I never understand Singaporeans, and because that includes me, I have to say I sometimes don’t understand myself. It’s a little bit about what Socrates was trying to prove, that people don’t rationalise what we do, but let’s not get into that. This isn’t philosophy. In fact, ‘philosophy’ is a stupid put-off. Here, ‘common sense’ is preferable. There is little reason to use common sense to justify the things we do so habitually.
From the title, you’ve probably guessed the back-story by now, all you smart people. I’m talking about how STOMP has been used as an outlet for catching people in SAF green (and blue/grey) and ratting them out (Hokkien: bao toh). Just as I typed that a Third Sergeant (3SG) walked onto my train. If he sits down, someone might snap a photo (worth $50 - still?) and send it to STOMP. Apparently the act is ‘illegal’, and as the image, armed with a nasty headline and accusatory text, slips through STOMP’s editorial discretion, a lengthy debate ensues. Some rush to the aid of the defendant (or, since he is hardly aware, the accused), others chide his inconsiderate actions.
Let’s get to my point here - why ‘STOMP’ him. Why not just tell him off? Or actually, just gently ask if he would like to give up his seat for that gentle old lady. If you’re so concerned about that someone losing their balance, would this not be the only effective way to do it? And hey, while you’re at it, might as well lambast the school kids in uniform and any other young enough, relatively-fit looking person as well.
But oh wait. Did I offend anyone? I forgot that some of us are the de facto moral guardians of society, and that foolish, single-minded me just suggested a mere stop-gap. Why help one elderly lady when you can help every one there is? Now I’m starting to get things. Of course, ‘STOMPing’ the scene will send this stern message out to all NS men (technically NSFs, NSmen and regulars, but never mind): give up your seat, or face public humiliation. Nice one, moral guardians! (I’ve just finished my 2 years of NS, and despite having sat down occasionally on empty trains, once the train started to fill up (i.e. travel out of the obscure areas where our camps are located) we would automatically get out of our seats.) Only problem - isn’t that all a little bit obnoxious?
STOMP calls itself ‘Asia’s leading citizen-journalism website’. In a country where the media is not uncensored - that’s quite ideal, isn’t it? ‘Citizen-journalism’ sounds like a little indulgence in Western liberalism (think Fox News, The Sun, etc.) and all its sensationalism. Finally, we have access to juicy articles whose headlines newsstands can holler to draw in the crowds. We will debate the moral obligations of sitting in trains later in this piece, but for now I admit that the influence of STOMP journalism can be potent. Ironically, the whole controversy and opposition to ‘STOMPing’ the NS men puts the spotlight on such articles. As much as many people reject the action outright, it inevitably occurs to the sub-conscience of NS men that that is (and will be) their own consequence of not giving up their seat. It is a consequence that carries utter humiliation and possibly disciplinary action.
Thus, we have an interesting ‘trilemma’ that is redolent of general principles in Singaporean decision making. The first and easiest solution is to act in ignorance, which clearly most of us have been doing. We leave the situation untouched, because - i) who are we to intervene? ii) what good has getting into trouble done for anyone? and iii) if we only wait, surely someone else will solve the problem! Resorting to STOMP is the heavy-handed choice, insomuch that while effective, it is malicious. Then, to approach the person directly is, in a way that perhaps some might not see it, more polite. There is a fourth, to do both of the latter two, but maybe that is slightly overkill.
There is a fine line between what elicits action versus inaction. Oftentimes, everyone is happy (‘Uncle’ is getting off in just 2 stops). Otherwise, it should naturally follow that we ought to act upon the situation, and this is never for our own merit. Think of it as doing good for Singapore society. This whole issue raises a moral debate. It is minuscule compared to what judges and doctors (and their ethics committees) have to deal with, but Singaporeans are genuinely a considerate bunch (and I say that with absolute sincerity). We don’t act upon something, especially in public view, without being strongly convicted to do so (the other explanation is that we’re just really lazy and selfish). I understand thus that lots of people will have difficulty accepting my brainchild (oops, I mean idea). I, as someone quite reserved, imagine the awkwardness of approaching someone in the train - who gave you the moral high ground, after all? But aha! That’s precisely what I’m getting at. Who gave you the moral authority to judge someone worthy of a page on STOMP? From a purely ethical viewpoint, the two options are equal. The difference is that STOMPing shields you behind your computer screen.
I have doubts that anyone will take my advice, at best merely agreeing with me (in a terribly ironic way that parallels this very debate). It is too much trouble and risk to go out to approach someone personally. We have perhaps seen the hysterical screams of agonised aunties (agony aunts, heh). If not, they’re here, here, and the last one here is in argument over a seat (at least this is someone who thinks like me, although not exactly the same). We are afraid that the people we tell off will respond in a similar way. (I also want to add that the videos raise questions of why the videographers didn’t do anything, which is exactly the same premise we’re talking about. But I admit I’d be scared to tell any of these aunties off.) However, I can assure everyone that no NS man will respond outlandishly - he will at worst be slightly ticked off. I am also quite certain that even if Singaporeans oppose the response of STOMPing the NS man, they also oppose the action of NS men not giving up their seats appropriately.
As you can probably tell, also by my mention of the passive videographers in the last paragraph, this way of action can be extended to practically anything. I hope more people will be willing to correct poor behaviour (cutting queues, fare evasion, petty theft, etc.), but this is mainly aimed at those who STOMP. I guess by now, STOMPers have got their much-desired publicity, and I would imagine that a gentler approach is preferably. After all, if we could spread this culture, we would end up with a similar effect, except a much more pleasant community, without the unnecessary bad rep and punishment.
So this is my little appeal to everyone out there: just tell him to give up his seat.
P.s. since we’re on this topic, there’s currently a petition to shut down STOMP. I personally haven’t signed it, because I believe the water’s deep where ‘citizen-journalism’ is concerned. Maybe what they really need is a dose of reality, and some serious editorial overhauling.