Low on compassion, high on pragmatism

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Let’s face it, Singapore will never top any chart measuring kindness, compassion or happiness. We all know that. So BBC correspondent Charlotte Ashton’s commentary on experiencing a lack of compassion on a packed MRT train in her first trimester came as no surprise. No one offered her a seat although she was visibly physically unwell.

The PAP leaders aren’t even trying to put a propaganda spin on this because they know they can’t. They sound a little shame-faced, as they should, being part of the machinery of pragmatism that ingrained such attitudes in the population.

Worse, the new immigrants they’re inviting in by the planeload are perpetuating the same kind of behavior — after generations of struggling to survive in their home countries. How do I know that? My personal experience has shown that Singapore men and women give up their seats on trains and buses 90–95 per cent of the time to pregnant women, old people or the physically disabled. Immigrants’ inability to absorb English means that most of the public transport propaganda is lost on them.

Pragmatism — the PAP political philosophy — cannot be simply discarded because three whole generations of citizens have been weaned on it. Singapore society is paying the price for this, and we’re ugly because of it. Those of us who were raised on values other than pragmatism have no problem showing kindness and compassion to others.

On balance, Ms Ashton’s experience is nothing in comparison with the septa and octogenarians who push trolleys around collecting cardboard boxes for a living. Some even have to support “pioneer generation” children. They are the ones who are at the bottom of the happy pile. Do we suffer from “campaignitis” (too many PAP propaganda campaigns)? Definitely. But are we the misery capital of the world? Not yet. You see, people like Ms Ashton or her husband don’t come to Singapore because we’re the compassion capital of the world. They come because they want to work here. We’re the ones who have to live here, and deal with the products of pragmatism which have damaged our emotional and social ecology.