Altruist man shares an umbrella with another sad man standing in the rain. Concept of Altruism in society (Photo by Prazis Images from Shutterstock).

by James Leong

According to the folks at Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), one in four young people hold back from showing kindness in public because they are afraid of being embarrassed. Looking stupid or being mocked on social media was cited as deterrents to lending a hand by respondents aged 15 to 24.

I can see how netizens were quick to pounce on these 15 to 24-year-olds for being overly self-conscious when they should be selfless. Others even pointed fingers at those being helped, like the elderly for being stubborn and entitled.

You see, we Singaporeans love numbers because they are the antidote to uncertainty and the balm to the “kia-su-ness” in us all. In fact, they act as near-absolutes and are instrumental in driving policies, which affect us. Hence, it’s only natural that even feel-good surveys like SKM’s Graciousness Survey will be met with some discomfort, and this means blaming or coming up with our own theories to make sense of it all.

I, for one, am guilty as charged. I scrutinised SKM’s survey methodology and spotted a loophole. Why are the races of those polled missing?  What about their household incomes?  What are their educational qualifications? I even wrote to SKF’s Dr William Wan to account for this lapse because it could indicate the unspoken but disparate social class divide of our country. “This missing info could reveal how this shame is really about the discomfort of our own privilege when helping others who have less,” I thought.

Then just two days later I saw something simple yet so powerful that would make any survey result, counselling theories, or economic and societal trends look superfluous.

It was a stormy Wednesday afternoon when I saw an elderly man without his umbrella walking along Jalan Besar. He was struggling to stay dry as he hobbled to the Jalan Berseh Food Centre for lunch.  Walking next to him was a South Asian worker with an umbrella in one hand and construction materials in the other. The elderly man simply nodded to him and the worker instinctively shot his arm out to share his umbrella until they both reached the covered ground and each went their own way.

Image by Listen without Prejudice

No words were exchanged because none were needed. There was no sizing up of social classes, and nothing to suggest feelings of embarrassment, stupidity or mockery.  The South Asian worker saw a need and he simply responded to it—no questions asked.

Perhaps my question to SKF’s William Wan should be redirected to us all and that is, “What are we truly afraid of? What is it that scares us that we don’t want others to see? What does the existence of a Singapore Kindness Movement Campaign even say about us?

Nobel prize winner Marie Curie once said, “Each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity.”

James Leong is a private counsellor at Listen Without Prejudice and addresses fear and anxiety.

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