Kindness on public transport has gotten lost in the midst of progression and growth

At Bukit Batok MRT station, a man in his 50s is waiting to tap his card and pass through the wider gantry, made for people in wheelchairs or children in prams. On the other side, a long queue of people are tapping their cards and merrily exiting the station.

This man waits patiently. With him is an elderly woman who looks to be in her 80s, in a wheelchair. I glance at the control station. The staff inside have noticed the scene but do not feel the need to intervene and divert the queue to other gantries.

I could not fathom how people could be oblivious to the needs of others, how they could so easily put their needs above all else.

This scene, and many others I have experienced while taking public transport, was to me, the epitome of Singaporeans’ world view and self perception.

We stand before the train doors, bracing ourselves to rush in as soon as they open, inevitably pushing past passengers who are trying to alight.

After rushing in and scoring that coveted seat, we immediately start snoozing, awaking at the precise moment the doors open at our destination.

The trains jerk every so often, but the nappers keep on slumbering, lest they open their eyes and see a heavily pregnant woman trying to keep her balance, or a young man on crutches.

The way we behave on trains and buses speaks volumes about the manner in which we function in society. There is a false sense of entitlement and a constant reminder that we need to fight for what we want, what we feel we deserve.

We do not trust anybody else to have our best interests at heart. And for good reason, too. We push, shove and elbow to get what we want, with little regard that when we do, someone else gets the shorter end of the stick.

My objective, rather than to condemn, is to identify and accept that kindness has gotten lost in the midst of progression and growth. I am one of you, and I believe that we are better than this.

Travelling need not be akin to preparing our battle armour as soon as we step into the train station.

I pen these thoughts in the hopes that tomorrow, you let someone cut the queue in front of you, or wait for an old man hobbling out of the train, trying to read the signs at the same time.

You do not need that seat; that lady with a baby and toddler in hand does. A smile of gratitude is the best way to start your day. If it does not come, so what? You helped someone, whether it is acknowledged or not.

This letter was first published in TODAY by reader Cordelia Melanie Alfred