Random Thoughts on Kindness

An article by guest writer Chua Swee Kiat. Refer to “About the Writer” at the end of the post.

There were two days in November this year that were considered highly auspicious and much sought after by couples planning to get married. One was 11 November 2011 (11.11.11) and the other, 20 November 2011 (20.11.2011). The rare coincidence of the repeated numbers representing the day, month and year also intrigued and interested many others, not just those involved in matrimony.

Unlike these two “star” days, another day in November probably did not attract as much attention. Sunday, 13 November came and went without most people being aware of what it stood for or its significance. That it was World Kindness Day likely caused some Singaporeans, myself included, to scratch their heads and go: “Huh, what’s that?”

Well, at least one group of people knew better as they were direct beneficiaries. In an appropriate act of kindness, contract cleaners in Marine Parade were given the day off to commemorate World Kindness Day. As reported by the media, resident volunteers in the estate took over the cleaning for the day, led by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and his fellow members of parliament.

Elsewhere in Singapore, volunteers stationed at shopping malls and other public areas gave away thousands of yellow gerbera daisies as symbols of kindness. Some schools and tertiary institutions also marked the day with special programmes.

The day was perhaps marred for at least one volunteer who observed on blog that some people were hoarding flowers they were given and asking for more! World Kindness Day was also celebrated in countries around the world. In Sydney, friends and strangers exchanged hugs, in the UK people sent text messages expressing appreciation for acts of kindness and in Vancouver, a “Kindness” concert was the main event.

World Kindness Day has a relatively short history, it was officially inaugurated in 1998 and celebrated annually since. Behind it is an organisation called the World Kindness Movement whose vision is to “inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world.”

The movement was in fact launched right here in Singapore which is a founding member together with countries like Thailand, Japan, UK and the US. Its local affiliate is the Singapore Kindness Movement which has none other than the Prime Minister as its Patron. The Singapore Movement has its roots in the long running National Courtesy Campaign which several generations of Singaporeans have grown up with.

Having discovered World Kindness Day and its vision belatedly, I was struck by the profound irony of the event this year. For a month earlier, exactly to the day, the world witnessed a horrific act of man’s inhumanity that had probably not been seen outside the ravages of a war zone.

A little girl in China’s Foshan city, injured by a hit-and-run driver and later ran over by another vehicle was ignored as she laid hapless and bleeding on a busy street. No fewer than 18 passers-by could have come to her aid but none did until an old lady collecting refuse chanced upon her. The toddler named Yue Yue unfortunately succumbed to her massive injuries and her tragic story grabbed world headlines.

Kindness obviously took a back seat to other considerations that day in Foshan city. Compassion, consideration and concern for others, charitable behaviour, however one chooses to define kindness, were sadly absent in those who turned a blind eye to the plight of little Yue Yue.

While the public debate raged on in China about the kind of society they have that could have nurtured such anti-social behaviour, my thoughts turned to Singapore and I could not help but wonder whether a “Foshan” would ever occur here. I would like to think not.

Even though Singaporeans will probably not score high on graciousness and courtesy, especially in public transport and on the roads, I am inclined to believe that collectively our heart and values are anchored in the right place and our sense of civic duty is intact.

By most accounts, Singaporeans are a charitable lot with a strong spirit of giving, be it time or money, to causes deserving of support. Whether it is a relief fund for victims of natural disasters in neighbouring countries or home-grown calls for help or even media stories of complete strangers in need of assistance, Singaporeans are known to respond whole-heartedly and generously.

But more can certainly be done to strengthen our social fibre and in this regard, two recent initiatives aimed at our young will hopefully prevent the possibility of a “Foshan” happening in the future.

One was the launch of a Character and Citizenship Education programme by the Ministry of Education that focuses on values driven and student-centric lessons. One of the desired outcomes of this new focus on character building is to have our students show care and concern for others.

The other is the launch of a Seed Kindness Fund by the Singapore Kindness Movement. It aims to encourage students and teachers to generate and run creative ideas that will promote values of care and consideration for others in and out of the classroom.

With such proactive programmes to instil the desired values in our young, Singapore can claim to continue to contribute positively to the World Kindness Movement’s vision to “inspire individuals towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world.”

About the Writer

The writer is a former corporate executive who is now discovering a whole new world beyond the narrow confines of an office cubicle.

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