Let's teach the young to be kind

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Ground Zero

It has been a talking point among the heartlanders this week.

No, not the massive search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, but the "massive compassion deficit" that Singapore allegedly suffers from.

There has been so much debate that the uncles and aunties I spoke to say they are aware of the outcry.

Ask them if they agree with the BBC commentary by freelance writer Charlotte Ashton last weekend, and they offer a somewhat different take.

"Come on, it's not really that bad," says Madam Fadilah Majid, 65, a housewife.

"I think it isn't quite right to judge and label a whole country based on one unfortunate incident."

Point out to her that Ms Ashton has since responded to say that her report "comes from a personal perspective based on my experience of Singapore and various conversations I've had with Singaporeans and expats living in Singapore", and Madam Fadilah pauses for several seconds.

"Let me put it this way: We are not perfect, but we are not all that bad. I see compassion among strangers when there's an accident or tragedy and among my neighbours in our day-to-day living," she says.

"And at my age, I dare say I cannot be wrong. But I think this is more among our generation. More needs to be done to 'teach' the younger generation."

And here is where 50 people randomly polled seem to share a similar view. The most common refrain: "It's not us (the older generation), but the younger ones who have to be taught to be more compassionate."

"Really," says Madam Goh Mingxiu, 67, a grandmother of five. "You go and take the train and you will see what I mean."

The shop assistant, who has to travel from her home in Bedok to Tiong Bahru every day, grumbles that she often has to "fight with young and more agile commuters" for a seat.

"And the ones who really give up their seats are the uncles or aunties, not the 'xiao jie' (Miss in Mandarin) and 'xiao di' (little brother in Mandarin)," says Madam Goh.

Her sentiment echoes that of the poll - those who bother to give up their seats on public transport are usually "the older ones".

Mr Chris Han, 70, a retiree, says: "I say, let's start inculcating better values in our young from now.

"They need to know that there is more to life - like humanity and compassion - than the pursuit of academic excellence or personal success."

Mr Simon Lee, 80, who has four sons and two daughters, says: "I don't think my wife and I did a good job of reminding our children to be kind and gracious when we were raising them.

"My children visit us only like once every two to three months. But they faithfully deposit money into our bank accounts, so I guess we should be grateful."

Yet the biggest wish of this grandfather of six is to see the children and grandchildren more often.

"I set a bad example when I was raising them, visiting my own parents just as infrequently because work always came first. I was the one who did not teach them to be compassionate," says Mr Lee.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on Facebook that "being kind goes beyond giving up seats".

"It is about adopting a mindset to be considerate and sensitive to others' needs, and showing appreciation when others have been kind to us."

And this Heartland Auntie agrees.

It is about keeping the lift door open for a neighbour who has her hands full with bags. It is about treating your colleagues at work well even if he or she is the office cleaner or security guard.

It can be as simple as saying "hello" to the bus driver when you board, or "thank you" to the cabby at the end of your ride. You will be surprised at just how that can make someone's day.

And when we do that, our children will pick up the right values and learn that being compassionate comes naturally.

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