Commentary

Kindness Amidst Covid
By Richard Hartung 
May 2020
 
While we know intuitively that being kind is good and helps the community, Dr William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), said it has physiological and cognitive benefits as well. Members who participated in The Club’s webinar with Dr William Wan heard stories of kindness and gained insights that can make their lives better.
 
One of the kindest people he knows, William said, is Professor Tommy Koh. Tommy always looks for the good in others, is continually gracious, and treats everyone from students to world leaders with respect. Yet it is not only famous people who are kind. One of his neighbors is sewing dozens of face masks to give away for free. Two doctors he knows are putting their lives at risk on the front line to help others. And a taxi driver offered free rides to people in need.
 
When we get upset, William said, we should slow down and step back from our anger. If we do become angry, we should also try to reconcile with the other person before the sun sets.
 
To create a culture of kindness, he suggested, we should go back to basics. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Smile. Treat others with respect. And recognize the individuals, whether they are servers and cleaners, who are doing essential work, or corporate leaders. When the circuit breaker ends, we should be especially mindful of the need to be kind. 
 
For inspiration and information about kindness, we can read books or head to the SKM website (https://www.kindness.sg/) to get positive stories, ideas, and tips on kindness. 
 
At the end of the session, William shared three takeaways can make a difference in our lives. First, always try to be better. By becoming your better self, you’ll make a difference. Next, be sure to reach out to and recognize others, so that you make a difference in their lives. And finally, be authentic in everything you do, making kindness part of your life in an authentic way so that people know your actions are genuine. 
 
As an example of graciousness, he even gave participants his phone number so they could get in touch to follow up.
 
The session gave excellent insights into the importance of kindness and how we can make being kind part of our everyday lives. 
 

 
Conversation with Senior Minister of State Dr. Janil Puthucheary
At The American Club Singapore
By Richard Hartung 
April 2020
 
 
The American Club’s *REACH Conversation on Covid-19 with Senior Minister of State for Communications & Information (MCI)  and for Transport Janil Puthucheary (SMS Janil) gave members of The American Club a unique opportunity to participate in a discussion with a senior government leader, albeit virtually.
 
As the moderator for the discussion, it was fascinating to see how quickly the session came together and how the preparations behind the scenes actually work. The Club received approval on Friday, March 27 for a Zoom webinar with SMS Janil and the session was quickly scheduled for March 31. The announcement to Club members went out on Saturday and we quickly reached the capacity limit of 100 on Zoom. Club staff worked on the arrangements over the weekend, and by midday Monday we were prepared for a test run. Everything went well and we were ready for Tuesday. At the last minute, though, SMS Janil notified the Club that he would have to participate remotely. The team pivoted quickly and adjusted some of the plans.
 
By early afternoon on Tuesday, 10 people were in a room at the Club making sure that everything was ready. Four people from REACH were in constant touch with their colleagues and SMS Janil, three technical staff had the Zoom arrangements set up and three of us from the Club were there to handle the discussion and questions.  
 
From the moderator’s perspective, a screen was set up right in front of me so I could see SMS Janil and it was almost like having him in the room. The key difference was that there were 9 people behind the camera scurrying around to make sure technology worked, colleagues at MCI were updated and questions from members went to an iPad at my table.
 
Members sent in a multitude of questions and, while there wasn’t time to answer every single one during the session, SMS Janil responded to the vast majority.
 
The hour for the discussion flew past quickly. While multitasking between getting questions ready and listening to the answers and watching for queues from the team behind the camera made the session challenging, three aspects stand out.
 
First, SMS Janil took all of the questions head-on and responded to everyone. While he didn’t have all the answers, since policies for areas such as reopening borders have not been decided yet, he didn’t pass on any question, regardless of how challenging it might have been. Second, he reflected carefully on the questions and provided insights on some of the frameworks or philosophy behind policies rather than just giving an answer. When asked about societal practices that may need to change or the balance between saving lives and restarting the economy, for example, he challenged the question and looked at how broader issues were at stake. And finally, he was willing to be quite personal. He used his background as a doctor to consider whether telemedicine would work, for instance, and he talked about the advantages of being able to conduct meetings digitally from home as well as the challenges of gaining weight while he’s out less and eating more.
 
The feedback from the session showed that Club members found it insightful and useful. They liked the format, got answers to questions, and appreciated the interaction with a senior government leader. The Club found the experience superb as well and is looking at using this session as the launchpad for more Zoom webinars in the near future. 
 
*REACH (Reaching Everyone for Active Citizery @ Home) is the national feedback and engagement unit of Ministry of Communications and Information.