly hope that is not true of us. I do believe that it is a good time to make some simple resolutions.

Since people do not care about what we know until they know that we care, it is good to resolve to walk the talk. It is cheap to talk about values without practising them. This New Year I resolved to practice good neighbourliness even as we promote it as a movement.

A friend of mine who manages a cleaning company created a calendar for 2015 with a series of cartoons. It is titled “Kindness and Consideration”. It occurs to me that that is precisely how we can practically show care to our neighbours. For each month of the year, we are reminded to do the kind and considerate thing. Here is the list:
  • Do not squat on toilet bowls; 
  • Use the hand dryer or hand towels, 
  • Return food tray after use; 
  • Bin your litter; 
  • Save electricity; 
  • Be considerate to other moviegoers; 
  • Give way to alighting passengers; 
  • Move further in when boarding a train or bus; 
  • Offer priority seats to people in need; 
  • Signal before changing lanes; 
  • Clean up after your dog; and 
  • Wring laundry dry before hanging.

By being thoughtful we are helping to preserve a better environment for our neighbours, making life pleasant for all. And the environment is both physical, social and emotional. That is graciousness which is kindness in action.

An MP tagged me on my Facebook recently with a query from a member of her ward. She wrote:
My neighbour smokes in his patio every day. And the smoke always come into our living room. I don’t mind closing the door when she smokes, but imagine I have to open and close the door more than 10 times a day. I tried to speak to him, he replied that he has the right to smoke in his patio, and asked me if not, where can he smoke? He suggests I close my door every time he smokes. I told him that my th ree kids cannot take the smell.

Can I suggest that all residential areas including patios be banned from smoking? Have smoking areas like what we have in parks and neighbourhood centres. Hopefully, this can reduce the number of smokers and more importantly, fresh air for everyone.
I can understand the need to have smoking areas and I can also appreciate that some of us are allergic to cigarette smoke, not to mention the dangerous effects of second hand smoke on an intense and prolonged basis. But what is the solution, really, I echoed her concern in my head.

As it happened, I have a lovely set of immediate neighbours who share a common lift landing with us. Since we are the only units on the one floor, we see a lot of each other and we share goodies and even rides from time to time. We are ideal neighbours.

There is, however, one small problem. The matriarch of our neighbours is a fine grand lady of eighty plus. And she smokes quite heavily. And this is what I posted on the Facebook in response:
My neighbour who is a great neighbour smokes at the stairwell. I climb the steps for exercise and the smoke does irritate. She is in her 80s and could not stop smoking. I try to understand and love my neighbour for who she is. I need to accept her. She has nowhere to smoke. That is how I deal with it in my case.

I must add that I do engage her and encourage her to cut back and she appreciates that and does try. She is thoughtful and avoid smoking when I am climbing but sometimes she does not know when I am coming down or going up the stairs, and always apologises.
As to be expected there were different views posted by various people. But the episode has a positive and gracious ending. The same resident who posed the problem updated:
I have a nice chat this morning with my neighbour’s daughter who is very understanding. We spoke and hopefully the issue is settled. She suggests her dad to smoke at a quiet corner as she herself also doesn’t like the smell. Eventually, it all boils down to communication.
How right she is – it all boils down to communication. That is why we encourage our friends to consider becoming connectors and start a makan group with a couple of immediate neighbours to build connection to facilitate communication and good neighbourliness. Please visit for more information.

A good number of such makan groups have already been started and some wonderful stories are already coming in. A neighbour who had a dispute with another over some leaking problems was heard at one of the makan gathering saying to the other, “It is good that we are gathered as neighbours for this meal. I would like to invite you over for a meal another time to get to know each other better.”

Neighbours having a makan gathering by the poolside
Neighbours sharing a meal along the corridor

It is reported 2 years ago that there were 70,000 complaints between immediate neighbours lodged with the authorities. I am convinced that when we are connected and able to start talking to each other, we need not lodge complaints against each other because we are able to communicate with each other.

Resolving to be kind and gracious neighbours is also good for our own health and wellbeing. We have a booklet which summarized 5 Amazing Benefits of Being Kind. We would like you to have it – in fact you are welcome to request for as many as you need for your use as gifts to your friends and to give away at functions. It makes a beautiful gift. Just email us at or call her at 68379954 and we can arrange for you to have them.

Relationship is about accepting people and situations. It is also about courage to make changes. And it is about the wisdom to distinguish between the two. I love this prayer that brings the three elements together so beautifully.

Give me Grace to accept with Serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
that should be changed,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.