Kindness By Any Other Name

Last weekend, I was kept busy with the kindness business. I was privileged to have been one of the speakers at two inaugural conferences. On Sat morning, I was at the Keep Singapore Clean Conference organized by the Public Hygiene Council, and I spoke on “Keeping Clean: The Japanese Experience”. In the afternoon, I attended the Singapore Scouts Association’s Annual General meeting as a member of its Council. And on Sunday afternoon, I spoke at the Metta Convention organized by Singapore Buddhist Federation. “Metta” means loving kindness and I spoke on “Hearts Reach Out” in line with their theme “Meeting of Hearts.”

What have these events in common?

The simple answer is that kindness is the common element in all of them. Keeping the environment clean is about kindness to the environment and to one another. Kindness is essentially “other-centredness” or selflessness. It is about consideration for others by giving careful thought and attention to the needs of others.

In sharing the Japanese experience, I mentioned a cultural saying dating back to the 8th century. kokoro zukai is a poetic expression which may be translated “living by considering others from the heart.” This ethos, reinforced by the Shinto and Buddhist commitment to the ideal of cleanliness, provides a moral basis for environmental protection.

Keep Singapore Clean Conference 2013

One of the leaders of the Small Kindness Movement of Japan said, “When the environment is clean, one’s heart would also be clean and clutter free.” Hence, it would be natural for them to want to keep public spaces clean and litter-free even as they seek to be spiritually clean and clutter free.

At the Metta Convention, I learned that metta signifies friendship and non-violence. It also holds a strong wish for the happiness of others. Its meditative practices seek to increase qualities such as showing patience, receptivity, and appreciation in the practitioners. The end goal is to promote loving-kindness, a caring for the well-being of another living being, independent of approving or disapproving of them, or expecting anything in return.

In short, metta is about being other-centred, described as “selfless love…when one person surrenders his or her whole being for the good of another.”
With the venerables at Metta Convention 2013

I was an active scout more than 50 years ago and I can still remember the Scout Promise which includes a promise to help other people and to keep the Scout Law. One of the laws states that a scout is disciplined and considerate.

The Singapore Scout Emblem

After the business of the Annual General Meeting was transacted, the President of the Scout Movement, the Deputy Chief Commissioner and I were having a chat over a cup of coffee. We recalled with nostalgia the practice of tying knots on our scarves to help us remember to do kind or good deeds. I suggested that we should bring that practice back by creating a scout handkerchief. We should start the day by tying the four corners of the handkerchief and untying each as we accomplish a kind deed. In this way, we would be reminded to do at least four kind deeds a day.

In one of the responses to my last blog, Bingy wrote, “Your job is a unique one. We need more people who are willing to work on something which is right, even though it may not be easily well received all the time. Keep doing what you do best.” I am grateful for his affirmation. In one sense it is a unique job. But in another sense, it is a job that a great majority of us are already doing in different forms. Every time we help keep Singapore clean we are practicing kindness. Every time, a Buddhist practices metta, she is sending kindness to herself and others. And when a scout keeps the Scout Promise, kindness is acted out.

It is my experience most people believe in and practice kindness; and I have been more than well-received by many. Nobody gets up in the morning and decides that he is going to be unkind. In fact, everyday, I find kindness everywhere, often under another name. Kindness by any other name is still kindness, and I rejoice and celebrate it.


  1. Dear Dr Wan, I am Daniel Lee.
    I have initiated a 'Singapore Nice People Project' at to help build a gracious society. Its main strategy is to urge all Singaporeans to participate in a national mission to adopt a common set of 12 courteous habits. I believe that if the idea of courtesy and good social behavior is clearly spelt out and unambiguously fixed for everyone, people are more likely to adopt these habits as the standard moral reference point.
    Since we have a common objective, The Singapore Kindness Movement, The 101 Hard Things Challenge, The Hidden Good, Peter Png and others, and my own Singapore Nice People Project should all collaborate and promote each other's effort.
    Please contact me at
    Thank you very much!


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