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:
- 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?
- Is there a kinder way to respond or react to something said or written about our cherished faith without resorting to violence?
- In an ideal kind world, people shouldn't deliberately offend or insult; and we should not be so easily offended;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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.