A time to ask: Are we compassionate enough?

A time to ask: Are we compassionate enough?

In a university in Liverpool, some distance from Little India, two Singaporeans take a stance and make a point. Mr Tai Wang and Mr Kyle Sim are 24. One studies architecture, the other law, both share a common humanity.

They have started a fund that, among other things, will assist the family of the Indian national whose death in a traffic accident sparked last Sunday's riot. They have raised US$1,180 (S$1,480) and it is not the sum that is relevant but the quality of their act.

Perhaps it is the Bangladeshi workers that Mr Wang has met in Singapore, or the coffee shop in England where he works part-time, but there is a clarity to his conscience. "This is not the time for inaction," he says. He believes his generation must have a voice and they must speak for the underprivileged.

He has received hate mail already - "why are you helping those people" - yet responds with calmness about his critics. "I must get these people on my side," he says.

It is an appealing moment for two young men have revealed themselves as compassionate. Yet in a city where workers are often second-class people and many maids are simply objects of use, are we?

In the aftermath of a startling riot in a placid city there will be rightful punishment and justified condemnation of thuggish behaviour. Mobs we don't want. But in a practical nation there must not only be accusation but also reflection on the nature of compassion.

There is a quote attributed to Plato which has an elegant simplicity: "Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle." To lacerate an entire tribe of workers from diverse nations who toil 10 hours a day or more for a modest wage is too easy. To offer them dignity is invariably harder.

In the week in which Mr Nelson Mandela died, this would be appropriate. The South African was convenient to admire for he gave us nobility and appeared to single- handedly compensate for a planet's callousness. But to only laud Mr Mandela is lazy. The idea of example is to learn and if we cannot be him, we can at least try to be a lesser, diluted version of him.

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