Everyone remembers where they were on the morning of 13 August 2016 when Joseph Schooling won Singapore’s first gold medal at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It was a monumental occasion that elicited mass pride and happiness. There was a flood of congratulatory posts on social media. It became customary to post pictures of Joseph in action in the pool on Facebook and Twitter.
However, Singapore would not have had to wait till 2016 for its first Olympic gold medal if complaining had been accepted as a sport.
A whirlwind victory tour right after Joseph’s triumph was on the cards but as the national hero was travelling back home, sentiments started turning sour. Comments left on social media posts spiralled into negativity. There were cheers about how Joseph was a true Singaporean and not a foreign talent, questions on the lack of government funding, and an MP’s congratulatory post was deemed arrogant when she, perhaps inappropriately, highlighted her involvement in getting Joseph deferment from his National Service obligations.
The cynicism peaked when Joseph had to come out to defend his domestic helper after anger was aimed at her for supposedly milking him for the publicity.
In these past couple of weeks, Singapore has also lost another hero. He was a man who gave his all to a fledgling country because it was his principled belief that he should do so. This man, S R Nathan, was Singapore’s
first elected longest-serving President; and was known for his common touch. Even as many responded to his passing with great sorrow, it did not take long before echoes of the name of another people’s President began to sound louder in the civil space. Why the double standards in according a state funeral?
It seems that while Singaporeans do have a diverse outlook and perspective on the various issues in their lives, the one constant is the ability to frame everything as a complaint. Don’t get me wrong; there are merits to questioning why things are done a certain way, highlighting discrepancies and rationalizing why certain principles need to be upheld.
But in the context of a seeming sea of negativity, the problem here is that more often than not, even valid opinions are cast as dismissive assertions, rants and tantrums to highlight some form of indignation.
It’s not just about major occurrences that happen in our lives. Chances are that by the time a Singaporean gets into work in the morning, they’d have complained enough times to finish their quota for the week.
It’s very hot and humid, complain. It’s hazy and is the one month Indonesia is not providing us with fresh air, complain. Train is packed and you could hardly get on, complain. Train slows down, complain. Escalators are bottlenecked and you get stuck in a non-moving queue, complain.
Complaining is now less of a fleeting burst of emotion, but more an imbibed form of expression and communication among Singaporeans.
I can think of two likely contributing factors to this current state. The first is that a majority of Singaporeans have grown up in relative comfort, where major inconveniences and disturbances are minimal compared to other places around the world. As a result, our expectations of how the world should operate are warped.
In major cities all over the world, massive breakdowns and blockages occur every now and then, and most would shrug their shoulders and move on rather than rage or throw a hissy fit. Used to a culture of efficiency, any interruption to normal service is deemed a major boo-boo in Singapore since it’s never common.
The second reason is that Singaporeans see voicing out as a means to get things done, and less as a form of expression. The heavy inclination towards writing forum letters or complaints as a way to highlight anger shows that if one wants to get something done, it’s more effective to complain and behave unreasonably than it is to apply reason. Over time, this has normalized into an accepted form of expression, such that even the fastest way to break the ice with a stranger is to find a common topic to complain about.
The pervasiveness of complaining is borne of our state of mind and the amount of success it has granted people. In this day and age, with the widespread use of social media and the constant connectivity on our smartphones, platforms to air our opinions have become very accessible. The ability to opine from behind the screen creates a false sense of not having to take responsibility for what is said.
While this exacerbates the complaint culture, it seems that it has also stirred in Singaporeans a realisation that maybe this has gotten a bit out of hand. With the sudden flurry of complaints on events such as Schooling’s win and the State Funeral, a wave of counter-complaints also emerged, a silver lining to the dark clouds of negativity. These provided pause for major online and socio-political outlets to balance their observations when they covered the surge of emotions surrounding those happenings.
Are we starting to complain about how much we’re complaining?
Your move, complain kings of SG.