Thursday, 1 January 2009

Lessons In Kindness

Some months ago, I found myself grappling with a particularly slow receptionist. I was asking her to connect me on the phone to somebody in her organization but instead of helping, she in turn asked me as slew of absurd questions: where is this woman right now? do you know if she is busy on the phone currently? could tell her exactly where she was at that very moment within the building? Is she in the pantry or at her desk?

How in the world would I know?! I lost it – freaked out in speechless exasperation, I walked out in a steaming huff, pulling the daughter along with me. She had witnessed the whole thing.

“Such a stupid woman,” I grumbled. “And did you get a good look at her moustache?”

“Mummy, it wasn’t a moustache,” came Mei Ann’s solemn reply. “It was just darker skin.”

I am not particularly religious but sometimes, I think the Higher Being up there communicates in less than mysterious ways. And this time, the big smack on the side of my head came in the form of my daughter’s words. “Maybe she didn’t know how to look for that woman you wanted to see. But at least she tried,” the daughter finished.

No, Miss Moustache didn’t try. She just stood and stared. But who was sounding petulant and spoilt here? Sigh. It shocks the system to be admonished by a nine-year-old, it was indeed true – upper lip follicles or not, it was a mean thing to say.

I have been given many unexpected lessons in kindness from Mei Ann over the years. A sweet little soul, in her young mind, life is black and white. That it’s the inside that counts, not so much the outside; that we shouldn’t be mean to other people; that effort should be praised. Aren’t those things we taught her that we in turn have quickly forgotten?

These ‘lessons’ from her have come on many occasions – the Moustache Incident being but just one.

When I grumble about a mistake the maid made, the daughter has replied, “Maybe she doesn’t understand. Maybe she didn’t go to school like you did.”

When I tried to doodle along with her and said I couldn’t draw for nuts, she applauded me for trying. “It’s good, Mummy,’ she insists. “At least you’re trying.”

Moments like these, I am reminded – like a sack of potatoes to my head – that I should be equally encouraging when I am trying to teach her math or Chinese, that I should be kinder to others like Miss Moustache, a bit more patient, a bit more forgiving, a bit more accommodating. A bit more like Mei Ann.


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