What would you do if someone approaches you to borrow your phone? Would you lend it to the person without even thinking?
We live in a society that exerts pressure on our daily life. The competitive nature of our landscape requires us to be independent and on guard all the time. With technology, it makes trust and mutual acceptance a difficult notion to believe and subscribe to. We are all living in our own world and living a life that is headed towards self-centredness, distrust and materialism. Perhaps news like the Sydney Cafe Siege or the Paris Charlie Hebdo shoot down are in fact, just news, or coffeeshop topics, which are distant to us since Singaporeans have not exactly faced the impact of such terrorist incidents. The closest I can think of would be perhaps the ‘SMRT Trains’ breakdown’ and the ‘Orchard Floods’ which caused a lot of media attention and complaints amongst Singaporeans.
Are we truly in touch with our country as Singaporeans? It seems Singaporeans are generally more concerned with matters relating to wealth, fortune and fame. I believe this has got to do with the larger social political landscape we are in. From young, we have been told to strive for our best. In schools, we are ranked and judged by which class we go to, our results, and even the schools we are in.
There’s also a stark distinction between going to a private undergraduate course and a public local university like SMU, NTU or NUS. We attach stereo-typical values to such differentiation and form long-term perceptions about people who are associated with these brands or institutions. I remember hearing a group of aunties gossiping about some students studying in a private institution in Singapore. ‘No good one lah, In Singapore you need to study in established institutions like NTU or NUS. If not, you won’t have a good future’, said one of the aunties. Can you believe it?! Such perspectives are still very embroiled in the mindset of our older generation and general Singaporeans.
Who can we blame for such mindsets? We have to recognise that Singapore has evolved from a third to a first-world country within a short span of time. Things are very different in today’s landscape. The media environment has changed tremendously and social media has empowered individuals and groups to achieve what was impossible in the last few decades. We have seen too many success stories where internet has empowered groups, individuals or causes such that significant improvements or outcomes can be felt.
My point is that while we see significant changes in the technological landscape: where people are holding more than 2-3 gadgets and indulging in a digitally connected lifestyle, I don’t see significant improvements on the closeness and trust amongst people. The digital world has empowered people. But are we truly more connected with our friends or loved ones?
I know this is a notion that involves a multitude of other factors. From a broader perspective, it is really hard to see kinder or simpler acts performed amongst Singaporeans.
To validate our suspicion, The Influencer Media Editorial Team recently embarked on a little social experiment to explore whether Singaporeans are helpful or empathetic to people in need. In fact, the real objective was to check if Singaporeans react differently to foreigners than fellow locals.
We commissioned two individuals and stationed them in front of the Chinatown MRT station. The task was for them to approach Singaporeans with a question ‘Excuse me Sir or Mdm, I have lost my phone and can I borrow your phone to call a friend’?
We were certainly hopeful and guessed there will be a couple of kind souls who will help Singaporeans. We were also dead sure that no one will help a foreign worker, a Bangladeshi friend Kannan who has gladly accepted our invitation for this experiment. In fact he accepted without any hesitation. See?
I wouldn’t want to disclose the outcome of the experiment. [You need to watch it yourself!, LOL]
We can argue that there are external factors affecting the results, for example, we started the experiment at 12 noon, a time when people are rushing for lunch; and that stationing ourselves in front of the MRT could possibly get less than desirable results as everyone will be rushing the moment they get out of the MRT. However, we should also question ourselves, are we truly prepared to lend our hand to strangers especially in time of crisis.
How do we cultivate the sense of empathy and kindness amongst Singaporeans? Can National Campaigns like the Singapore Kindness Movement truly change our mindset? Is this a universal problem; the fact we are only comfortable with familiar grounds and we shun changes and diversity?
I believe sometimes it’s just a matter of opening our hearts. Every new person we meet, or talk to, could potentially alter our life.
The openness to talk, to help and to connect with people perhaps will be biggest challenge facing the digitally-connected and savvy new generation in time to come.
Watch the Youtube Video to find out the results of our Social Experiment
Dennis Toh, Editor