Can kindness out of obligation really be called kindness?
Singaporeans often get on STOMP for not giving up their seats on the MRT to those who need it more. While the use of such technology has made people do kind acts, it seems their actions are more out of fear and obligation instead of genuine kindness.
This raises the question: is kindness an obligation we should enforce, or an attitude we should cultivate instead?
It is difficult to deny that strict enforcement works more effectively to change behaviours in a button-down society like Singapore. A classic example would be the banning of durians in the MRT.
Strictly speaking, such prohibition does not even classify as a law, for there is no specific fine attached to the sign. Nevertheless, such a ban has proven its effectiveness, as seen from the lack of rich durian smells on trains.
On the other hand, soft campaigns cultivating civic consciousness and kind acts have not been as successful. The 2013 campaign initiated by the National Envrionmental Agency that encourages patrons to return their trays at hawker centres has been far from fruitful, even after three years.
However, this looks set to change with the inclusion of technology that can help enforce positive behaviours. Timbre+ has implemented their own automated coin deposit system, where patrons pay an extra dollar upon purchasing food that will only be refunded when they return their trays.
The effectiveness of this system was highlighted by Straits Times reader Sum Siew Kee. He said in a forum letter: “In my visits there, I have never seen a single person fail to return his tray.”
While such a reward-and-punishment system has caused our society to look more gracious, it would be naive to think that the Singaporean brand of kindness is tied to sincerity. In fact, even the latest campaign by the Singapore Kindness Movement failed to move past the idea that kindness is an obligation we need to enforce.
Drawing inspiration from public shaming, the STOMP-looking poster encourages commuters to kindly wake the man sleeping in the reserved seat to give up his place. Upon its launch however, it has garnered critique among netizens, who questioned why kindness was only expected from someone sitting on a reserved seat.
While it is apparent that some Singaporeans are inclined toward sincere acts of kindness, the rest of us could probably learn a thing or two from the foreign workers who have been appearing on our social media for the right reasons.
Remember the heroic act of a foreign worker who saved a toddler whose head was stuck between railings outside a HDB flat in 2015, or the two Bangladeshi workers who dug through the bin centre trash for over three hours searching for lost jewellery recently?
While most Singaporeans would stand by or film an incident with their mobile phones, these foreigners acted beyond obligation, and their kindness was evident for all to see.
While enforcement may help to build a norm of graciousness, we need to go beyond mere obligation to develop kindness that comes out of sincerity. It is only when Singaporeans are found practicing kind acts from the heart that we will truly be a step closer to becoming a more gracious society.
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