Amid the time-pressed, calculated rhythms of a city, it is gratifying to see acts of selflessness done for their own sake, with no reference to any commercial, legal or strictly moral obligation. These are by people who unassumingly create some gold in what an American playwright described as "a world of iron" in an award-winning work. Their actions add the necessary shine that a society needs to also become a graceful and humane one. It is precisely because these often go unrecognised that this newspaper, together with bank UBS Singapore, chose to honour with an award the extraordinary acts here of goodwill, ingenuity or perseverance that improves the community and the lives of others.
All who were nominated for the first Straits Times Singaporean of the Year award - including philanthropists, athletes and environmentalists - demonstrated qualities of gold and deserve accolades. They helped to make Singapore exceptional in not just big areas like governance, efficiency and innovation but also in the small, yet critical, ways that also define a society.
Among them, Ms Noriza A. Mansor stood out to take the title because of what an observer called her "pure and unadulterated kindness" towards a stranger. An elderly Singaporean, who had soiled himself while grocery shopping, was bewildered and left rooted by the incident in a public place. Ms Noriza, who was on her way to work, took the time and trouble to clean off the faeces on the senior, buy him a new pair of shorts and accompany him home. Through it all, she talked reassuringly to 76-year-old Tan Soy Yong and his wife who uses a wheelchair. Later, she visited them regularly, even after they were hospitalised and moved into nursing homes. In so doing, Ms Noriza showed a truly Singaporean willingness to help a complete stranger, "regardless of race, language or religion", putting into practice the words that citizens recite in our national pledge.
Ms Noriza represents the ideal of the Good Samaritan who reflexively steps forward to help another human being, whatever the situation, whatever the need. Others who were honoured alongside her included everyday Singaporeans doing some extraordinary things, from building schools for children in neighbouring countries to venturing to Ebola-stricken countries to help battle a deadly disease to the amazing feat of running 50 marathons on 50 consecutive days in celebration of the sheer grit and perseverance of the Singapore spirit. Likewise, the group of passers-by who rushed spontaneously to help lift a lorry to free someone trapped underneath it last year were also worthy of being remembered.
It is in this "world of iron" that these individuals made a crucial difference. They made plain that "you do not have to be great or grand to do good". Singaporeans should salute them, one and all.