Season of compassion

Season of compassion


The Christmas season across the cultures is an invitation to excess - parties, displays of finery, the gorging on food and drink, and lots of little packages changing hands.

It has been so ever since Santa Claus was invented as a mascot for mass consumerism. But the dominant impulses that will continue to hold true for Christians - aside from the reverence for a special day - and not a few non-Christians, is the goodwill and brotherhood Christmas tends to evoke in people.

So, whether Singaporeans make merry, pray for peace or are only observers, this newspaper asks that they also reflect on what it means to be charitable of spirit.

Some recent examples of generosity are heartwarming. New York City's mystery tipper exemplified the spirit of Christmas, not so much by leaving large sums for waiters and waitresses but by doing so anonymously and therefore diverting attention away from himself as the giver.

The religious impulse behind his act showed in his ability to transcend the ego and its need for recognition. While some may view such actions as eccentric, what matters is the motive behind them.

A comparable capacity to look beyond the personal was apparent during the Little India riot. This was seen in the bravery of Singapore officers who went about their duties in the face of a rampaging mob.

The plaid-shirted migrant worker, who went against the grain of the violence and tried to protect an innocent woman, acquitted his community well. The spirit of charity shines the brightest when it is challenged the most.

But what is nearly unsurpassable in charity is the ability to try and help others even though one is suffering. Volunteers who headed to Tacloban in the Philippines after it was ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan were answering to the higher calls of humanity.

But the victims of the disaster who offered food to relief workers, although they had little themselves, exemplified the very blessedness that the human spirit is capable of enjoying.

Singapore's visibility on the charity map is cause for cheer. It has moved up 50 spots to rank 64th in the Charities Aid Foundation's World Giving Index this year. However, when it comes to lending strangers a helping hand, Singapore comes in 134th out of 135 countries and territories.

This finding needs to be treated with caution because there are cultural differences in how the need for help is defined. What is perceived as a wariness of strangers elsewhere might well be a desire not to intrude into a stranger's personal space.

Nevertheless, in this season of reflection, Singaporeans would do well to ponder how gracious they are as a cosmopolitan society confidently open to the rest of the world. Charity is integral to the national character.

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