Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First (things) First!

So much has been said about Singaporean's (lack of) social grace - particularly by Singaporeans themselves. Every now and then, someone writes the national newspapers or tabloid papers about how he or she witnessed this "horrible", "untolerable" and "ugly" Singaporean behavior in the public space (mostly on our pubilc transportation arena). About how we have supposedly come "so far" as a "first world nation", yet are displaying so-called "worse than third world" levels of social grace.

Examples are aplenty - from the refusal to give up (priority) seats in the MRTs, the buses; to the refusal to observe the yellow box designate space at MRT alighting platforms; to the abled-body people (mis)using the lifts at the MRT, which are meant for the old and disabled persons; and the list continues. If I wasn't a Singaporean accustomed to reading these people yak on the papers, I will definitely assume the worse of this little red dot of a country.
"What kind of monsters live and breed on this island???", I'd think.

And everyone (of these writers) has a theory or opinion on how to rectify these bad behaviors.

"Fine them!", screams one writer. *on a side note: I do agree that Singapore IS a "fine" country. In both sense of the word*

"Educate them!", calls another.

"Humiliate them!", exhorts a third.

Will these methods work? Maybe. But if this symptom of "social ugliness" is a disease, then I think finding the cure for it may not be good enough. Not in the long term anyway. Like any other disease, we'd have to study and find out the source of its origins, and nip it at the bud.

An article in TODAY papers today (hmmm..), wrote about some of our country's leaders trying to determine an "economic value" to social graciousness. Specifically, they were refering to how some previous government-led courtesy campaigns have led to better levels of social awareness, leading to higher levels of customer service standards, while eventually translated to increased tourism activity (ie. economic gains).

I find that interesting. Indeed, I believe the source of Singaporean's apparent lack of social grace stem from this constant and incessant push (by our leaders) for Singaporeans to achieve higher levels of productivity, higher sense of urgency, higher degree of specialisation, higher... everything!
You see this pressure exerted on our young in schools - complex concepts and mathematics are being taught to children at a younger and younger age. What used to be a Secondary 1 topic is now being taught in Primary 4. Every school-going kid is told by their parents (and teachers) to study as hard as they possibly can, in order to stay ahead of the competition. Every teacher is trying to outdo their fellow teacher by showing that their students can score better in exams. Every Principal is trying to out-score their counterparts by getting higher levels of passing statistics for their schools.

In the fast-paced working society, this rat race is even more evident.
People pushing hard to climb the corporate ladders - some work longer hours, sacrificing family time, while others resort to backstabbing co-workers in order to get ahead in the race.
Sales people trying all kinds of tactics to reach their sales targets (hence bonuses) - sometimes resulting in a bad fallout, such as the one the financial industry recently experience (where banks' sales staff "pushed" unsuitable investment products to certain groups of investors).

We want to be first. We NEED to be first!

Why? I sometimes ask myself that question. So what if we are not first, and fall behind the pack a little. So what?
Well, like what our leaders are constantly reminding us these days - Singaporeans are facing much stiffer competition from the foreigners these days. These "foreign talents" will take aways our jobs if we dont join the race and run fast. The world is moving along and we'll get dragged into a deep black hole if we dont fend for ourselves and show some battling spirit to WIN.

We took that all in. Afterall, it is crystal clear that in this cold, meritocratic society, if we don't help ourselves, nobody will. 人不为己,天诛地灭

Is it then any surprise that Singaporeans find it hard to relax? Hard to be nice and smiley to one another? Hard NOT to compete when it comes to getting up the bus, the train, for cabs, etc.? Hard NOT to honk at the idiotic driver who hogs the road, thus preventing me from getting to my destination faster and quicker?

Who was it who said, "Nice guys finish last?" =P


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