Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Courtesy is from WITHIN...

From TODAY Voices – I Say
Monday August 4, 2008

Prompting people with campaigns and rules can only achieve so much
Subana Hall

MEDIACORP’s Class 95 Presenters have worked very hard at trying to pin down the good and the ugly Singaporean.

In a contest which ended recently, they roped in Singaporeans to record videos of good and bad behaviour. I really hope that their efforts were not in vain.

It has been almost 30 years since the National Courtesy Campaign was launched, in 1979 by then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew. I am not entirely sure if much has changed within the society since then.

The campaign was aimed at creating a pleasant social environment, with Singaporeans being considerate to each other and thoughtful of each other’s needs. It was hoped that this would be achieved in about 10 years from that time.

Singapore has had various mascots and media advertisements to promote positive mannerisms. A Singapore Courtesy Council was even set up in 1993 to spearhead the campaign.

However, many years on, have things changed? If they have not, the fundamental question is: Why not?

Would more campaigns help? I am not entirely convinced that more campaigns will make a difference.

There is so much focus on what Singaporeans lack in manners that we may be missing out on those whose manners are exemplary; I have met a few people in recent weeks who have put a smile on my face. However, I very much doubt that their behaviour is purely due to national campaigns.

I think cultured behaviour and civic mindedness is something people observe and accept as part of their life. It is a habit that people choose to develop, and cannot be forced.

Just as the Government cannot be responsible for helping singles find the “love of their life”, or advising people on their family matters, it cannot simply change the way a person really is.

Change has to be come from within the individual. Simply put: An individual must have the desire to change; or else endless campaigns and government efforts may prove futile, even 50 years from now.

There is a difference between standing on the correct side of the escalator and the act of offering a helping hand to a woman struggling with a child stroller to get up the stairs: The former shows Singaporeans’ well-trained ability to abide by the rules; the latter requires an instinctive nature to help others without needing to be prompted by posters and reminders.

Ultimately the change has to come from the person, and it will happen only when the person wants to do so, not for financial incentives or merit.

I sincerely hope that one day Singapore will move into an era where we could do away with campaigns and posters to remind people about how to be human and humane.

The writer is a Singaporean who has returned to Singapore after living in the United Kingdom for many years.
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