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Give up your seat – CCTVs are watching

I am not sure if I am saddened or amused by this little piece of news I read on the Asia One website.  The Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), for reasons which I do not understand, was reported to be looking into installing “closed-circuit cameras on trains to track the number of people who give up their seats to others.” And SKM is also considering installing “sensors to count the number of trays returned in food courts.”

Ok. Now, I am all for promoting good civic behavior and kindness. But really, cctvs to track how many people give up their seats in public transport? And after we know the numbers, what then? One is hard-pressed to see how spending such funds can be justified in this manner. And I am sure Singaporeans can offer suggestions on how better such funds can be used.

The SKM, which came into being after then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong spoke about a more gracious society in his 1996 New Year Message, has as one of its aims: “To inspire graciousness through spontaneous acts of kindness, making life more pleasant for everyone." In his speech then, Mr Goh said, “Let us now complement our economic achievements with social, cultural and spiritual development. Then by the 21st Century, Singapore will be a truly successful, mature country, with a developed economy and a gracious society."

That’s all well and good but shouldn’t we be using the funds in more constructive ways? How does having cctvs in our trains inspire “graciousness through acts of kindness and make life more pleasant for everyone”? I would think that the cameras would have the opposite effect – making life rather unnecessarily unpleasant for commuters who now will feel being watched all the time. The cameras might instead have a “coercive” effect, which would be contrary to the SKM’s aims of promoting spontaneous acts of kindness.

In a Straits Times report on 23 April on the level of “graciousness” this year (which incidentally put the results at 61 points, up from 58 last year), it reported that the SKM’s research “measured perception of graciousness rather than actual behaviours.”

When asked why this was so, SKM’s general manager Teh Thien Yew was reported as saying that “measuring actual graciousness would make the study tedious and costly.”

One wonders then why the SKM is looking into installing cctvs in trains which, I suppose, is to “measure actual graciousness”. Wouldn’t that be unnecessarily costly? And what about those “sensors” to track the number of trays returned in food courts? How much do these sensors cost? How many food courts will be involved?

Ironically, perhaps a better way to use the funds is for the SKM to first scrap the tracking of trays at food courts and to donate the money, which is to be used for the cctvs and sensors, to the transport companies or the CDCs to disburse to the poor or needy for their transport costs.

Now, that would indeed be a much more gracious act – rather than for the SKM to act as a sort of “big brother” keeping an electronic eye on how people behave.

Andrew Loh

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Read also:

Be gracious... or else by Kixes.

And:

2009: 1 out of 10 Singaporeans unhappy with current level of graciousness.

2009: 90% of Singaporeans happy with level of graciousness.

2010: Singaporeans a shade better in behaviour.

2010: Singapore moves up in graciousness.