First World Economy, Third World Social Behaviour!

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Askmelah has often said that we have the first world economy, but third world behaviours all these years. Refusing to allow commuters to alight first, talking loudly on mobile phones, refusing to give way to those more in need of a seat, littering and other examples of bad behaviour are commonplace in our trains. It does not need to take a foreigner to reaffirm this point. As someone once said, we have the hardware but not the heartware.

It is still indeed a good wake up call for Singaporeans and the Government to do some serious soul searching (This especially so for the politicians, they should be the doers not the commentators because the of the sheer power and influence that they have. The mindset change has to come from the top). For example, one online comment that the maid policy need to be fine-tuned or changed, “having maid since young and seeing how adults behave toward them can make one callous to people.”. Another policy change will be the tightening of the immigration policy, how can a national identity and norm being formed if the melting pot keeps brewing ? This is the reason why Japan, Korean and Taiwan are so civil conscious compared to immigration society like Singapore and Hong Kong, amongst the 5 most developed Asian countries.

“The problem here is that we measure everything in dollar bills – personal identity, self-respect, happiness, your sense of worth – it is all linked to how much money you have. But only the top few percent earn serious cash — so everyone else feels worthless and apathetic.”

BBC commentary sparks compassion debate in Singapore

By Jeanette Tan | Yahoo Newsroom

It’s not easy to build a gracious society, but we can do it if we choose to, say two Singapore ministers in response to a comment piece that was widely shared on social media on Saturday night.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin posted a link to the article on his Facebook page, written by a foreign journalist for BBC News Magazine staying in Singapore, and admitted “many of us would be able to relate to some of her experiences”.

“We do hear stories of people being callous, indifferent, unfeeling. And I guess we need to look at ourselves and ask if we too sometimes reflect these ugly traits in the little things that we do or say, or don’t do and don’t say when we really should do the right thing,” he wrote. “Truth is, we often do know what is the right thing to do. And we can, if we choose to.”

Adding on to what he said was Minister for Community, Culture and Youth Lawrence Wong, who noted that Singapore’s Graciousness Index for last year fell sharply, which means that Singaporeans experienced fewer acts of graciousness and kindness.

“We are and we can be better than this,” he said, adding that the Singapore Kindness Movement has stepped up on its efforts to reach out to young Singaporeans in schools and communities.

“Amid our fast-paced lifestyles, let us take the time to reflect on how we lead our lives; to ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and compassion to the people around us,” Wong said. “Because in the end, that’s what matters above all else.”

The BBC journalist, Charlotte Ashton, wrote an op-ed piece entitled “Does Singapore deserve its ‘miserable’ tag?”, describing how Singapore’s apathetic and uncaring money-chasing culture reflects its “world’s least-positive country” label — slapped on the nation-state by a Gallup poll in December 2012.

Sharing her experiences on public transport while pregnant, Ashton said she on one occasion crouched to the floor on a packed train, holding her head in her hands and feeling faint but was “completely ignored, for the full 15 minutes it took to reach (her) station”.

“Nobody offered me (a) seat or asked me if I was okay,” she wrote. “For the first time Singapore had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable — completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. Singaporeans, I felt, had let me down.”

She ended off her piece with the comment, “…in the Singaporean rat race, you are certainly on your own. An unhappy conclusion, I am afraid, from misery city.”

Within the article, she also quoted a few Singaporean friends who said they were not surprised by it at all, adding their own stories of negative experiences on public transport.

“We are programmed to think only about ourselves,” said one of them, a Chinese who had been educated in Canada. “The only thing that matters is money — helping people is not important,” he added.

“The problem here is that we measure everything in dollar bills – personal identity, self-respect, happiness, your sense of worth – it is all linked to how much money you have. But only the top few percent earn serious cash — so everyone else feels worthless and apathetic.”



