Can we be more gracious?
Do we have time for it?
The Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), which is into its 16th year, says yes.
In its latest campaign launched two weeks ago, the message is that being kind does not take up a lot of time.
A mural at the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station encapsulates this message very well: “Stalk your ex’s ‘Wall’: half an hour. Smile at a stranger: half a second.”
In the 2012 Graciousness Index, released in March, the top reason cited by people for not being gracious is that they are “too busy”.
Dr William Wan, SKM general secretary, said it is just an excuse. He maintained: “If we think it is important, we will always find time.”
In March, the movement found that young people aged 16 to 29 have become more sensitive to graciousness.
Their graciousness rating increased from 5.9 last year to 6.3 this year.
The index, which is in its fourth year, polled 1,400 people on their behaviour as well as that of others.
Also raised were issues of social etiquette and standards.
Meanwhile, the ratings for Generation X, aged 30 to 50, and for those aged above 50, remained about the same.
Overall, the index for graciousness in Singapore increased marginally by one point, from 60 last year to 61 this year.
So are you guilty of being ungracious?
Dr Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said being in a bad mood can make one more susceptible to being ungracious.
He said: “To me, graciousness is a quality involving consideration for other people’s needs and forgiving of their shortcomings.
“I think most Singaporeans are generally gracious, not perfectly so, but I think they have a high threshold before they turn ungracious.”
Sociologist Paulin Straughan, an associate professor at NUS, agreed.
She added: “That is why we pick up on people who are rude. If we are in a place where people are rude, we become numb.
“When we complain so much, it tells us that most of us are gracious and the intuitive thing is that it is the norm for everyone to be like that.”
Dr Wan said society can collectively condemn acts of ungraciousness, like in Japan.
“When people start to talk about it and start to condemn it, it is a good sign. It shows that graciousness is becoming the norm,” he said.
“The worst thing that can happen is if we become indifferent.”
In the movement’s poll, respondents said public transport and driving behaviour are the areas where graciousness is least seen.
The case of the Polite Ah Lian, as Miss Huina is nicknamed, and an angry aunty (reported in The New Paper last month), highlights the issues that can crop up when tempers fly on public transport.
Prof Straughan said: “About giving up seats, there’s a lot of ambiguity. Like when you give up your seat to someone you think is old, but that person doesn’t think that he/she is old and ends up scolding you.”
She pointed to Seoul and Tokyo, two cities whose greying population is increasing.
“There’s no ambiguity there. The older people are very fierce! They will glare and the younger ones will jump up and run to the back of the train.”
Graciousness is not just about giving.
One good deed begets another and Prof Straughan suggested that we behave the way we want to be treated.
“Graciousness is generally respect. Therefore, when there is respect, we would immediately think, ‘What would I want them to do?’
“From there, we learn and morph a set of behaviour for our own interactions.”
So the next time you see someone in need, trust your instinct and lend a helping hand, even if you have had bad experiences.
Said Prof Straughan: “Forgiveness is also key. When we are angry and vengeful, it makes for very bad behaviour. Of course, when we are in a bad mood, we are less likely to be gracious.
“It takes a lot of self control not to externalise your internal emotions. Usually, the one who receives it isn’t the one who caused your frustration.”
This article was first published in The New Paper.