The ugly Singaporean
INSIGHT DOWN SOUTH
By SEAH CHIANG NEE
Have affluent, educated Singaporeans become too self-centred and insensitive to other people’s plights? Can Singapore be considered a First World city with such boorishness? A mature, developed country isn’t defined only by wealth and education; it is also about humanity and concern for others.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, "The best test of a civilized society is the way in which it treats its most vulnerable and weakest members". I believe it is the only test that matters because if the weakest are well taken care of, everyone else has to be alright.
JUSTIFIABLY or not, the disastrous Sichuan earthquake has sparked off a re-look here at a Singaporean characteristic that overshadows his economic achievement.
In a TV interview, a tourist who just returned unhurt complained angrily about his encounter with airport delay and telephone breakdown at a time when the Chinese were frantically rescuing people.
One viewer commented: “He kept complaining bitterly as if the whole world owed him an explanation about the airport delay.”
Another added: “the man was practically shouting at the camera. His behaviour was really shocking.”
In the face of the terrible suffering, the middle-aged Singaporean’s insensitive complaint about his personal inconvenience spread consternation and a sense of shame among viewers.
I wonder why MediaCorp did not cut that clip out. Many Singaporeans are so used to whining about everything around them, it is hard to stop even when they are overseas and 32,000 people have just died from an earthquake. This "complain training" starts when we are children. Parents teach their children to complain about cleanliness, delays, etc. Favorite complaints include people not being considerate towards them or civil servants not doing their jobs. Very often it becomes a vicious cycle. Because there are so many complaints no matter what they do, the civil service tends to do nothing until a complaint comes in. As everyone is complaining, you learn to complain louder to get yours heard and the service providers learn to respond to the loudest complaint first. That is why that middle age man was shouting - he feels that is the only way to get his answers but he forgot that he was not in Singapore - in China, they handle complaints by ignoring them. He was probably angry because he had been ignored for several hours.
It highlighted a trait often attributed to affluent, educated Singaporeans that they have become too self-centred and insensitive to other people’s plights.
Would you be able to get to work on time if you spend a minute with every homeless person you see at the interchange? We have been conditioned to "move on" and are able to walk past the poor homeless folks like they don't exist. Our govt tells us that giving these people welfare will result in a crutch mentality so we don't feel obliged to help them.
Many of the offenders are middle-class, young and educated who seem to have little interest in other people’s feelings.
The Singaporean tourist, instead of lending a helping hand, was fuming about his own safety – even after he was safely back home.
“Typical ugly Singaporean the sort that makes other people dislike us – totally self-centred,” said a blogger.
Others disagree, with one defending it as a normal reaction for a foreigner desperate to escape quickly. “He may have put it badly, but he was scared and obviously wanted to return to his family,” he said.
“Realistically speaking, not every one can be highly principled about helping in a disaster in a foreign country,” he added.
Most, however, condemned his insensitivity. “It reflects the overall selfishness and self-centredness of middle-class Singaporeans,” said ‘investor’.
“My general impression is that they are the second most selfish and self-centred people in Asia, next only to Hong Kongers.”
The debate raised the question whether Singapore could be considered a First World city with such boorishness.
A mature, developed country isn’t defined only by wealth and education; it is also about humanity and concern for others.We all know what happens to people who speak up strongly for the poor, jobless and exploited in our society. They are labeled as trouble makers and there are laws to deal with troublemakers.
Several days earlier, a girl who refused to give up a seat (meant for the elderly and the handicapped) to a pregnant woman, called her a “bitch” because she had stared at her and shook her head.
Why is the girl expected to make such a painful sacrifice? She got to the seat first and the seat is hers to enjoy why must she give it up? Singaporeans have to learn to stop demanding painful sacrifices from little girls and their leaders.
Some blame it on the environment, especially an elitist, each-man-for-himself mentality.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is a theme that has been drilled into every child and adult. A whole generation has grown up believing that if Singaporeans get into trouble, they can expect no help from anyone.In Singapore you learn to help yourself whenever you can. Our leaders show the way. They helped themselves to millions in ministers' salary once they were voted into parliament.
It may be a good teaching for a small city without resources, but it has also spawned an antithesis: If you can expect no help from others, you also do not need to care for others.
Did Seah Chiang Nee not listen to our SM? Helping the people with welfare and subsidies will make them unhappy. The PAP govt has the interest of the people in its heart - they give little or no help because they don't want to undermine the happiness of Singaporeans.
“Living in a society where only money talks makes all of us less human and less caring,” says ‘Anonymous’.
Another writer said he was a typically an apathetic, uncaring Singaporean until he went to live in the United States.
“Two years into my stay there and having been offered help by plenty of strangers on the street, I found myself doing the same,” he said.
“The typical Singaporean reaction when they are offered unsolicited help is a suspicious glare. Certainly not encouraging to would-be helpers,” he added.
You cannot blame Singaporeans for this. Why? Every time they get something they didn't ask for (progress package) from the govt like they did before the last general electons in 2006, there is a tendency for something else to happen to take it all back (GST hike, ...).
The person who has the single biggest influence on how Singaporeans think and behave is Lee Kuan Yew. Many of the current leaders and civil servants as well as older Singaporeans, emulate him.The Minister Mentor has never been too concerned about his own – or Singapore’s – popularity as much as its interests. Giving charity to countries in need, for example, has rarely been its forte.
The political elite, followed by and large by the citizenry, takes after Lee’s generally no-welfare, harshly competitive and unsentimental leadership.Who says the PAP is not generous?! Just go ask the foreign students with all expenses paid scholarships given out by the PAP govt. I'm sure many will say that our govt is the most generous they have ever seen.
Last year, the “survival of the fittest” type view, believed to prevail among the top elites, burst into a public furore following remarks made by the scholar-daughter of a government MP.
Condemning a young professional, Derek Wee, who wrote about the pressures faced by the common people, the student, Wee Shu Min lambasted the critic as wretched, an idiot and “leech”.
She appeared to be defending the class divide in Singapore or “a tyranny of the capable and the clever” saying that “the only other class is the complement.”
She ended by telling Derek: “Please, get out of my elite uncaring face.”
Her MP father criticised her intemperate language, but supported some of her sentiments expressed.
A nationwide condemnation ensued.
The issue would have ended there if it were just regarded as a teenager’s rants. It was more than that.
Because Shu Min was a scholar designed for a possible leadership role and daughter of a People’s Action Party MP (from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s constituency), it instantly became a political hot potato.
The critics said it reflected a government perception that a class divide was inevitable and may even be necessary to encourage people to strive harder in life.
The target of her invective, Derek Wee, was actually echoing a popular public sentiment when he said Singaporeans were suffering partly because the government failed to understand their plight.
Shu Min’s message was that failures were caused by laziness or lack of capabilities, which the persons themselves were responsible – with no words of support or care for those in need.I think Shu Min is only partially right. Failures are caused by laziness or lack of capabilities if we are talking about the failures of ordinary Singaporeans. Our leaders don't fail, they can only make honest mistakes. Nobody failed when Mas Selamat escaped only the guards down the line deserve punishment. Nobody failed when billions are lost in investments such as Shin Corp or Citibank, they are for the long term. Only ordinary Singaporeans can fail and when they fail it is due to their own lack of ability. When they fail, they become a burden for our leaders to shoulder.