“After two years in which it seemed Singapore was becoming a less gracious country, one social barometer suggests it is back on its best behaviour” (Singaporeans Back To Being Gracious, Survey Shows, Priscilla Goy)
Higher scores on the Graciousness Index commissioned by the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) might be worth celebrating, but should be tempered by other social barometers measuring actions, not just perceptions of “graciousness”. Perceptions – guided by random anecdotes for instance – could be distorted as a result. Furthermore as the Ministry of Education (MOE) is called upon to do the obvious of “fostering character development” (ST, May 6) SKM general secretary Dr. William Wan stops short of the recommendations.
The Graciousness Index is complex, and is anchored by two components: experience and perception. Notwithstanding the complexity of the methodology and the potential self-response bias – of the many attributes and norms studied as well as the tendencies to rate oneself more favourably – what should be measured are deeds, not words. Defined more generally as “courteous, kind, and pleasant, especially towards someone of lower social status” (as opposed to the arbitrary definition by speaking to various individuals), one should expect gracious Singaporeans to donate more generously and volunteer more time.
In this vein the 2014 Individual Giving Survey by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre found that while total donations have increased, the number of people who gave money to charities went down (from 91 per cent in 2012 to 83 in 2014), and that the national volunteerism rate was lower too (17.8 per cent in 2014, compared to 32.3 in 2012). The sharp decline in the volunteerism rate was echoed in the 2013 World Giving Index, which ranked Singapore 75th out of 135 countries on “volunteering time”. The city-state did even worse on “helping a stranger”, ranking 134th out of the 135 countries surveyed.
In the latest SKM Graciousness Index perceptions on “donating money to the needy” and “volunteering time for charity services” both increased between 2014 and 2015 (6.0 to 6.4 and 5.6 to 5.8 over 10 respectively), but they would count for nothing unless these respondents actually practise what is preached.
In fact since many respondents of the SKM study “felt parents do not lead by example when it comes to being gracious”, a good starting point – instead of pointing eagerly to the MOE, would be for parents to involve the household more actively in donations and volunteerism. Rather than to obsess with a multitude of complicated attributes and norms to determine if Singaporeans are truly “gracious”, getting more involved in community endeavours of their interests seem more constructive in the building of a more gracious and empathetic society.