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The Singapore Law Gazette

Placing Others First

Last year was a good year for learning. I learnt many valuable life lessons, one of which was placing others first.

In the fiercely competitive society we live in, we do our best to stand up and out amongst the crowd in our professional and personal lives. Society sets expectations on us to excel and excellence is praised. This makes us forget or place lesser emphasis on the people around us.

As social creatures, we thrive on the warmth of human relationships. Family, friends, life partners and children are part of our social fabric. Life is lonely without people. Yet, self comes before others. Ego, envy and pride are part of our human psyche. We preserve our self-worth by looking after our own interests. Many have frowned upon social media as a platform where we celebrate our success, wins and progress in life. It gives an illusion that others are doing well whilst the rest are left behind. It creates insecurity in many of us and makes us want to outdo others.

Placing people first is about celebrating their personality and achievements. We place them before us. We show the regard we have for them and how we value them. It shows our magnanimity and the person we are. Just as how others remember us for criticising a person, we are also remembered for praising others. One example is President Barack Obama, a well-known leader has been holding President Joe Biden in high regard during his presidency and till today. Why does President Obama celebrate President Biden? He has deep respect and even love for President Biden and feels that he will be the most suitable man to lead America today. President Obama’s image and the impression people have of him increases exponentially. He is seen as a greater leader who cares for people and his country.

We are quick to criticise and slow to praise. Criticism can be reframed as positive feedback and praise can go a long way to encourage, motivate and inspire us to work harder. It took me a long time to learn this in my professional life. Like many traditional employers, I was under the impression that strictness and placing demands on my colleagues was the best way to motivate them in the office. The work environment changed significantly when I showed care, empathy, attempted to understand them and praised them for their efforts. I saw my colleagues as a team who I was happy and proud to be part of. We got to understand and know each other at a personal level. We grew closer. I discovered that they in turn became more dedicated and worked harder than I even wanted them to. They cared about the Firm and went many extra miles. I was very moved by their actions. For a very long time, I wondered why my team reciprocated in such a manner. I did not understand how this change occurred.

It is clear in the current world we live in that support is important. Emotional support, a smile, a kind word and checking in on each other when we are going through difficult periods in life are simple gestures which do not cost us much. The impact it creates on others is priceless.

I usually chat with an elderly cashier at a supermarket that I frequent. I will greet her, ask her how she is doing and chat with her whilst she is checking in my purchase. Lately, she started putting in freebies into my shopping bag. When I asked her why, she just smiled and bade me farewell.

It is difficult to focus on others when we are busy and stressed in our everyday life. How do we practise thinking of others first? Many of us would remember the young boy in the movie, Pay It Forward. He went to help the people in his town whom he came into contact with and asked them to show kindness to the next person they met, until the whole town came to support him. Like breathing or eating, we can practise small acts of kindness towards one another every day.

We have been seeing this in Singapore over the last one year. Strangers came forward to encourage and show support to the frontline workers and our migrant workers. If we can do this during a pandemic, we can show up every day in our lives.

The society we live in will be a much better place for everyone of us to coexist in. We can handle the stresses of life, fight and cope with mental illness better and create a happy environment for all of us to live in.

Singapore will then be a truly great place to live in.

Rajan Chettiar LLC
E-mail: [email protected]