A WORLD OF KINDNESS
Rajika Jayatilake writes that kindness and civility will pave the way for genuine national progress
Fattening one’s wallet at the expense of everyone else is in vogue with much of the contemporary political and corporate leadership. As human potential thought leader and international best-selling author Bryant McGill says: “The world is not fair, and often fools, cowards, liars and the selfish hide in high places.”
Added to that, most people are obsessed with racing to be ahead or trying to keep up with the Joneses, and they rarely take a moment to be kind to someone along the way. As Seneca said: “Where there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”
Nations are becoming increasingly concerned about the selfishness that has permeated humanity today. Therefore, in a collective attempt to promote the milk of human kindness, at least 28 countries joined in observing World Kindness Day, which was celebrated on 13 November. The nations included Australia, the UK, Canada, the US, Japan, the UAE, Singapore, Italy and India.
In Australia, the Minister of School Education has placed World Kindness Day on the national school calendar.
World Kindness Day was initiated in 1997 at a conference in Tokyo by the World Kindness Movement (WKM) – a non-political, non-religious international movement that focusses on inspiring individuals towards greater kindness and highlights the good deeds done by communities. WKM’s 9th General Assembly was held in South Korea last year and countries are currently bidding to host the annual meeting in 2019.
Last year, Microsoft delivered a strong corporate message to the world by challenging internet users with the concept of ‘digital civility.’
Microsoft’s most recent research on this subject has found that 88 percent of teens and 87 percent of adults believe they treat others with respect and dignity online, and 84 percent of both age groups say they show respect for the views of others.
The highest levels of digital civility were seen in the UK, the US and Australia, while the lowest were in South Africa, Mexico and Russia. Offering in-store online safety courses, Microsoft says: “Live the Golden Rule by acting with empathy, compassion and kindness in every interaction, and treating everyone they connect with online with dignity and respect.”
Probably no country is more enthusiastic about encouraging kindness than Singapore. Its first prime minister the late Lee Kuan Yew noted in his autobiography (The Wit and Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew) that “economic growth is not the end itself… you want to translate it into high standards of living, high quality of life with recreation, the arts, spiritual fulfilment and intellectual fulfilment. So we are also spending considerable sums on the arts, which will create a more gracious society.”
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently says that the Singaporean government has an important role in developing a cultured society: “It can encourage gracious behaviour, foster social norms, and recognise cultural achievements and support the arts.”
The city state’s tough spot fines for littering and uncivil behaviour have also achieved remarkable results over the years.
However, Singaporean officials concede that graciousness towards others cannot be ordered, saying that it must come from the heart and is built out of humility, integrity and patience, and the country’s success should not be defined by how much people earn or possess but how well they treat each other in daily interactions.
The latest Graciousness Index released by the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) shows that the country has steadily risen in graciousness from 53 (out of 100) in 2013 to 55 in 2016 and 61 in 2017. SKM’s General Secretary Dr. William Wan observes: “If we as a nation continue this positive trend then kindness and graciousness can become part of our norms and national identity.”
Technology is also encouraging considerate actions. For instance, Singapore’s gastropark Timbre+ has an automated coin deposit system where customers pay an extra dollar when buying food, which is refunded only when they return their trays. One regular visitor observed in a letter to The Straits Times: “In my visits there, I have never seen a single person fail to return his tray.”
At a workshop held last year, former top Singaporean civil servant Lim Siong Guan asked 60 participants in their 20s and 30s what kind of Singapore they wish to see in 50 years: the five main ideas were a gracious society that does the right thing even when no one is watching; going beyond academics to focus on character and passion; active ageing focussed on physical and mental health; going beyond geographic advantages on innovation and e-commerce; and being a more sensitive and tolerant people who focus on values.
Not long before that, Lim met two groups of labour leaders in their 40s and 50s. When they were asked the same question, seven clear responses emerged: a gracious society; work-life balance; an innovative, creative and smart Singapore; Singapore as an economic leader; job availability; safety and security; clean and green.
Regular people understand that kindness and civility are essentially blended into the road of human progress. And as the 32nd President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt noted: “Human kindness never weakened the stamina or softened the fibre of a free people.”