The dirty truth about Singapore

Singaporeans’ poor social graces a result of a weak sense of community
By Han Fook Kwang,
Source: The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2012
I couldn’t find any public dustbins in Taipei where I was visiting about a week ago.
The city was clean and as well kept as any I have seen elsewhere.
But nobody throws rubbish here? What happens if you’ve a piece of tissue paper you want to get rid of?
Leave it in the pocket?
That’s what the Taiwanese do, said my guide. They dispose of it when they get home so they can separate what can be recycled from the rest.
That’s really impressive, I thought, especially considering how difficult it is to get Singaporeans to recycle their waste, let alone carry it home with them.
I had to remind myself I was in Taipei, not Tokyo where you expect the Japanese to be ultra civic-minded.
It was one of several surprises about Taipei and its people, which overturned my previous preconceptions about the place.
Truth is I didn’t know very much about Taiwan, not having visited for more than 20 years – I was last there on a brief news assignment.
Much of what I knew came from reading the papers and watching the news on television, and it was mostly negative – the unruly politics, fist fights in Parliament, and headline-grabbing melodramatic elections (remember the mysterious shooting of then President Chen Shui-bian a day before the 2004 presidential election?).
There were other revelations from my visit.
At Taipei’s MRT stations, commuters waited in orderly, single-line queues for trains, a sight you don’t see here in Singapore, and their trains are just as crowded.
(Second reminder – it’s not Tokyo.)
But the stand-out observation of my four-day visit was the service at restaurants.
It was better than Tokyo’s.
These were not fine-dining places that I visited, where you expect service to be good, but popular ones such as Din Tai Fung and T.G.I. Friday’s, both of which are also in Singapore.
I have never experienced such personal, enthusiastic and know-ledgeable service anywhere in the world – and from very young waiters barely out of school.
It was packed in Din Tai Fung, so you couldn’t say the exceptional service was because it was a slow day there.
The issue of how to get Singaporeans to be more civic-minded has been an evergreen one because there are too many examples of bad behaviour which have gone uncorrected for too long.
Commuters blocking the way of those getting off the trains, diners not returning their trays at hawker centres and foodcourts, residents not recycling their waste, moviegoers using their mobile phones in cinemas. Many visitors have also commented that the city isn’t as clean as it used to be and more people have been caught littering in public places.
The list goes on.
That’s not even including how motorists behave on the road – top of my hate list being the way they accelerate instead of giving way the moment they see another driver signalling to get into their lane.
It’s often said we’re a First World economy but without the accompanying social graces, and that it’ll take another generation before we get there.
It was such a refreshing change to visit a city where you could see a qualitative difference in social behaviour and attitude towards one another, and which was not so culturally or economically different from Singapore that it seems like an alien place.
It’s how I feel about Japan – it sets a very high standard for courteous behaviour and public-spiritedness but Japanese society is hard to fathom and the social codes are so opaque to outsiders it seems like a world apart.
Singaporeans will never be like them, so there’s no point studying how they do it.
But Taiwan is predominantly Chinese, and much more similar to Singapore.
It disproves the point that some people here have made that one reason for the mediocre service in retail shops and restaurants is that Chinese people are not known to be service-oriented, unlike say Thais or Filipinos.
Taiwan proves this wrong.
But if it was just about service, it wouldn’t be such a big issue.
A Gallup survey put Singaporeans right at the bottom of 148 countries for lacking emotion and for being the least positive.
You could argue with the flawed way the survey was done, as many critics have done, but it still sucks to be bottom of the class.
More disconcerting was the finding of the World Giving Index two weeks ago that Singaporeans were one of the least likely people in the world (140th out of 146) to have helped a stranger in the past month.
As for giving money to charity, the score wasn’t great either – 53rd, and way behind other South-east Asian countries such as Indonesia and Thailand.
I couldn’t think of a worse dampener to the year-end celebrations.
Many reasons have been given for Singapore being so far behind in these softer aspects of our development.
Among several: Because we’re a fast-paced, competitive economy in a densely populated urban city, people here have less time to be nice to one another. And that we’re a society in which just a generation ago, many among our parents came from some of the poorest villages in China and India and who might not have grown out of their peasant habits.
But Hong Kong is just as compactly populated with immigrants from a similar background, yet it ranked 19th in the overall index, 95 places ahead of Singapore.
America is one of the most competitive economies in the world and was rated fifth.
I believe there is a common thread running through societies that do so much better than others in this area.
It has to do with having a strong sense of community and identity among the people, that they are in it together and so have to look out for one another.
It’s like being part of a family, no one needs to be told to do his or her part for the other – it should come naturally because the ties that bind are as strong as Mother Earth.
When I asked a colleague who has worked in Taipei what accounts for the behaviour I observed there, she said there were many reasons, one of which was that things became noticeably better as a result of the civic movement during the years leading to the lifting of martial law in 1987.
Those were the years of political and social awakening in Taiwan when the people became more involved and participated more actively in the issues that mattered to Taiwan.
As a result, they developed a stronger sense of Taiwanese identity.
Their politics is often ugly and the economy has been sluggish for some time, but they appear to have made greater strides on the social front.
For Singapore, the challenge is greater than in a homogeneous society like Taiwan.
It is why all those top-down campaigns to get people to return food trays, stop littering, or move to the back of buses will have only limited success because Singaporeans don’t feel strongly enough that they are one community and will look after one another.
That’s the painful truth and acknowledging it is necessary before progress can be made.
Forging those bonds requires action, not words, from as many people as possible doing things for the common good, and not for themselves and their families. That means a much more vibrant civic society, one where Singaporeans truly believe they have an active part to play in shaping the future of this place.
The more civic organisations, interest groups, non-governmental organisations, charities and volunteers there are doing their bit in whatever area they are interested in, the greater will be this sense of community and ownership.
Conversely, if it’s all done by the Government, the weaker the bonds.
But it also requires the Government to respect and support the work done by these groups.
There’s clearly much more at stake than just uncleared food trays.