Not so long ago, I enjoyed scrolling through my Facebook feed for glimpses into my friends’ lives (not stalking, I clarify), and keeping abreast of news in Singapore and around the world.
These days, I’m afraid to even open up the app. Why? Because my feed is inundated with so much pessimism, my faith in humanity dies a little every day with each doom-and-gloom article I read.
If it’s not an incident of public shaming, it’s a rant about an ungracious act someone had the misfortune of going through. Most of the time, it’s simply the prolific reposting of such stories.
In a digital age when a click is all it takes to share such stories with 500 (or however many friends you have) people, imagine the reach you’d have when these 500 friends click to share your post with their friends.
Don’t get me wrong. I know there’s a lot of positivity on display on social media. So why, then, is there a disproportionate bias towards negative news, with unkind acts so greatly vilified and amplified?
Just one instance of unkindness is enough to rouse an army of online
witch-hunters avengers of justice. Yet, I don’t see the same intense uprising for good. Which got me thinking: are we hardwired to focus only on the negative? Or are we just drawn to the drama that contentious news promises?
I really don’t know. And I’m not going to lie: the infamous video of the couple bullying an elderly man at Toa Payoh hawker centre made my blood boil. So, too, did the encounter between the owner of a chicken rice restaurant who belittled his cab driver in a drunken moment.
Before I knew it, I, too, found myself irrationally hoping that these individuals would get their just desserts. My reaction shocked me, and I’m just as appalled by the vitriol from commenters who don’t play nice.
As I scrolled through the comments (this is what I mean by being drawn to drama), the few voices of reason quickly brought me to my senses. What I learnt from this episode is how important it is to watch my knee-jerk impulses. Jumping in to weigh in on social issues of the day fulfills no purpose other than to make me feel like I’m “contributing” to the bigger picture.
When Singaporean Perry Tan came forward last week to share his tragic tale of how eye-witnesses turned a blind eye to his father’s fatal traffic accident, others began recounting their own experiences with an apathetic nation.
Reading their stories made me sad and angry. But it also made me recognise that social media escalates emotions – for better or worse. Even so, are we really living in that dark a time? I want to believe the answer is no.
On my part, I like to think of myself as a good troll, spreading cheer with positive reposts, rather than sharing negative news that will incite further anger on my Facebook feeds.
Sadly, I am outnumbered by the pessimism every day. So in an era when people find it hard to function without their daily dose of Facebook and Instagram, and at risk of becoming a social media pariah, I give myself a Facebook detox every other day. It means that I may miss out on some breaking news but hey, since I have 537 friends, someone’s bound to fill me in.
I also try to remember gracious encounters with fellow Singaporeans and savour them for when I’m feeling disillusioned. In fact, I’ve got one to counter just about every kind of ungracious act that’s blown up on social media.
Feel strongly about the elderly taking advantage of their years? I recently ran into an elderly neighbour of mine at the lift lobby. He not only held the door open for me, but told me: “Please go first, you were here first”. (Who does that?) When we reached his floor, he turned to wish me a good night before walking out. (Again, a first for me.)
Think that Singaporeans have abject apathy? Two weeks ago, I was with a friend at a pop-up market. We were waiting for the lift with our trolley of goods, when a half-full carriage stopped on our floor. The liftload of strangers hustled to help us arrange the trolley – and their persons – such that we could all fit inside. There was a palpable air of camaraderie in that lift as we rode down.
Have a gripe about how parents aren’t teaching their kids right? I witnessed the best teaching moment ever between a mother and her child. Upon hearing a child yelling “Wait!”, I held the lift door open and was rewarded with a “thank you”. Once inside, Mum said: “If you want someone to do something for you, you must say ‘please’.” Little girl: “But I said ‘thank you’.” Mum gently replied: “You still have to say ‘please’ when you need help, you understand?” Little girl nodded earnestly. Tell me that doesn’t give you hope for our future generations.
What about me doing my part for kindness, you ask? Living in Chinatown, I often see tourists poring over their maps. Call me kaypoh, but I like approaching them to ask if they need directions. Once, I ended up taking a couple from Hong Kong all the way to Tiong Bahru (none of us minded the long walk from Maxwell Market). We took a photo together and exchanged emails at the end of it. I still have that photo today.
Whenever I read about, or hear of, Singaporeans behaving badly and feel tempted to agree that we’re an unkind and ungracious bunch, these magic moments make my heart feel full.
They’re perfect examples to show that kind acts don’t have to be big, grand gestures.
And the next time a social media spectacle rolls up, don’t just hit the ‘Share’ button unconsciously. Instead, think back on the last time someone did something unexpectedly nice for you, and get a kick out of knowing that everyday Singaporeans can be pretty damn nice, too.