Singapore Kindness Movement’s Dr. William Wan On His New Book, Through the Valley: The Art of Living and Leaving Well

Research has shown that being kind makes people happier, and we all want to feel happier during these trying times. If so, there’s no better time to start being kinder to one another come Kindness Day SG, which falls on 21 May this year. Kindness Day SG, which celebrates kindness, graciousness, and appreciation for one another, was started by the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) in 2013. SKM’s general secretary, Dr. William Wan, who you might have come across in several commentaries calling for more compassion, has served and contributed to the society in many ways. He talks to us about his new book, Through the Valley: The Art of Living and Leaving Well, his online series on being good neighbours with Moses Lim, and the ways we can be kind to one another.

1. Your book, Through the Valley: The Art of Living and Leaving Well, is about living with a purposeful and positive mind set. What inspired you to write this book?

In 2011, I was made an Ambassador for Active Aging. I was then 64 and started to germinate the idea that I should write a book to encourage active aging.  As I thought about it, it became clear that I should not just be focused on aging but on living and leaving. The book is anchored on the ideas that we are all aging anyway, however young we are, and more importantly, how we must be mindful that we all have an expiry date. If there is any inspiration, it is just this: we are all trustees of our own life, and we have a duty to live it well so that we can leave well as well.

2. Did you learn anything while writing or after writing this book? How was working on this book different from the other projects you have done?

Through the Valley is my 10th book. Writing requires discipline, and no matter how many books one has written before, each book is different and each is a new challenge. One of the lessons I learnt is that I am not what I was. Sitting in one spot and writing away for hours without a break was not much of a problem in my earlier years. But, at 71, I was made aware that I can think young but cannot think that I am in fact young! After two weeks of sitting in one position for long hours and  writing intensely without a break, my back was so “broken” I had to be admitted to the hospital followed by a week of physiotherapy before I recovered!

3. Say I’m a potential reader. What’s one meaningful pearl of wisdom that I can learn if I pick this book up?

It is best that I quote a reader’s point of view. [The reader is] Dr. Ang Hak Seng, the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. “He imparts through his writing a deeper understanding of what it means to live, as well as leave the world a better place.”

4. The online series Be Kind, Be Happy, which you host with Moses Lim, is really funny and affirming. It is also especially timely with the ongoing pandemic, a period where we should embrace qualities like kindness and neighborliness. Why do you think neighborliness is an important aspect of our lives?

There are many good reasons why we should be good neighbours. For one thing, we are all social creatures. We are not meant to live on an island by ourselves. Neighbourliness is about living in a community where we know each other, connect with each other, and be a help to each other. It is this mindset of neighbourliness that brings warmth to our lives. Can you imagine living in a cold environment where nobody cares to know one another and nobody acknowledges each other, let alone chat with each other? I think we might as well live in a refrigerator!

5. Still on the online series, how did you come to engage Moses Lim? What’s the most memorable part of filming for you?

Moses and I have been friends for many years. We share many values in common. I think the most memorable part is that he is a very humble and unassuming person. When I asked him to support the project, he has no hesitation. He is also very easy to work with and as you can see from the video, we have great synergy.

6. Do you have any advice on how we can practise kindness when it comes to shopping? How can we be kind when we shop for things, whether online or in-person, and what should we look out for?

I am not personally a great shopper because I seldom shop. My wife shops for me! But I imagine it should not be any different if we have a positive and kind mind set. Here are 3 ways we can shop graciously whether in person or online.

  1. Be courteous. Don’t treat the shop assistants with disrespect  Respect other shoppers and treat others as you want others to treat you. Say the magic words, please, sorry and thank you where appropriate.
  2. Be considerate. Don’t cut queue, push your way through, take your own time to pick only the biggest and the ripest by feeling every one (fruits, for example), don’t hoard limited items, don’t block aisles etc.
  3. Be compassionate. Give way to seniors, people with disabilities. Help them as much as you can. Be patient with such people.

7. This coming April will mark the 10th year anniversary of you serving as General Secretary of Singapore Kindness Movement (it’s also about one year since the Covid Pandemic started). Your decade-long service has definitely made Singaporeans more aware of not just SKM, but just as important, about being kind and considerate towards one another. What are your most memorable moments in the past 10 years? What do you hope for in the next 3 years?

There are many memorable moments. I believe that kindness breeds kindness. Some memorable moments include many occasions when I received unexpected kindness.  

Literally an hour ago, as I was replying emails, my doorbell rang. I opened the door and there was our neighbour’s son, Yan, with several boxes of Chinese cookie. He said, “These are from my folks.”  I opened the accompanying envelope. The card reads, “Dear Mr. and Mrs Wan, Something sweet for you. You have been so sweet to our family.”  

Another memorable act of kindness was when my wife and I were leaving a hawker centre at about 9:30 pm when we ran up a curb near the exit to avoid an accident. The car chassis of the car sat on it and there was no traction in one of the wheels. Within a short time, a dozen people came to help us get the car off the curb. After one whole hour without success, a young man took over the wheels and maneuvered it off the curb. 

Our hope for the next three years is to see more neighbours reaching out to other neighbours – be “sweet” to one another, and total strangers coming to the aid of others in any situation, big and small.

8. Lastly, is there anything you want to add on about SKM and its latest and upcoming activities?

Our annual Kindness Day SG (KDSG) will fall on May 21. We will have nationwide activities curated by our Ground-Up Movements (GUMs) on 21 May to start, show, and share kindness nationwide. We will also induct new GUMs and Voices of Loving Kindness (VoLKs) to our Kindred Spirit Circle. Of course, on the ongoing basis, there will be annual award events, school events and public engagement events whether through radio, you tube, webinar, podcasts, digital platforms etc. 

Buy Dr. Wan’s book, Through the Valley: The Art of Living and Leaving Well, here

Learn more about Kindness Day SG here, and Singapore Kindness Movement here.

Photo credits: Singapore Kindness Movement

Wee Tee

Wee Tee

Weetee Neu has written for publications such as 8DAYS, SPH magazines, Tripzilla and others. He believes in equity for all, and tries to support creation of social impact when he can. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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