When bad behaviour blows up online, is saying sorry good enough? We’re neither good at saying sorry nor gracious enough to forgive, say The Pride’s writers IVAN LIM and MARILYN PEH. Here are two perspectives.

You probably know their names by now – that chicken-rice seller who taunted a taxi driver and the couple running a tuition agency who refused to let a hungry old man share a seat at their hawker centre table.

Their actions were recorded, shared online and viewed so many times that any influencer would drool with envy.

Mr Chicken Rice Seller has since come out to say he is sorry, offering 200 packets of chicken rice to taxi drivers at his two chicken rice stalls by way of recompense. It was penance for his indiscretion, and probably an attempt to placate an angry mob. But after insulting a taxi driver by waving a wad of thousand-dollar bills amounting to about $20,000 and suggesting the taxi driver was incapable of doing anything important and was hence a taxi driver, that endeavour of restitution – probably worth about $600 if you take a packet of chicken rice to cost $3 – was deemed by some as adding insult to injury.

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“So insincere,” said Ms Ada Tay, who has been driving a taxi for two years. “If he really wanted to make it up to an angry public, just make that offer to everyone, not just taxi drivers,” she said while having a quick, early dinner at Adam Road Hawker Centre around the time the offer of free chicken rice was expiring.

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As a neutral – I sometimes eat chicken rice and take taxis, though never together – I did feel that Mr Chicken Rice Seller’s effort to contact the driver whom he had insulted was the right thing to do. It was his offer of 200 packets of chicken rice – which would have left a small Spartan army of 300 very hungry – that appeared contentious. The following are comments from my friends about it:

“He’s doing it for publicity.”

“Why only 200 packets? He flashed thousand-dollar bills. He should give 3,000.”

“It’s an insult to taxi drivers.”

“He thinks taxi drivers have no money to buy chicken rice.”

“This move isn’t particularly sincere towards the driver, it’s calculated to win back public opinion. Quite shrewd!”

To be fair, a number of them did say it was a matter between Mr Chicken Rice Seller and taxi driver, so if the taxi driver accepted the apology, which he did, the case should be closed. Which is also what I consider the matter to be.

But it made me wonder what on earth Mr Chicken Rice Seller was hoping to achieve when he made that offer. So what would I have done, had I been in his position?

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In the first place, I wouldn’t have $20,000 in thousand-dollar bills stashed in my front pocket, let alone flash it. And especially not in that state of intoxication. In any other country, Mr Chicken Rice Seller could have been robbed and murdered there and then for flaunting that amount of cash, so I’d consider him lucky to be alive now. As for the apology, I would have reached out to the taxi driver more discreetly – via the taxi company and not through a media outlet. if I intended to make amends, I would ask the taxi driver to suggest what he thought I should do. If he didn’t, I would make an unreserved apology on social media and ask what I could do to make it up to him.

It has to be an honest apology, and a sincere offer of restitution.

Which makes me wonder what has happened to Mr and Mrs Tuition Agency.

Their identities and occupations have been exposed, but to date, no attempt by either at a sorry or to make amends has been recorded publicly.

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If I were in their uncomfortable shoes, I would make an apology immediately – to the old man, to his family, and to the public for the nuisance they’ve had to witness. And as dangerous as it sounds, I would ask the angry online mob what I should do to make it up to the old man. I would then take the most reasonable suggestion made, and pray that I would eventually be forgiven.

Perhaps a safer, more prudent route – considering the online reaction to Mr Chicken Rice Seller’s apology – would be to reach out to the old man (through his daughter, who has gone online to talk about the episode), make an apology, settle matters with him privately, and let it become public knowledge in its own time. I’m hoping – for the sake of Mr and Mrs Tuition Agency – that they’ve already had the good sense to do something like this.

Related article: I don’t need the identities of the ungracious couple and I won’t beat them up. Here’s why.

But in order to do any of these things, I would have to be truly sorry. Which I hope Mr and Mrs Tuition Agency are.

It’s plainly straightforward: if you’ve had a mother, she would have told you to own up to something you did wrong. Say sorry.

