Fireworks of a Different Kind

One of my current pet peeves is how the media today, be it traditional or social, makes it look like Singapore is full of racist, xenophobic and unkind people. Some have even wryly noted that the existence of the Singapore Kindness Movement is proof that Singaporeans need someone to teach them to be kind.

The recent example of the video of the NUS/SIM boy making its round on social media, drawing much anger from netizens, is indicative of this. Yes, the student said some unfortunate things, but many comments from keyboard warriors were equally unkind, if not worse. When the boy’s actions and the subsequent reaction are viewed in totality, it makes Singaporeans look like angry, petulant children. The story even made it to the mainstream media, which further sensationalised the issue.

Some will justify the reactions to say that we must fight fire with fire, but I’ve been brought up to think that the best way to fight fire is with water.

Fireworks at the Marina Bay Floating Platform
On a happier note, last week, my wife and I took our teenaged grandchildren to the NDP. We boarded the MRT from Novena. My wife found one available seat. Jeffrey, his wife and his young son were taking up three seats. He made eye contact with me, took his young son and seated him on his lap, and offered me the seat. I thanked him and sat down. We chatted and found out that he too was going to the parade. I gave him the kindness card.

At the floating platform, I was seated next to Jeremy, another younger gentleman. Seeing me fumble with the clappers, he offered to inflate them for us. It was quite warm and the middle-aged lady seating in front of us was fanning herself. I looked into the fun pack but could not find the fan. I asked her whether it is in the bag. She replied in Mandarin and offered to find the fan for me. She did. I thanked Jeremy and the lady, and gave them both a kindness card each.

When I first took on the assignment to drive the Kindness Movement, I was told that it is a thankless task. Sixteen months on, I have found the going uphill but not altogether thankless. There are many who are very thankful for the work we do. For every negative or cynical response, there are many more positive encouragements and suggestions.

Studies have shown that people remember negatives more because we generally tend to take good things for granted. Negatives tend to be sensational too and they get more “air time” than positives. Not unlike the local debate on foreign talent or people making regrettable remarks online, when a silent majority says nothing, while those who are angry make all the vitriolic noise. As such, it is easy to have the impression that Singaporeans are generally not kind.

This is not to say that the unhappiness is without basis. That is the reason why I am in support of the upcoming national conversations. My only caveat being that these should indeed be true dialogue - not one side imposing their views on the other, and this applies both ways. Not listening is unkind too. When people believe that their views are being genuinely considered, passionate and even heated debate can be conducted in a civil, respectful and gracious tone.

I have reason to believe that the majority of our people are inherently kind. However, they need to be affirmed and encouraged to express not just their angst, but also their kindness by their action. Hence we created a card that says, “Thanks for being a great example for others. Here’s a kindness card for you and hope it inspires you to keep the kindness spirit going…”

The Kindness Card
So as the smoke settles from the NDP fireworks, by all means let us engage each other in an honest and spirited exchange, even disagreement. But let's not be disagreeable, throwing virtual rocks at each other. Let's rock the kindness instead.

Rock The Kindness by Blessings in a Bag


  1. The cards are a good idea.


    1. Thank you for your comment. If you would like to have some for your own use, please let me know and I will arrange for them to be mailed to you.

  2. Generally, Singaporean have a kind heart and some of your examples support this. Since you and your team took over the kindness movement, there has been lots of positive activities to promote kindness in Singapore. It will take time and I wish you and your team success while be patience as it is a long journey.

    Our school system does not encourage opposing views from our children. We never allow them to speak their mind. In short, we have not prepared them for the social media era as when it arrived, we are faced with people not knowing how to be gracious in expressing their views. Their language and thoughts have no regards for the people they are addressing their comment.

    We can attribute our economics success to our government effort. At the same time, the government has also to assume responsibility for the people behaviour. In everything, it is money talk. This has cultivated self centredness for a fairly large population which led to comments which are not nice to hear. It has always been we know all and we are right by our government and now our people learnt to act in like manner. We do not learn to listen to other views. We have not program on soft skill in school. Our leaders have not set good example here and now they will find it harder to government them as well. It is a price we are paying now for the lack of attention to this important areas when we will striving for economics success.

    1. Thank you for affirming with me that we have inherently a kind heart. If I did not believe that, our efforts in reminding each other to be kind and to have a bigger heart would have been in vain.

      In my reflections published in the Straits Times, Sat Sept 1, 2012, I made some of the points you raised in your comments. I am very glad that our PM chose to focus on "Hope, Heart and Home" in his ND Rally speech. It is clear that the government intends to give attention to these "important areas" as you put it. There is much to do moving forward, and we can all contribute to making our home a kinder and more gracious place full of hope for all, regardless of race or religion.


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