Tuesday, March 31, 2009

PROJECT GRACIOUS: Are we ungracious, or just shy?


SINGAPOREANS, gracious? Scepticism has dominated the debate among readers of this paper, but the chairman of the Singapore Kindness Movement’s belief is: Of course we are, we’re just too shy or “paiseh” to show it.

For example, people wonder “should I give up my seat? What if the person rebuffs me, will I look stupid?”, said Mr Koh Poh Tiong, urging Singaporeans to be spontaneous and “not think too much before performing an act of kindness”.

This weekend, the movement launches its Project Gracious campaign, in hopes of making kindness more instinctive at home, work, school and the neighbourhood.

But students are coming in for particular attention.

“Ungracious behaviour is across the board,” said SKM’s general manager Teh Thien Yew. “Still, there are some who feel, rightly or wrongly, such behaviour is more likely to come from young people.”

And so, SKM will conduct a series of school assembly talks from this month; 47 primary and secondary schools have signed up. Students will learn how to greet parents and neighbours, how to be considerate on public transport and the proper way of asking for help.

SKM will also partner theatre group Drama Box to help teachers overcome difficulties in teaching kindness in school. “We hope to empower them and boost their confidence as mentors,” said an SKM spokersperson. So far, 142 schools have each nominated a “SKM coordinator”.

The movement will also work with parents, NTUC First Campus and PAP Community Foundation kindergartens to inculcate the values of kindness through stories and activity books. For example, one activity requires them update a chart with “the courteous deeds that both child and parent complete each day. This is to encourage parents to be good role models and each can affirm the other’s behaviour,” said the spokesperson.

In a straw poll of who they considered the main culprits of ugly behaviour, most of the 10 respondents fingered young adults aged 20 to 30. Secondary school students came in a close second.

“I think it’s the ‘me’ generation — the ones that never did housework, the marketing, the dishes — because there was always a maid to pick up after them. So they don’t know what is hardship like, how to be considerate to others,” said architect Andrew Lim, 35.

With secondary school students, it’s behaviour like kicking seats and not moving to the back that annoy others. “Some students press the bell at the last minute and scold the driver for stopping a few metres from the bus stop,” said Ms Koh Ling Ling, 34, a public relations manager.

Mr Mohamed Fuad, 24, used to be one such uncouth youth — but he says it’s a phase teenagers go through.

“It was the company I kept. We were rude, we didn’t care what people thought. We would walk in a big group and not give way. Our attitude was we could do whatever we wanted,” he said.

“And if any of our friends or classmates were polite, we would make fun of him or her. Having said that, I’ve seen really gracious youngsters — it boils down to how well you were brought up.” He turned over a new leaf in polytechnic when “I realised there was karma: What goes around, comes around. That’s when I decided to grow up”.

Once taught, graciousness stays with one for life.

Said SKM chairman, Mr Koh: “I taught my sons to open doors for women and their friends used to laugh at them. They’re in their 30s now, but they still do it.”

But sociologist Paulin Straughan thinks Singaporeans “need to learn how to receive graciously as well”. She said: “I’ve seen young people give up their seats on the train, but many feel daunted when they are stared at or their offer is rudely rebuffed. If you don’t want it, say ‘Thank you, but I don’t need it’.”

From TODAY, Afternoon Edition
Wednesday, 01-April-2009

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