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Speech by Minister for Transport, Mr Ong Ye Kung, at the National Kindness Award Ceremony

27 Jan 2021 Speeches

Dr William Wan, General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement
Mr Richard Magnus, Chairman of the Public Transport Council 

Friends and colleagues

1.     I am happy to join everyone here today to recognise the various acts of kindness by our land transport workers and commuters. 

2.     This year, we are awarding the highest number of Transport Gold awards – about 530 – since we launched the National Kindness Movement for the transport sector in 1999. Let me share a few of their stories. 

3.     There is Mr Tan Chwee Hock, an SMRT workshop manager. He cancelled his leave plans to help with the inspection and repair of a vehicle used to ferry potential COVID-19 cases. He understood that the vehicle needed to be repaired as soon as possible given the urgency of COVID-19 operations. I do not know what you had planned for your leave but it is a sacrifice on your part and for your family. Kindness is often about being responsible and putting the needs of others above your own. 

4.     Another story is that of Ms Siti Rafe’ah, a commuter. During her free time, she would take the initiative to site herself at the Heart Zone at Outram Park MRT station. The station is near to the Singapore General Hospital, and there are always many commuters who need directional help when exiting the MRT station. Kindness is also about being helpful to a fellow human being even though they are total strangers. 

5.     Another story is Mr Subramaniam, an SMRT bus captain. When Malaysia first announced the Movement Control Order in March last year, several of his Malaysian colleagues stayed back in Singapore. But this means months of not going home and they would miss their family and home-cooked food.  Mr Subramanian offered to prepare home-cooked meals for his colleagues, to help keep their morale up, and hopefully miss their homes a little less. Kindness is also about being caring to your fellow men and women. 

6.     I am convinced that many kind people live amongst us, there are many kind acts amongst us, and in fact I think are the majority. Kind acts happen all the time, with or without us noticing. 

7.     Unfortunately, kind people being the great majority does not mean kindness will necessarily prevail in society. Because most struggles in life are not symmetrical.  A lot of good can be undone or negated just by a little bit of bad.  

8.     One can spend many years leading a healthy lifestyle – eat well, exercise, ensuring mental wellness – but just one bout of disease, or one organ failing to work, one would become unhealthy despite the prior years of hard work.  

9.     In our organisations, we all have an army of very well-qualified specialists in our IT department maintaining our IT systems, constant updating our anti-virus software, strengthening the firewall, having backups and uninterrupted power supply. But to create havoc in your whole IT system, all you need is just one hacker with a laptop, or one careless employee who puts a foreign USB port into the system.    

10.    I want to share this story from my constituency. There is a road separating Sembawang MRT and the HDB flats. Residents have been asking for a covered linkway across the road. But it is a four-lane road, so there are heavy vehicles.  if you want a covered linkway road, it has to be high enough to not block the heavy vehicle. But if it is high, when it rains, the rain might go sideways, so then to be effective it also has to be broad.  To build such a covered linkway across a four-lane road, it is going to be big, ugly and expensive to build and maintain. So instead, we implemented an umbrella sharing scheme. There are umbrella racks on each side of the road, and residents will contribute by putting their umbrellas in a rack, so others can use them to cross the road during a rainy day, and leave them in the rack at the other side of the road.  

11.    The majority of residents use the scheme properly.  But a minority will bring the umbrellas home and never bring them back, and an even smaller minority will wilfully break the umbrellas. Notwithstanding, it is amazing that a few years after we implemented the scheme, there is a group of contributors who never gave up and  continues to donate their umbrellas and put them in the racks, despite knowing that they might get stolen or broken. And this really touched me. I think this civic-minded group of people is making a statement, that they know promoting kindness is a struggle but they are not giving up.    

12.    These are not meant to be stories of pessimism and resignation, but to recognise that life is in that way is a little bit unfair, as bad things always seem to have the upper hand. An abundance of good things often goes unnoticed, a small ounce of bad things is always disproportionate in impact. And we know that social media has made the asymmetry worse.  

13.    That is our struggle in promoting kindness. That is why it must be done consistently en mass, at a society level, just to overcome the negativity of a small minority.  Two things that we are doing are particularly decisive. 

14.    First, education. Our Citizenship and Character Education lessons in schools centre around values – integrity, care, mutual respect, and kindness. Values-in-action expand the lessons beyond the classroom, so that students can experience doing something that express kindness and help others. Every year, entire cohorts of students go through it. 

15.    Second is national efforts, such as the Singapore Kindness Movement, to highlight and recognise kind deeds year after year. Because we know kindness begets kindness. Because bad news travel by itself, good deeds need to be broadcast as loudly as possible. And thanks to all the volunteers of the movement, we have been able to keep the momentum going, for 21 years. 

16.    But beyond what the Government and national campaigns can do, what is most critical is what we collectively do as members of society. In some countries, if you litter or do not return your tray to the washing area in a cafeteria, you will get a firm tick-off by passers-by. Likewise, in Singapore you cannot cut a queue without someone telling you off.  In these instances, the kind acts have been ingrained in society and become self-policing.  

17.    COVID-19 tested this concept to the fullest. We can have the best healthcare system, and most capable doctors and nurses in the world. But the virus just needs a few careless and inconsiderate people to spread and potentially cripple the entire healthcare system. The only way to contain it is for everyone to play their part.  

18.    The Government orchestrate, but the people are the players and actors, operating not as individuals, but a network of eyes and ears watching out and taking care of everyone around us. In this, I think the positive impact of the majority of co-operative Singaporeans is overcoming the negative impact of the minority of rule-breakers, which is why Singapore is containing the virus much better than many other countries and regions.

19.    So in promoting kindness, all of us have to step up. Hence, today, I want to especially highlight the acts of Mr Muhammad Mu’tasim and Mr Clement Tan, who are in the audience today as the recipients of the Outstanding Caring Commuter award.  

20.    Many of us know the story. A few months back, a bus captain reminded a commuter to wear his mask. The commuter refused and assaulted the bus captain. Fortunately, the two gentlemen came to the rescue and got the assailant arrested.  

21.    To carry out a kind act is virtuous, to step up and prevent an unkind act is special, which is what Mu’tasim and Clement did. I mentioned earlier that kindness is about being responsible, helpful and caring. I think above all, it is also about being courageous, and standing up for what is right even when you are the odd one out. 

22.    To all our award recipients today, thank you and well done! My hope is that in time to come, we will not need to celebrate acts of kindness. Kindness should live in each and all of us, and every kind act will not go unnoticed, and will be appreciated by people around us. Thank you.