Recently, as I travelled through Singapore on my way to Indonesia, I encountered a small glimmer of what may be the best human value of all: Kindness. But was it a “random act of kindness” or was it something more?
Upon arriving in Singapore, I learned that my passport lacked sufficient “blank pages” to add a tourist visa from Indonesia. After travelling for more than 24 hours, my journey was about to abruptly end – without the sufficient space I would not be permitted to depart for Indonesia.
With a planned 24 hour layover, I had some time to try to correct this situation. I immediately headed to the United States Embassy and was able to arrange for additional pages to be added to the passport. The problem appeared to be solved, but I was told to come back several hours later when the document would be ready.
When I returned later that day, I was told that the document was not ready and I had to wait an additional two hours. I was also told that the Embassy was closing for those two hours and I had to wait elsewhere.
With no transportation, no lodging and nowhere to go, I set out into the steamy tropical heat of Singapore in search of a place to wait for two hours. I came across a small “cafeteria” and went in.
I wanted to be fair to the establishment so I ordered something to eat and drink while I found myself a place to sit. It was then that I learned that the cafeteria did not accept US currency, nor did it take credit cards. I had no local currency and no way to pay for my small meal.
The clerk behind the counter summoned the manager of the store and explained the situation. Peter (the manager’s name) had an immediate reaction: he gave me the food and drink free of charge.
I repeatedly tried to offer him US bills to pay for the meal but he continued to refuse. In fact, he offered me anything else on the menu that I wanted as well! And he welcomed me to stay for the two hours I needed to wait.
“Singapore hospitality” was his explanation as he shook my hand later as I was leaving.
My new friend Peter offered me kindness in a tangible way. And while I likely will never see him again, I will never forget this small act of friendship among strangers.
But was this a random act of kindness that we often hear about or was there something else going on here?
After a little research, I learned of the Singapore Kindness Movement, an organization that is devoted to championing the values of kindness, consideration, courtesy and gratitude.
The movement’s theme in 2011 was “Say thanks, make someone’s day.”
The group works with the ministry of education on programs and school outreach. They also work with transportation operators and national agencies for public education.
The goals, they state, are to create engaging approaches that encourage Singaporeans to take responsibility for spreading courtesy and consideration in an effort to inspire a more gracious society.
As Singapore struggles to compete in an increasingly difficult economic climate, they are using values as a differentiator.
Could it be that my friend Peter was inspired by this movement to treat me the way that he did?
At LRN, we are striving to inspire Principled Performance. We aspire to transform businesses into values-based organizations. What if one of these values was the simple value of “kindness”?
In Singapore, the whole country is evolving its culture to one of kindness and graciousness. As a society, they are trying to get their “Hows” right. Wouldn’t it be great if we all took some cues from this effort?
If you are ever in Singapore, stop by the “Sunrise Café” and say hello to Peter, a man I now call my friend.
Submitted by Mike Salvarezza. Follow him on @mikesalvarezza
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