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It’s World Kindness Day tomorrow (Nov 13).
And so here’s the usual reminder to be kind.
Okay. Got it? Right. See you in a year’s time.
Isn’t it a little odd, don’t you think, how we remember and commemorate certain days of the year? (P.S. It’s Origami Day today)
Yesterday, it was 11.11 and most of us are probably still humming the infernal jingles of the shopping apps that have been ringing in our ears leading up to the day.
Do you remember that 11.11 actually started as Singles Day in China? It was originally created in the 1990s to celebrate singlehood — a sort of an anti-Valentine’s Day, if you’d like.
However, thanks to a certain Jack Ma, 11.11 was rebranded in 2009 as a mass consumer event that has today eclipsed Black Friday as the biggest shopping event of the year.
But you knew that, of course. How many items did you buy at the 11.11 sales? Don’t worry, I’m also guilty of drinking my fair share at the well of consumerism. Thanks to some prodding from a dear friend, I finally got that standing desk that I need to WFH without turning into a total slob.
Talking about consumerism, not to be a buzzkill on your shopping high, did you know that our e-shopping habits aren’t exactly the most sustainable?
Climate activist Ho Xiang Tian argued in a commentary on CNA that Singapore’s resource consumption per capita is way too high. He cites Earth Overshoot Day to illustrate how, at the current rate we are using our resources, we are on track to leave our children with a barren, desolate future.
Even though Ma’s Alibaba has promised that sustainability would be its main focus for this year’s sales, it’s difficult to read into that promise without a certain degree of irony.
The e-commerce giant may have pledged 100 million yuan (S$21.2m) of “green” vouchers “to incentivise shopping decisions that contribute to an environmentally friendly lifestyle,” as its chief marketing officer Chris Tung promised. And it may have promised to set up more recycling stations across China (none in Singapore sadly, although please recycle or repurpose your packaging!)
But there’s no escaping the fact that it is still promoting a culture of consumerism that is inherently unsustainable.
To me, it’s also doubly ironic that as world leaders pay lip service to sustainability efforts at COP26 (with Greta Thunberg and co out in the cold, literally), we are busy tearing open our shopping packages and enthusing over the latest bao that we have tao-ed.
Kindness is more than just words
Which brings me back to: It’s World Kindness Day tomorrow.
It’s a day where we remember to be kind to each other, and to ourselves.
But are we simply paying lip service to the idea, just like some world leaders are long on talk but short on concrete promises on saving the earth for future generations?
I’d admit, I sometimes do wonder if constantly talking about kindness makes me the broken naggy record that no one wants at their party.
But that’s the thing, kindness isn’t about what you say. It is about what you do.
That’s why we keep telling stories of such people on The Pride.
These stories of kindness are of real people who aren’t so interested in telling people what they do, as much as they are interested in actually doing what they say.
When I spoke to Alan Wong of CloverHearts Singapore, whose small group of volunteers spend their time creating virtual walking tours of Singapore on Zoom so that bedridden seniors can “go for a walk” with them, he lamented that his team is so busy setting up the logistics for their tours that they hardly have the strength left to take photos to post on their social outreach platforms.
(That’s also one of the reasons I wanted to share his story on The Pride: Too many small non-profits fall into the same trap of doing so much good that they have no time or energy left for outreach, which leads to volunteer fatigue and diminishing funding.)
But this to me, is kindness in action: Help first, talk later.
And Alan isn’t alone, either: The Pride is filled with stories of such good-hearted Singaporeans whose first response usually when we reach out to them, is to say “Interview me? No lah, no big deal lah, I just help only.”
Kindness is not weakness
In his World Kindness Day message, my boss Dr William Wan mentions that kindness is not weakness. He tells a story of how he once confronted a driver who had brazenly taken the parking space of another in a busy parking lot. The bully used his larger size to intimidate the woman driver who had been next in line. Dr Wan argues that being kind in this situation is to stand up for others, to bring up things they may not dare to say.
I also argue that we often also mistake kindness for niceness, and niceness for blandness.
“Nice guys finish last”, as the old adage goes, so therefore, we think that to get what we want, we have to be brash and brazen, to make sure we get what we think we deserve.
No doubt, that kind of thinking is the type that makes fortunes for people, and builds empires for corporations — “Greed is good”, as Gordon Gecko would say. But it is also the kind of thinking that creates toxic workplaces, empty relationships and mental breakdowns.
US president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fibre of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
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Some have argued that the Covid measures that our government has rolled out are too harsh, bemoaning restrictions like mall entry and dining-in measures, and vaccine mandates.
To that, I just want to say: There are people elsewhere in the world still dying because they cannot get the vaccine, please keep that in mind before you boast too loudly about being “intelligent vaxxers”.
I personally believe that the government has to constantly walk the line between firmness for public safety and compassion for personal situation. It’s not easy, nor should it be.
As citizens, we should speak up on issues we believe in, to give the authorities a chance to clarify and explain its decisions: Just like how MOH responded to the concerns on vaccine validity periods raised by Straits Times forum writer Lynn Tan. This is how accountability should look like.
Kindness is love in action
I like this quote attributed to American aviator Amelia Earhart: “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.”
It’s World Kindness Day tomorrow. But it should be kindness today, every day.
It doesn’t need to be a big action – a crinkling of the eyes at an overworked F&B employee, a tip for a busy delivery person, a nod to a tired healthcare worker.
It could be a pat on the arm of a family member, a call to a friend you haven’t heard from for a while, or an emoji to a colleague who may be struggling silently.
You could even share this article to your friends. (Yes, I’m not above shameless self-promotion.)
If you want to do something for the environment, there are plenty of well-meaning organisations in Singapore. Look around, it may even be in your neighbourhood. You could also start here.
Of course, if nothing else, you could always offer to get a coffee for someone else!
Acts of kindness always benefit someone. Because even if the gesture is rejected, you are the better person for having offered it.
As American song-writer Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta says: “I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way.”
You might know her better as Lady Gaga.
Here at The Pride, we tell stories. What would you like to do for World Kindness Day?
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