But most mothers, as mine did, would tell you something else, too: Don’t do anything that would put you in a situation where you would need to say you’re sorry.

Written by: Ivan Lim


We need to learn to forgive

Another day, another social media uproar.

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Like a trainwreck that you just can’t look away from, several clips of bad behaviour in Singapore have taken over Facebook in the past weeks. If social media ever bothered with headlines, your feed would have looked something like this at some point:

Chicken Rice Mogul Disses Taxi Driver, Throws 1,000-Dollar Notes In His Face

Nasty Couple Chopes Seat, Insults and Assaults Old Man Who Tries To Share Table

Man Leaves Dog Poop Outside Neighbour’s Door, You Won’t Believe What Happens Next

While the third headline is just a figment of my imagination (i.e. fake news), it is slightly disconcerting that I might see something like that popping up on my Facebook feed one day.

In a similar vein, I would also not bat an eyelid at the trail of angry netizens leaving fire and brimstone comments for the offending individual. As quickly as we have come to embrace citizen journalism, social media jury duty has also been welcomed with open arms.

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Much has been said about public shaming and reacting too quickly to bad deeds broadcasted on social media, but that’s not what this story is about.

Rather, after the CSI and shaming has been done and dusted, after the offender has presumably seen the light, is saying “sorry” good enough?

Based on 100 per cent scientific sampling of past case studies, the answer is very rarely, “yes”.

As folks like Anton Casey and Chicken Rice Mogul, whose real name is Gary Lim, would attest, Singaporeans keep a very firm grip on their pitchforks.

Casey, he of “wash the stench of public transport off me” infamy, was called out for his elitist and disparaging remarks against Singaporeans in 2014. When the comments made on his private Facebook page were screencapped and spread online, he was swiftly condemned by enraged Singaporeans, and even a handful of foreigners based here.

Although Casey eventually issued a public apology on his Facebook page, expressing contrition for his “poor judgment” and asking to be given “a second chance”, it did little to quell public anger. Before long, the Briton had lost his job, his friends, whatever face and ounce of dignity he had left and quickly fled with his family to Perth.

It was Mob 1 – Casey 0.

Last week, Lim was captured on camera harassing a taxi driver, and flaunting his wealth in the latter’s face. Purportedly drunk when the video was filmed, Lim must have had the mother of all hangovers the next day when he saw clips of his ugly behaviour going viral. In the face of netizens’ ire, he sought to make amends by apologising to the taxi driver and offering 200 packets of free chicken rice for taxi drivers at his shop outlets.

Related article: It’s time to stop public shaming in Singapore

Alas, his offer was met with disdain from the taxi driver community here, and a user from a Facebook group for taxi drivers even called for Lim to show his sincerity by doing 200 hours of community service instead.

While both Casey and Lim’s actions were clearly deplorable, their attempts to appeal for forgiveness were ultimately faced with a firmly unforgiving public.

Were their remarks so wrong and unforgivable that we can only be appeased when they’re driven out of the country?

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Do we need to see them grovel, cry and beg at our feet (and that would be a great many feet to be begging at) before we grudgingly gift them with a few shreds of forgiveness?

Come to think of it, at what point does a group of righteously indignant people decide that they’re pacified enough to let it go?

“Sincerity” is oft-touted but also subjective and difficult to measure. A total of 200 packets of chicken rice islandwide may sound pretty sincere to me, not in terms of its price or scale, but in terms of how publicly visible an act it is. But it could also come across as patronising to others, like many of the very taxi drivers it was intended to appease.

Related article: Come on, Singapore, we’re not that jialat

Rather, just as my imaginary yoga instructor and life coach would probably say, this too shall pass, so live and let live. In place of fretting about the actions of someone you don’t even know and have no real means of sizing up genuine remorse, why not accept their apology and judge them by their subsequent actions instead?

After all, they’ve already been taken to task by the intense scrutiny and fury of a thousand wrathful Facebook users.

Besides, you can’t have it both ways. If you demand a full and sincere apology, then you need to be gracious in accepting it. It will be easier to forgive and forget so that the guilty parties can at least have a chance to be better people.

Written by: Marilyn Peh

Top Image: The Pride