For many years, we have been known
as a city of campaigns. We Singaporeans have had to have campaigns to teach us
how to keep our city clean, how to be courteous to others, how to keep our
toilets clean - in short, how to be cultured.
We have been called many names,
among which are kiasu, ugly, and self-centred. Some of us jump queue,
talk loudly in public places such as libraries and fast-food restaurants, and
pack our plates with a mountain of food at buffets. And the 'best' part of it
is - we are unabashed about our own behaviour. It is almost as if we have
accepted it as second nature.
Fellow Singaporeans have
complained about our excesses in the local forums of newspapers and Web sites.
In recent years, newspapers have been chockfull of reports about some
Singaporeans abusing their maids. Such news spread quickly to the home country
of the maids and make others resentful of Singaporeans. It seems we do not
know how to behave as we become more affluent and able to partake in the
trappings that a higher standard of living has brought about.
Perhaps, if we had remained a poor
country with slums for housing and mosquito-infested drains we would not have
the luxury of time to be kiasu, ugly or self-centred. We would be too
busy trying to eke out a living for our family. We would have to depend on our
neighbours to help us look after our children while we were out working. We
would need to have a closely knit neighbourhood as everyone - we and our
neighbours - would have to co-operate to keep the area secure from hooligans
and robbers. And that would mean we would not be able to afford being
complacent and withdrawn from the community.
Wouldn't that be nice then, for we
would have been more civil in our behaviour albeit poor. Let's not kid
ourselves. We can't bring back the past. We also do not want to abandon our
present-day comfortable lifestyle.
But, because we have been able to
depend on ourselves and need not be neighbourly - we know our proficient
government running an efficient police force can protect us - many of us have
discarded our social-integration skills.
It's not that we do not have such
skills; we have merely discarded them. They are still lying around somewhere.
It takes a common disaster to get us to pick these skills up again. This was
what happened during the SARS epidemic last year.
Do we need a disaster to teach us
how to be civil again? I hope not. Do we need more campaigns to remind us how
to act humanly to others? I think so. We like to blame others for our mistakes
and short-comings. It's so convenient, so Singaporean, to do so. In this
instance, we blame the government for doing everything for us so much so that
we have lost the urge to make things better ourselves. So, we leave everything
to the government and just sit back and withdraw ourselves into our little
Can we change the attitudes and
habits of our current grownups? It would be difficult to undo such things
picked up over the past thirty or so years. Should we start educating our
young and then indirectly get these youngsters to re-imbue our grownups with
social-integration skills? That would be good as we are 'hitting two birds
with one stone', so to speak.
Already, school students have to
do community projects in order to earn points for their CCA (Co-Curricular
Activities). They visit old folks homes. They also help clean the
neighbourhood around their schools. But, I think there's one area that the
schools have been neglecting sorely. Our schools have not focused on teaching
our students to be well-mannered.
Of course, every time a teacher
enters the classroom or leaves it, students stand to attention and bid the
teacher welcome or goodbye. But these greetings, in my view, have become
In schools, many pupils do not greet teachers when
they pass these teachers in the corridors and staircases. However, most would
greet their subject or form teachers. A well-mannered student doesn't
discriminate between teachers. So the culture is missing. It isn't in place
when it should be, after all education is the process of preparing our young
for the work of life, which includes being civil to others, regardless of
There are, however, exceptions.
This morning, while listening to the Morning Express radio programme on Class
95 FM, I heard the Flying Dutchman, a co-presenter, heaping praise on a group
of SCGS students who gave up their seats at a table in a restaurant to the
Flying Dutchman and his family who were looking around for a table with five
seats. The FD was quick to point out that he was walking behind his family so
that it could not be misconstrued that the students had recognised a celebrity
and behaved thus. The SCGS students then moved to a table with fewer seats.
Now that's spontaneous good
manners. It reflects good education and upbringing. That's the type of
behaviour that should emanate from our students. But, that's also behaviour
that's sorely lacking among our students, whether in restaurants or hawker
How nice it would be if our
education system can churn out kids such as those at SCGS and make them the
norm rather than the exception.
Have a good week!