What if you were the weakest?
If you had to design a society from scratch, would you choose to give the most disadvantaged the greatest benefit?
My law firm recently held an event for foreign domestic workers in Singapore.
We organised a carnival for them, and on the side, we hosted a talk on their legal rights and offered free legal counselling.
A colleague and I were tasked with putting the event together.
We had a popcorn stand, a candy-floss machine, a roti prata man and a kacang puteh station (see definitions at singlishdictionary.com). And we hired an ice-cream seller (along with his motorbike, his umbrella and his wife) to give out free ice-creams.
There was a photo booth and a card-making station with a post-box right next to it so the ladies could get a shot with their friends and then pop it in the post-box and send it home. We paid for the postage.
Next we hired a caterer and threw a wild buffet, over-catering on purpose to create a sense of lavishness.
We got in a music-man and turned it up loud. We packed goodie bags and gave away prizes.
Then we amassed a series of carnival games and organised a scavenger hunt.
We asked our colleagues to give up their Sunday to man the bases to provide a day of cheer and reinvestment into the community.
It took a bit of work. It was challenging and inconvenient to organise a whole-day event with many moving parts. But it was not without reward.
I think foreign domestic worker is often a euphemism for USP: Unthanked Service Provider.
Justice as fairness
There's poetic symmetry in serving those who serve you.
I thought a lot about John Rawls' theory of justice when I was on this project. (Especially the occasion when I found myself in the ungainly position of acquiring building sand from a building waste dumpster for my Smash It carnival game).
Why was I born into relative wealth and fortune? Why are others born into less?
I find turning the tables on myself every so often a very healthy past time. The served serving the server is good medicine for me.
Empathy is putting yourself in another's shoes. Humility is putting the other in your shoes.
O, and what about John Rawls' theory of justice? It's quite simple. It's "justice as fairness".
He had an idea: Imagine trying to design a society behind a veil of ignorance. Put yourself in the Original Position - a place where you don't know what gender you'll be, how rich you'll be, how powerful you'll be, how smart you'll be, what job you'll have.
You'd want the weakest to be taken care of - just in case you turn out to be the weakest.
You could be the most advantaged; you could be the most disadvantaged. So why not live in a world where the most disadvantaged get the greatest possible benefit? Maximise what the minimum gets.
Serving those who serve us is a good way to remind ourselves that we had very little control over what station of life we were born into, but we can choose to offer justice to those around us.