Acts of Kindness Observed or Received –At Home and Abroad

I am personally delighted that many more acts of kindness are observed and reported in Singapore. Several friends noted that in recent months there are many more notations in the Bouquet Section of the Forum Page in the Straits Times.

Recently, the owners of the cafe, Strangers’ Reunion, were met with an overwhelming response from the public when they put out a call for help to raise funds for their cancer-stricken head chef. I was asked for my opinion by the New Paper to which I replied to the effect that there is innate kindness in every one of us. We naturally reach out with a desire to help for we know that the challenges of human frailties and vulnerabilities are common to all of us.

These days, I have observed and experienced an increase in the number of people offering seats to senior people on buses and trains. At 10:00 pm one evening, I boarded a crowded train at Dhoby Ghaut station. A middle-age lady immediately offered her seat to me. Just yesterday, my wife and I boarded a crowded bus from Plaza Singapura to Bugis Junction at 5:45 pm. A lady gave up her seat to her and another seated behind her offered hers to me. We accepted their kind gestures with appreciation even though we were going to alight a few stops away.

Singapore MRT during peak hour
You may ask why we accepted the offer of the seats when we were getting off the bus very soon. The primary reason is to encourage such kind acts. To decline may be seen by those around to have rejected a kind gesture, and that may discourage others from acting kindly. I always encourage everyone to accept an offer when given, even if it is only one stop away. In fact, in the case of the lady who gave up the MRT seat to me at Dhoby Ghaut, I was able to invite her back to her seat when I alighted at Novena. By receiving and returning acts of kindness, the acts repeated are observed by fellow commuters and serve as good examples of consideration and thoughtfulness in the public space.

Kind gestures are not confined to giving up seats. I had the joy of having my train ticket paid for by a fellow commuter in the queue behind me as I attempted to purchase a ticket from the vending machine. He noticed I did not have my wallet with me and simply offered to pay for my ticket without much ado. On another occasion, I did not have parking coupons with me and when I offered to buy a coupon from a chap who had just parked his car besides mine, he simply gave me the required coupon and refused to accept payment. Just a week ago, I left my name-card holder with $50 cash and my office staff card in a cab I took to an event at a local hotel. An hour later, I received a call from the hotel concierge to say that a cabbie came by to return the card holder and its contents to me.

About 10 years ago, I was attending a law conference at Tokyo Bay area. One evening I bought a return ticket and boarded the train to the city. My objective was to spend some time walking the city alone to take in the sight and sound without having to spend any money. I took nothing with me except the return ticket. It was a pleasant evening and I thoroughly enjoyed my walk.

Time passed so rapidly and before I knew it, it was almost midnight. I rushed to the train station but alas, the train stopped running at about 11:30 pm! I had missed the last train. But I had no money with me, and I spoke no Japanese.

As I despondently walked away from the station thinking about the best way to get back to my hotel at Tokyo Bay, I saw a group of young people. They had spunky coloured hair and were very groovy-looking, to the best of my recollection. I gingerly approached them, hoping that they would understand my predicament. To my relief, at least one of them spoke English. I explained my need and asked if she could hail a cab for me and asked the cabbie to take me to my hotel and wait for me to get the money to pay him.

Tokyo Teenagers Photo
The young girl huddled with the others and I saw them passed some money around. She came back to me and said, “Please take these yens and use them for the cab. I will call one for you and tell him where to take you. Cabbies don’t wait for passengers for the money as they expect to be paid on arrival.” I was dumbfounded. I tried to say something about not being able to accept their kindness to no avail. They just smiled and she pressed the yens into my palm and shoved me into the cab. They waved good bye and one gave me the thumbs up.

On another occasion, some 20 years ago, I was driving with my wife in the State of Virginia. It was close to sunset, and we were lost. I have been driving around in some wooded areas of that vast state and could not find my way to the entrance of the beltway which will take me back to Maryland where we resided. The sun was setting fast and we were a little concerned because we had heard about “red-necks” who were not very friendly to “outsiders”.

As we were wondering what direction to take at a fork ahead of us, we spotted a heavily tattooed man with a pony tail neatly tied up changing a busted tire on his pick-up truck. To my mind, he would be a stereotype of a “southern red-neck”. I hesitated to ask him for direction but decided to ask anyway. He looked at me and mumbled almost inaudibly, “Wait for me.” My feeling of insecurity was even more intense as I was not sure what he was going to do to us.

As soon as he had the tire mounted and screwed on, he jumped into the cab of his truck and said, more audibly, “Follow me.” I looked at my wife and decided to obey. He drove for about 20 minutes and pulled to the side of the dirt road. I followed and stopped just behind him. He alighted from his truck and walked towards me to point me to the highway. I thanked him and proceeded in the direction he pointed us to. I looked into the rearview mirror and watched him turned his truck around. Clearly the entrance to the highway was not on his way to wherever he was going. He took the trouble to go out of his way to bring us closer to the entrance of the highway.

Highway to Maryland
I learned a huge lesson that day. I will never ever stereotype anyone again!

In South Africa, I was waiting for my plane at the airport. My host was with me and we had some time to kill before the plane took off. We chatted at the airport café for a while. I excused myself to go to the washroom. In the toilet, I hanged up my jacket on the door and after relieving myself, I left the stall without my jacket. Back at the café, my friend did not notice that I was without my jacket. We sat for another hour before I realized that I had left my jacket in the stall of the toilet. In my jacket was my wallet with all my cash and credit cards. I also had my passport in one of the pockets! You can imagine the horror on my face when I discovered the cold reality of my negligence. Never mind the cash and credit cards, I could be in a great deal of trouble without my passport!

King Shaka International Airport
I immediately bounced off to the toilet and to my great dismay, the jacket was not there! On the way back to the café, a staff of the airport came up to me and asked if I was looking for a jacket. I could not believe my ears! “Yes, sir!” I blurted out. He then led me to the lost and found office and said that it was returned to me by another traveler who did not leave behind his name or any other contact details.

Streets of New York
There are many more positive experiences of kindness I have received in so many different ways. But let me share one more which I had observed in New York. As I was walking down a busy avenue, I saw at a distance, a lady walking her dog. She stopped and another younger lady dressed in business suit also stopped beside her. I saw the younger lady squatted besides her and I thought she was just stroking the dog. As I got closer, I realized that the lady with the dog was visually challenged and the lady in business suit was in fact helping her to scoop the dog’s poo into a plastic bag.

I believe that kindness is innate in all of us. I am ever thankful for the kind acts observed and received. I fully resonate with Mother Theresa who said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

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