Address by the Honorable Mr. Justice Patrick CHAN Siu Oi, GBM
President, Provost, Deputy President, Professors, students, ladies and gentlemen:
On behalf of Dr Andy LAU and myself, I would like to express our heart-felt gratitude to the University for conferring Honorary Doctorate Degrees on us. We are especially grateful for the more than generous and most flattering citations. It is with humility and trepidation that we accept this honour: humility because we believe there are other persons who are equally if not more deserving of this honour; and trepidation because as part of this University, we deem it our duty to further the noble traditions of the University and to follow the good examples of those who had received this honour before us.
Today is also the happy occasion for the more than 200 of you who are conferred with honours degrees upon your graduation. It is time for you to give thanks to your parents and families for their selfless sacrifice and unfailing support. It is time to thank the University and the professors for their patient and enlightening teaching, counselling and guidance for all these years. They are the people who have enriched your lives and prepared you for the future so that you can make your dreams come true. To all of them, you should be grateful.
Merely saying “thank you” is not enough. It is not the same as showing gratitude. We say “thank you” to a lot of people every day. Sometimes we say this as a matter of routine and at other times, as a matter of courtesy, but most of the time, without meaning very much more than what is said. To many people, this is a common gesture which is expected of persons in a civilized society. But how often has it crossed our minds to really appreciate what has been done for us which has prompted us to say “thank you”? And how often has it occurred to us to do something positive to show our gratitude to those to whom we are indebted or to return the favours which we have received through one way or another?
Saying “thank you” is easy as it needs little or no effort. But showing gratitude is more difficult as it involves doing something to demonstrate we really appreciate what people have done for us. It is also difficult because it must come from our hearts, otherwise it would be meaningless and worthless. However, gratitude is something which is very often easily and conveniently overlooked these days. The main reason for this is that we often take things for granted because what we want and what we get often come so readily as a matter of course and without making any effort or asking for them. Sometimes, we may even think we have the right or are entitled to what we get. In a society which has become more affluent, benefits are often there for the taking and this has created the impression of an entitlement to these benefits. So to many people, gratitude is an outdated concept. It is a great pity to see a gradual decline of this traditional and honourable virtue.
But can we always take things for granted? The answer is clearly no. A lot of things are happening of which we are not aware. We seldom pay attention to what is happening around us, why things happen in the way they do, how they affect our daily lives and what would happen without them. Those who are in good health would seldom think it is a blessing. Nor would they thank those who care for them, until there is something seriously wrong with their health. Then they would start complaining “why me”? without reflecting on whether that may be the result of their poor habits, such as what they eat and what they do. People do not expect accidents to happen and never think of thanking those who work so diligently and quietly to make the community a safer and happier place. But misfortunes do happen. And when they come, it is so easy for people to put the blame on others without asking what they themselves have done or not done. A lot of parents, according to a recent survey, have worked hard all their lives and even postponed their retirement so as to provide their children with everything they want, and even help them buy their flats. But not everyone is so fortunate as to have parents who can afford to make such sacrifice or are willing to do so. I can mention many more examples where people are serving us or helping us and we have simply taken it for granted without showing appreciation or even thinking about it. So next time when a serious accident occurs, or when there is a breakdown of the MTR, or when we are caught in a traffic jam, instead of complaining, why do we not have a little more patience and think of those who have been faithfully working day and night to get things going for us? And why can we not show some gratitude for what they have done for us?
There are people who consider that they are entitled to what they get and that since they have a right to it, it is not necessary to be grateful to anyone. But the truth of the matter is that there is hardly any absolute right to anything. After all, nobody owes us anything. Like our parents, if not for their love and care for us, they are not bound to do anything extra to help us after we have grown up and can stand on our own feet. It makes no sense to claim we are entitled to what they have done for us. For every right, there is a reciprocal obligation – an obligation to respect and to observe other people’s right. The question is not what are we entitled to, but what have we done to deserve what others have done for us? Think of the subsidy we get for the 12 years of free primary and secondary education and the 4 years of university education. Think of the many donations to the University by generous benefactors. There are other examples. Before we can claim we are entitled to anything, we should reflect on what we have done for the community. Have we done our fair share?
No doubt there are things we do not have. It is useless blaming this and that. We just try harder to get them. But there are a lot more things we already have, so remember to show our appreciation and be grateful for them.
Do not under-estimate the importance of showing appreciation to those who serve us or help us. There is a positive side in it. Your appreciation would be the power to drive them forward, an incentive to them to work harder and to improve their efficiency and we may end up getting better services. This would make serving and helping others much easier. And this would make our community more harmonious, more constructive and more forward looking.
Knowing how to appreciate others, how to give credit to them for what they have done for us and how to express our gratitude to them is not only a virtue but an essential part of our character development. This will help us understand the problems and difficulties that people face. This will make us more considerate to others and more tolerant to them. This will also broaden our outlook and perspectives instead of being self-centred and narrow minded. We would be more mature and more humble persons. We cannot of course repay all the favours we have received. In fact, very few people who serve us or help us expect any return. But we can follow their good examples and help others and serve the community in the same spirit. This, I venture to say, is the best way of expressing our gratitude to them. This is what is expected of you as responsible graduates of this University. And this is what Dr Andy LAU and I are determined to do to show our gratitude towards the University for the honour bestowed on us today.