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Kindness from strangers made my day

The Straits Times | Lydia Lim | Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It was late morning and I had boarded bus No. 73 for my daily commute to the office. I tapped my ez-link card on the reader and discovered to my surprise that there was not enough money stored in it to cover my fare.

I dug into my wallet, only to find I had neither coins nor $2 notes.

As the bus trundled on, I stumbled along the aisle asking fellow passengers if they could help me break a $10 note. None could.

Just as I was about to give up and pay $10 for the short ride from Serangoon Gardens to Toa Payoh, two people sprang up and offered to pay my fare for me.

One was a woman in her 40s wearing a shade too much makeup and clothes a tad loud and revealing for her age, someone I would usually have disapproved of at first sight.

But there she was, holding out her coin purse and asking me how much I needed. I looked more closely and saw the kindness in her face and eyes.

The other was a bespectacled man in ill-fitting jeans and polo shirt, who dug out a spare ez-link card from his large haversack and asked me to use it.

He also gave me some advice: I should always carry two ez-link cards as he did, so I would not have this problem again.

He was inarticulate but sincere. I gladly accepted both his spare card and advice.

I was reminded of this incident a few weeks ago when I read Dr William Wan's commentary in this newspaper, "It's time to update the kampung spirit", in which he encouraged us to look on our neighbours as "friends in waiting".

Dr Wan, who is the general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, wrote: "As traditional kinship support weakens, and as our population ages, we need to build bonding communities in which people living near one another are able to give and receive help when needed. It must start with a recognition that we are mutually dependent on those who live around us."

To be honest, if I had not run out of money on my ez-link card that morning, I doubt I would have found much in common with my fellow passengers on bus No. 73, much less thought that I would need to depend on any of them for help.

One of the downsides of living in a rich country is that we have far less need to rely on one another. When we can pay for what we need, we no longer have to depend on the kindness of neighbours and strangers.

So the occasions to get to know one another, to establish ties, to discover what we may have in common, are also diminished.

But seeking common ground is precisely what we need to do as differences in incomes, nationality, political and religious beliefs threaten to pull us further apart.

We need to build solidarity - a sense that we are all in this together, playing on the same team as we face the challenges that life throws up; a sense that there is more that binds us than divides us.

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