'Kindness Cafe' shows service is a two-way street

We thank letter writers Jeffrey Law Lee Beng ("'Kindness Cafe' sends wrong message"; last Friday) and Lim Lih Mei ("Wrong to use incentives"; last Friday) for their support of our other initiatives, and we do appreciate their critique.

We welcome every opportunity to review and improve our efforts in fostering a kinder and more gracious society.

We wholeheartedly agree that kindness and real graciousness should come from the heart. But we believe that sometimes our innate kindness needs a little reminder for it to be expressed.

Our "Kindness Cafe" is a light-hearted, even quirky, way to make us think about graciousness in the service industry as a two-way street. Customers have a part to play too in improving our service culture and interactions in Singapore.

With this in mind and to "catch people in action", the Kindness Cafe re-creates an everyday meeting point between service providers and service consumers. People interact in a real-life situation, and get engaged in thinking and conversing about the takeaway message (not just the coffee), instead of simply hearing us write or speak about this.

Most of those who came caught on and had a good time bantering with other customers and our volunteers, strangers to each other before this unusual cafe "offer". For those who were puzzled, we explained what the initiative was about.

And for a handful who playfully or seriously challenged the cafe's staff by refusing to play along, the staff gamely went out of their way to get them to see the point. And no one was charged the higher price. Other customers and even occasional passers-by expressed admiration and encouragement to the service staff.

For our volunteers too, it gave them a better appreciation of how challenging it can be to remain gracious when facing difficult customers. It also reinforced our own beliefs that how we come out of it depends on how we respond and react. If, indeed, kindness comes from the heart, we should be gracious and positive in the face of challenges.

Dr William Wan,

General Secretary,

Signapore Kindness Movement

This article was first published on JUne 17, 2014.
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