How we can be better as a society

People crossing the road at Yishun Bus Interchange, on Feb 11, 2019.
People crossing the road at Yishun Bus Interchange, on Feb 11, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

Recently, at a coffee shop in Ang Mo Kio, I noticed a family of nine, comprising five adults and four children. They had finished their meal and the children were noisy and rambunctious.

I gestured to them to lower the noise, and one man in the group tried to shush them. But they resumed their rowdiness soon after.

When the family got up to leave, I motioned to them to return their crockery and utensils to the collection station, but they refused. An older man asked why should they as they had "paid already". I replied: "It's a good habit for kids to learn."

I was ashamed at their attitude and a little embarrassed at having been told off for telling them off. Very often, we avoid trying to correct strangers' uncivic-minded behaviour.

As Singapore's 54th birthday nears, here are my thoughts on how we can be more civilised.

• Be more inclusive and considerate: We should be less calculative in how we behave towards others. We should stop being cynical. Selfishness cannot be justified.

• Cut the noise: Noise can cause stress, anxiety and depression, which is why noise barriers are erected where train tracks run alongside housing estates, and why coffee shops have signs saying "quiet down after 10.30pm". Often, children are left to play and shout even in hospitals and libraries. Then there are the ringtones, music and video clips blaring from digital devices, people talking loudly on their phones, and promotions blasting from loudspeakers at fairs, where you need to shout to be heard.

• Cut the speed: Personal mobility devices on pavements are pedestrian bulldozers and their riders are impatient, unrepentant and unconcerned by the terror they cause others.

• Share the space: In crowded public places, buses and trains, do not hog the exit or lean against things like the grab poles.

• Respect nature: Avoid over-consumption and reduce waste. Eat less meat and turn to non-animal alternatives.

• Improve EQ and diplomacy: Intervene by all means when you encounter unacceptable behaviour. But be diplomatic. Avoid provoking the wrongdoer or you may end up alienating him. Encourage others to speak up too when they spot bad behaviour.

Anthony Lee Mui Yu

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2019, with the headline 'How we can be better as a society'. Subscribe