When the editors of the Singapore Business Review published nicknames given to annoying office colleagues, they included “Gloomo”, the stereotypical staffer who’s so negative that his unofficial job seems to be dashing everyone else’s collective spirits. Happily, you won’t find a single Gloomo among the members of the Morning Greeters, an informal group whose mission – bringing smiles to the world – is making quite an impression on Singaporeans. Members of our editorial staff met with the official Smiler-in-Chief (SIC) of The Morning Greeters (TMG), Adrian Phoon, to find out what’s behind this movement.
Warning: Even if you’re in a bad mood, you’ll smile after reading this article!
RS: Can you explain your mission?
Adrian: To put it succinctly, we use the Island-Wide Run movement throughout Singapore parks as our cheer-spreading playground, but rather than showcasing run times, training regimens and conditioning routines, our goal is to put smiles on the faces of everyone we encounter. It’s ambitious but gratifying. We know our efforts are already being felt because publications like yours are writing about them. When people return our smiles, it’s like sharing a secret: That peace, harmony and brotherhood are as important as the air we breathe.
RS: Do you believe our nation is hospitable to a movement that’s this pure and unambiguous? Is this ideology possible to spread, given our cynical world?
Adrian: Of course we believe this with all our hearts. Our belief alone can move mountains. Offering smiles and support to strangers is not just possible; it’s also life-changing. We’re helping construct a bridge of trust between people, estates, nations and the universe. We believe it’s possible to build a community of trust, one person at a time, until Singaporeans are universally convinced that human interconnectedness is essential to our existence.
RS: As the founder of The Morning Greeters, what motivated you to launch this idealistic initiative?
Adrian: I’ve traveled the world and have come to the realization that one of the biggest cultural bonds people have is their shared devotion to their homeland. I realized that Singaporeans were not a particularly close-knit society and had an epiphany: I wanted to initiate a movement capable of instilling pride by showcasing the wonderful things our country has to offer rather than dwelling on negatives. Look at our successful economy and the effort it took to build it. I wondered why we couldn’t beef up our social community too. You can’t do it when people aren’t emotionally connected, which is kind of ironic as 80 percent of us live in HDB.
RS: Where did the running part of the equation originate? It’s a leap to go from building national pride to spreading smiles on running trails.
Adrian: (laughing) It’s not such a stretch! Our group brainstormed. We asked ourselves where we could find people from all strata of society. The answer was a no-brainer – everyone gets out, walks and runs no matter their social or economic status. The Singapore running community is an ideal microcosm of our nation and the most natural place on earth to promote our agenda. We’ve witnessed firsthand the effects of our efforts. People respond to our smiles and pass the smile baton to others at work, schools and anywhere Singaporeans gather.
RS: You said you realized that Singaporeans can appear cold and unfriendly. Is this because they’re just not awake in the morning?
Adrian: I wish that was the only cause. In fact, upwardly mobile Singaporeans have become so competitive that they barely remember what it was like to be neighborly. We want to be successful, so we become engaged in a race for success and forget lessons we learned as children about being kind to each other. When people are driven by competition, relationships wither. This is why The Morning Greeter movement is so critical.
RS: It’s no secret that Morning Greeters have inspired and touched others. Could you give us a specific example?
Adrian: The first one that comes to mind is of a woman whose father had died. Each year as the July anniversary of his death approached, she dreaded the day. On the sixth anniversary, she went out for her 9k morning run, hoping to make the day more tolerable. Along the way, she acknowledged people out of habit, but her heart wasn’t in it. That’s when several Morning Greeters smiled and waved. One even extended a hand like a baton pass during a relay. The woman was so touched she wrote a note saying that the Greeters had cheered her up enormously.
RS: Are your smile-producing efforts always this well-received?
Adrian: In the beginning, people were suspicious, and we took rejections personally. Then we accepted the fact that change takes time, that penetrating a society that’s lost touch with aspects of kindness and humanity can’t happen overnight. Recently, a woman running with a child greeted our smilers with a frown, whereupon the child said, “Mum, they just said good morning to you!” Sometimes, it takes a child to teach humility lessons.
RS: Inspiring others can be exhausting. How do you keep going?Adrian: That’s easy. We have a solid foundation of faith in humanity that keeps us perpetually buoyed. We love our homeland and believe deeply that we can create a climate in which people are kind to each other. We also engage in causes to help spread the word, such as sustainability and community building. Every opportunity to spread our message sustains our belief. Our runs through parks energize us; we celebrate all inroads. With this much enthusiasm and faith, exhaustion isn’t possible!
RS: Do you have any idea how many strangers you and your team have greeted?
Adrian: That’s a good question. Tracking devices would help come up with a number, or maybe the Run Society could volunteer to help us get a head count.
RS: Morning Greeters has been around long enough to build a reputation. We wonder if you’ve noticed an impact to the local running community as a result of your influence.
Adrian: Our supporter ranks have swollen to more than 500, a number that astounds us. We have expanded our presence to different parks, so whether we run at Singapore’s most expansive green spaces or small neighborhood parks, we make our presence known and encourage everyone to pay a smile forward.
RS: You’ve shared many impressive stories and numbers; it sounds as though your core group of Morning Greeters is so huge now that you need a computer to keep track of them all.
Adrian: That’s an illusion and shows you how powerful a small group can be. Our core group of official smile ambassadors is made up of 30 regular runners/walkers, and we meet without fail. If it rains, we go directly to breakfast so our committed community has a chance to get together and literally declare a running rain-check.
RS: We cannot believe your core group is made up of only 30 Morning Greeters!
Adrian: There’s plenty of room for anyone wishing to join us. The more, the merrier is our philosophy. We invite anyone interested to follow us on our Facebook page. We post our run locations on Wednesday or Thursday, but our morning runs are just part of the story. Our long-term ambitions include planning an Island-wide run in 2015 to involve 1,000 participants. We are unstoppable!
Until you arrived at the end of this story, you probably had no idea that only 30 people composed the core of this remarkable organization. What could be more inspiring than this revelation? The next time somebody tells you that a few people can’t make a big difference, the memory of these Morning Greeters is bound to cross your mind and put a huge smile on your face.