The two drivers involved in the recent ‘kidnap scares’ deserve to be praised.
Yes, I know this is likely to be an unpopular opinion, but hear me out.
Like many Singaporeans, when I first read the news of how international school students had been offered rides by strangers driving a van on two separate occasions, I immediately assumed the worst.
Both incidents happened within a week of each other, occurred in the Dover area, involved strangers driving a van, and both offered lifts to international students.
It was hard not to think that the drivers had anything but bad intentions.
Judging by the reactions on social media to the news, most Singaporeans thought so, too.
Credit must be given to the students for doing the right thing in refusing the offer of a ride from a stranger. After all, it would have been impossible for them, especially at such a young age, to know for sure if the drivers had only good intentions.
Indeed, given that children are in a position of vulnerability, it is important that schools and parents continue to reinforce the message of being vigilant about their safety.
Speaking to The Pride, Dr William Wan, general secretary of Singapore Kindness Movement, said: “Children are vulnerable, regardless of gender. The younger they are, the more they should adhere to tightly set boundaries set by their parents and other adults with responsibility over them.”
Further addressing this point in a Facebook post, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said: “It is important for young children to be taught to be careful, when approached by strangers.
“At the same time, we need to be careful of spreading untrue stories and unnecessarily alarming parents. Certainly, we should teach our children not to get into any vehicles with strangers.”
As it turns out, I was terribly mistaken, along with many other netizens. Following police investigations, the drivers were found to have harboured “no ill intent”, and were merely offering the students a lift to their respective destinations as it was raining. In fact, one of the vans was actually a school bus that had stopped for the student after noticing the school uniform she was wearing. And, contrary to initial reports, no one had alighted from the school bus to persuade the student to come on board.
Still, that has not stopped Singaporeans from casting aspersions on the characters of the drivers, whose identities have thankfully not been made public.
Many on social media continue to regard the drivers’ behaviour as suspicious, implying that the students would have been harmed if they had got into the vans.
Others have questioned how the police could know for sure that the drivers involved in the “kidnap scares” were telling the truth about their intentions – completely ignoring the fact that the police have the necessary expertise and experience in this area.
Some have even capitalised on this opportunity to spread their xenophobic message by highlighting how certain foreign citizens here hail from a country where kidnapping is not uncommon – this despite the fact that the drivers in these two incidents are understood to be Singaporeans.
Caution has turned into cynicism.
But would choosing the safer option – the school children not getting into the vans – mean that all other options are wrong?
Not once did anyone make mention of how the drivers’ actions actually stemmed from kindness. In fact, the drivers have been berated for trying to be kind.
In a society where the “mind your own business” (MYOB) culture is prevalent, I find it heartening that two individuals were willing to stop and assist someone whom they thought needed assistance.
Be honest, how many of you would have offered assistance to the students who were caught in the rain?
What the two drivers did are actually good examples of what graciousness is.
Instead, there are people trying their hardest to find evidence that they were up to no good, or worse, accusing them of harbouring ill intentions simply because they had chosen not to turn a blind eye to others in need in this particular instance.
Well, the MYOB culture should be safe now as I imagine the two drivers would no longer be in a hurry to offer help to others in future.
And, who can blame them? From undergoing police investigations, to being roundly vilified and insulted online, this past week must have been a nightmare for them. Not to mention the guilt they must have felt for all the trouble and panic they inadvertently caused.
More worryingly, I fear the intense backlash faced by the drivers over the kidnap scare incidents could deter others from offering other acts of kindness where needed and appropriate.
It could instead lead to the further perpetuation in Singapore of the “bystander effect” – in which the presence of others discourages individuals from helping someone in need.
Already, there are many videos on social media depicting situations where an individual needs help, yet no one, not even the person filming the video, is willing to step forward.
It will take time to eradicate the MYOB culture in Singapore, but mercilessly lambasting these unfortunate drivers for what they did will just make that process slower.
Nonetheless, while I applaud the drivers for trying to do a good deed, I agree they could have gone about it in a more suitable manner, such as offering the students an umbrella instead.
Dr Wan agreed, telling The Pride: “We should balance the need to be situationally aware and developing the common sense and spontaneity to offer help when needed in general situations.”
Perhaps, many of us are also so unaccustomed to witnessing acts of kindness in Singapore that we instinctively view it with a sceptical eye when we come across it.
Sociologist Paulin Straughan told The Straits Times: “The sad truth is – it is not odd for adults to stop and offer assistance but because of our heightened awareness of security, we now perceive kind gestures as threats.”
However, being aware of potential danger, and taking the necessary steps to protect yourself from it, should not preclude us from also seeing and appreciating the kind intentions behind certain gestures.
Because it is only by encouraging others to do acts of kindness can we build a society where doing good deeds is eventually seen as a norm, not an anomaly.