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COMMENTARY

Not quite the right priority

Friday, April 1, 2016 - 05:50

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The teal-coloured stickers are adorable: a cheery smiley face urges commuters to let elderly, disabled, and pregnant travellers, as well as those with prams, to enter first. But why do we have to be told?

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MORE proof that Singaporeans can't be trusted to be gracious of their own accord: priority queue stickers in MRT stations.

First, the facts. On Thursday, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced that it will implement priority queues at all MRT stations, by placing stickers in front of train and lift doors.

The teal-coloured stickers are adorable: a cheery smiley face urges commuters to let elderly, disabled, and pregnant travellers, as well as those with prams, to enter first. The stickers are sizeable, too, blocking off space for commuters who are most in need.

LTA introduced the scheme "as a move towards a more gracious society". But the truth of the matter is that this only underscores how ungracious a society Singapore can be.

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Let me be clear: I love the idea of priority queue stickers; I just hate that we have to resort to them to engender plain, common decency.

There's no doubt they'll work, in the same way designated priority train seats have worked - it's now rare to see those seats occupied by able-bodied people when there are others in greater need on board.

Even then, one has to wonder how much of that comes from a genuine desire to be kind, as opposed to the fear of a thorough drubbing via online shaming.

And that's where the need for priority queue stickers really feels absurd. They're ultimately a sad admission of the sorry state of affairs - where rules, instead of one's conscience, are needed to kindle kindness.

So what's the solution here?

It's easy to fall back on the usual call to teach graciousness in schools - you know, start from a young age and all that jazz.

But isn't that what we've been doing already? What's not going right there?

I suspect we've been neglecting a crucial piece of the puzzle: the education that goes on outside of school. Teachers are already doing a splendid job, but are we - parents, caretakers, society at large - keeping up the good work once the school bell rings?

We're certainly not modelling good behaviour when we rush into the train ourselves and chide kids for not getting on quicker. Or when we morph into kancheong spiders and tell them: "Faster - go chope that seat!" Both are missed opportunities to lead by example.

Somewhere, Singa the Courtesy Lion is pouring himself a drink, congratulating himself on his decision to retire in 2013. (Three years ago, Singa dramatically quit his post as Singapore's graciousness mascot after 30 long years on the job. "I'm just too tired to continue facing an increasingly angry and disagreeable society," said Singa in an open letter.)

I'm sure the stickers will go some way in engineering more kindness in Singapore. But I just wish we didn't have to be told.

I'm sure Singa would agree.

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