Be a little pushy and ask for help

Be a little pushy and ask for help

A few weeks ago, a self-ordained index of goodwill showed Singaporeans donating more to charities and doing more volunteer work.

On the strength of this, Singapore shot up 70 places in the World Giving Index this year, which is compiled annually by a British organisation.

Singapore was 65th out of 135 countries, a massive improvement from 114th last year.

But the Index's third measure of giving, besides charitable donations and volunteer work, was showing kindness to strangers.

And on this front, Singaporeans performed like it was the Pan-Island Expressway during peak hour, or a neighbourhood McDonald's during Hello Kitty collectible season. That is, we were at our absolute worst, coming in second last.

To some, this was evidence of how cold, unforgiving and selfish Singapore society had become.

The results were based on asking thousands of ordinary people whether they had "helped a stranger" in the last month.

This methodology, reliant on self- reporting, explains why those nationalities that topped this category are known for self-promotion.

The Americans, the Chinese and the Indians were all in the top 10.

Singaporeans are a bit more selfdeprecating, or, as we call it, paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassed).

This extends to not considering the little favours we do for one another, like giving up your seat on the bus or buying tissue that we don't need from the auntie, as "helping strangers".

In our minds, it's tying a tourniquet around a severed limb or hiding strangers in your storeroom when the military police come knocking, that counts.

(The fact that Syria and Libya are in the top 10 of the "helping strangers" ranking buttresses this dramatic interpretation.)

On a more prosaic note, I also think that Singaporeans help so rarely because they are so rarely asked to help.

This is perhaps a quality honed in a competitive society that also has a conservative, hierarchical side to it.

It's a fear of confrontation combined with a fear of losing face - which showing weakness to a stranger equates to.

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