Gracious but not egregious
The second of three lectures by Mr Lim Siong Guan in the IPS SR Nathan series dealt with what Singaporeans want for the future. From research it appears that a gracious society heads the list. As with his first lecture, Mr Lim gave us plenty to think about and raised many questions for Singaporeans and for all who want a measure of control over the future.
You can watch the lecture on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68BT3j76xVk.
We see control slipping away daily. From the self-drive car to the robotic carer, technology is making us ever less dependent on the goodwill of others. Whether that is good for us – or for others – is an important question. We need a definition of ‘gracious’. Wiki advises ‘courteous, kind and pleasant, especially towards someone of lower social status’. It bizarrely claims these are related to Christian belief. I do not think that relationship is proven or relevant.
Wiki’s additional definitions include ‘merciful, forgiving, compassionate, kind, kindly, lenient, clement, pitying, forbearing, humane, mild, soft-hearted, tender-hearted, sympathetic, patient, humanitarian, liberal, easy-going, permissive, tolerant, indulgent, generous, magnanimous, beneficent, benign, benignant, benevolent’. All of which goes to show that you cannot rely on Wiki for all your definitions. It would take an entire book to dispel the damage that might be done by adhering to such definitions.
So what is ‘gracious’ in the minds of those who would like a more gracious society?
First, I think it is polite. Education, when successful, teaches that the little rituals of consistent politeness oil the transactions that make life worthwhile. Very small matters of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; holding a door for the next person, smiling when catching someone else’s eye, acknowledging any gesture of consideration by someone with a kindly nod.
Second, graciousness involves a certain style. It is demonstrated by an individuality that is attractive but not garish. Each of us has an unique personality. It is good that we identify it partly by characteristics that make us memorable. We are a brand whether we like it or not. We do not have to be transactional to realise that.
Third, appreciation of everything around us has to be part of graciousness. Children of even the poorest jump for joy. That is their expression of graciousness to the world. We may not physically jump so much but spiritually we should do so if we want to be gracious. As we grow up our appreciation can be of relationships, food, art, countryside. For example, Singapore is a wonderfully green city. How many Singaporeans appreciate that?
Fourth, gracious is not only about behaviour towards others but about how we treat ourselves. Beating up our bodies is now recognised as stupid and ungracious. Beating up our spirit is even more so. You do not have to be religious to recognise that we have a sensational (in the full meaning of the word) ability to care. It is a small leap to recognising that our caring for others is in fact caring for ourselves.
Graciousness is a hearty ambition. It is not egregiousness – exaggerated attention in the hope of getting some personal reward. It is not a ritual the fulfilling of which is guaranteed to make you somehow superior. It is simply a powerful piece of peace.
And it is most certainly a peace that passes all understanding.