It's not just merit but grace that helps us do well

Many people still believe in the veracity of meritocracy as a social equaliser (Pushing back on privilege and meritocracy; Dec 23).

As long as they believe that their accomplishments in life are largely due to themselves, it will be an uphill task to ask them to be altruistic and work to improve the lives of the less privileged.

They feel they deserve whatever they can get, and can become insufferably smug, believing they have morality on their side, as the late British politician and sociologist Michael Young observed.

However, in reality, no one can achieve anything of significance unless the circumstances were in place to facilitate that accomplishment.

In fact, many things in life are gifts endowed to us, regardless of our worthiness.

People tend to overlook these gifts, taking them for granted until some disaster strikes.

Think of the healthy young person who is suddenly struck down by a life-threatening illness. Or when we are overwhelmed by calamity due to human folly.

Grace bestows favourable conditions for life to everyone, independent of personal merits.

By accepting grace as a reality of life, one's achievements will no longer be attributed strictly to one's merits.

Instead, we will become grateful and thankful towards all of life.

We will realise that everyone is significant, and will seek the well-being of the larger community, rather than merely our own individualistic survival and achievement.

We will extend grace generously without any strings attached.

And when we do, we should not be surprised that people will be kinder, more gracious and more willing and ready to help their neighbours prosper.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'It's not just merit but grace that helps us do well'. Print Edition | Subscribe