To be gracious

January 27, 2013

It used to mean Godly now it means to be marked by kindness and courtesy, marked by tact, characterised by charm, good taste and generosity of spirit.  All of that from the Merriam-webster online dictionary, from which we also get the synonyms affable, cordial, hospitable, sociable. I'm going back to Anglesey on Wednesday, staying in the hotel where nine years ago we held the wake for my father.  I remember that mainly for manipulating my mother, who was to die ten days later of lung cancer, into the hotel with multiple bottles of oxygen.  She said goodbye to their mutual friends then, including those whose smoking in the staff room (she never smoked) had either being the direct cause or a major contribution to her premature death.  I couldn't speak to them, especially when they went outside for a smoke.  Some of them were also my former teachers as it happened.  My father had a gracious death, he was reconciled to it and had a near pantheistic attitude to death, my mother was the opposite.  To quote Dylan Thomas she did not go gentle into that good night she fought for every last breath.

I've often thought on the difference since then, and the memory today was triggered by the use of the work, nay the frequent use of the word at a Singapore conference which I attended.   One session was presenting the results of our work on singaporean attitudes to the future.  Its a good study and I am grateful to the IPS for publishing the report in full.  It's a good report and a process which could easily be repeated elsewhere.  If you have near five million people on an island that, at a pinch, you could walk across in a day, then you need to think about graciousness.   Interestingly it has become less so in the 15 years I have being going there.  It used to be that people stood on one side in the MRT untill all passengers had exited the train.  Now they pile on, not with the vigour of the London Underground in rush hour, or the more extreme attitudes of New York.  But its still a change.   Seats are not given up so readily to people who need them,  people are less likely than they were to help someone with a pram off a bus.

But that aside, in general its still a gracious society and one in which I would still be happy to let young teenagers roam around with an MRT card and some cash – as I did with mine when they were 14 and 12 respectfully.  I can't think of many other cities where I would do that.   Graciousness of course has to be freely given, if coerced it has little value.   And we have lost some of that in the west.  But when it comes to injustice, then I am with my mother and Dylan Thomas.  A society needs to understand both, as much as do individuals.  But to Rage against the dying of the Light is not to rant obscenities and to give way on public transport is not to exhibit weakness. Even rage can be graceful at need.  

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