On the bus to work today, the deejays of one of the morning talk shows were talking about how some polytechnic students had come up with the brilliant hardware solution to make sure there are seats for elderly people on crowded trains. The solution was to have folded up seats in designated parts of the trains that will only unfold when you tap your senior citizen EZ-link card to a card reader connected to the seats. Bless their hearts!
Whilst their efforts, innovation, initiative and care for the elderly are to be lauded, I was also thinking wryly to myself: how typically Singaporean! For every societal problem that we seek to resolve, we propose either a technological solution or a government solution. It seems that the mechanical or the political solution are the easier shortcuts that resonate with Singaporeans or that we resort to/rely on to a fault.
Not giving up seats to the elderly, pregnant women, children and people with disabilities is an issue to do with the lack of social grace. Whilst it can be addressed to a limited extent by technology, it is akin to plugging one hole only to have another leak spring up elsewhere. The lack of social grace also underpins a lot of other social ills we are trying to wean Singaporeans off: littering, chope-ping seats at hawker centres, not returning lunch trays, speeding up when a car in front signals etc. Some of these behaviours, we even politely brush off as our unique kiasu behaviours (talk about packaging!).
Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong have crowded (if not more crowded) public trains too, and they do not seem to have to grapple with this issue. They also seem to be better “behaved” with regards to not littering, returning their trays etc.
The “heartware” needs to be addressed. It’s not easy but it is necessary. Perhaps, the next time we think about addressing social problems, we should resist the urge to think of the hardware solutions and challenge ourselves to find the cultural solutions that would make a lasting impact on our heartware.