A disagreement erupts at the hawker centre, tempers flare and behold, we have Singapore’s first bee hoon disaster. A cabby cowers in his vehicle as an angry customer kicks relentlessly at his door. Such incidents of overt aggression in Singapore may have become a rather common sight, especially on social media. Just as common would be that awkward feeling of not quite knowing how to react or help. Do we help? Walk away? Take a photo?

According to the most recent World Giving Index, Singapore ranked 89th in the world for helping strangers, with just 44% of Singaporean respondents saying they would help strangers in need. So, why don’t we help? Is it symptomatic of a lack of civic consciousness or are there other considerations at play?

The latest TVC by the Singapore Kindness Movement, ‘Sum of Our Moments’, part of the overall new campaign entitled Kindness – It’s Up to Us, suggests that fear of trouble or rejection may be key.

Conceptualised by SKM’s advertising agency, 3-Sixty Brand Communications, the campaign addresses that reluctance that Singaporeans feel. The agency’s senior copywriter Collin Kam told The Pride, “This year’s campaign is about empowerment – a choice to take responsibility, or not. Kindness is a choice we have to make. No one can demand kindness from you, but if you choose to be kind, Singapore will be a better place.”

Citing the group of people who pushed over a lorry to free a man trapped underneath, and the woman who was named The Straits Times’ Singaporean of the Year after she helped an elderly man who had soiled himself, Mr Kam noted that these incidents resonated with many Singaporeans.

He said, “These were stories that the whole country celebrated. They lifted our collective spirit and made us all feel good about the state of kindness and compassion in the country. But we must realise that these ‘heroes’ are regular Singaporeans, just like us.”

This call to action seems directly at odds with the mind-your-own-business mentality of many Singaporeans, but the movement is seizing the bull by the horns to encourage a more concerned and caring society.

“Minding our own business is a self-preservation technique. But if we take this thinking into adulthood, even after we’ve become better judges of risk, we end up resisting even the simplest and most clear-cut opportunities to help”, said Mr Kam.

However, not everyone agrees with this approach. Campaign Asia wondered if the ad missed the woods for the trees, suggesting that the campaign should probably have gone after the ‘real jerks’ instead of targeting innocent bystanders.

To this, SKM’s Associate General Secretary of Marketing and Strategy, Mr Cesar Balota observed that kindness is often situational, and sometimes people behave ungraciously either in the heat of the moment or unintentionally.

He said, “We believe that truly ungracious people are a tiny minority, so the aim is to inspire the vast majority of us who tend to be the passive bystanders. For our society to become greater and more beautiful, it’s important that enough of us become more pro-actively kind and gracious, even if it means having to overcome our own reservations and fears.”

kindness, help, self awareness, pride, singapore, skm

People who saw the TVC, however, have mixed feelings about it.

Facebook user Hayashi Valencia wondered if Singaporeans would go beyond glaring at the aggressor, noting that people here tended not to make a fuss so as not to attract unwanted attention. Expressing faith that most Singaporeans are good judges of whether an argument could escalate further, national serviceman Wong Wen Xian felt that most people would intervene if the situation called for it. For example, he would be more proactive if it was a child or woman in trouble. He said, “I’m not the kind to ‘act hero’, but if the victim seems vulnerable and unable to protect themselves, I would step in. The clip is quite inspiring and reminds us to help others.”

While unsure if people here would stand up to aggression, store manager Cheryl Koh appreciated the commercial’s reminder to practise empathy. She said, “If more people step up and do what they should do, the power of numbers can stop others from being a bully. I try to bear in mind the mantra ‘do unto others what you want others to do unto you’. It’s not easy to do so all the time, but I try my best.”

Poll: What would you do?

You are witnessing the scene of an enraged customer ranting off at a waitress who spilled a drink. You would: