Some simple courtesy goes a long way

Several years ago, I was hosting a meeting in a European capital when a Singapore senior civil servant arrived in an agitated state.

He told us that he had boarded a bus and asked the driver for directions. The driver had paused, looked him in the eye and said: "Bonjour, good morning, monsieur."

The civil servant was embarrassed that a humble bus driver had to remind him of the simple courtesies in daily life.

I am often reminded of this incident, and wonder how many people in Singapore greet the driver when they board the bus and say thank you when they disembark.

As I use public transport almost exclusively to get around, I can confidently say that 99 per cent of commuters do not do this.

This is a cause for reflection. Have we lost our humanity?

I am sure we do not mean to be rude. I have also seen numerous acts of kindness and courtesy on public transport.

Surely, as we rush from one appointment to another, and text on our phones, we can say a simple "good morning" to acknowledge the human being behind the wheel who is performing an important public service, with long hours and little human contact.

In a turbulent and uncertain world, where sentiments of "me first" and "make me great again" are dominating, a return to civility, kindness, humility and courtesy would go a long way towards making Singapore a better place.

On our next bus trip, let us greet the driver and make his day.

Tikki Pang (Professor)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2017, with the headline 'Some simple courtesy goes a long way'. Print Edition | Subscribe