Every now and then, there would be a STOMP posting of someone occupying a reserved seat and refusing to give up their seat for someone who needs it more. Or it would be a post of some young person occupying the seat with empty seats nearby.
These posts quickly find their way on facebook and are typically flooded with outcries of disgust and contempt. The mob calls for a witchhunt. Hysteria ensues.
Lost in all these noise is the curious question of what “Reserved Seating” is and why it exist.
In December 2013, the “Land Transport Authority (LTA) installed new reserved seat designs in the new DTL1 trains … to encourage commuters to give up their seats whenever someone else needs it more than they do.
This is part of three ideas that came from a study conducted by LTA and the Singapore Kindness Movement between February and July 2013.
It is a wonderful idea and is aimed at promoting kindness. With the seats in place for the past 2+ years, we do see people giving up their seats for others. But does it mean that people were not giving up their seats before? No. There were people who give up their seats and those who simply won’t. Not even with the reserved seats in place.
Short of passing a bill to fine those who do not offer their seats, commuters have started featuring those who fail the kindness bar.
No, passing a bill will not get people to be kind. Kindness must come from within. Passing a bill will only get people to pay the kindness “tax” of giving up their seat. Like giving to charity, it must come willingly. Once enforced as a rule, our intent gets warped somewhat, and it becomes a mechanical act of following a rule rather than doing it because we want to, or because it is the right thing to do.
Which brings us to the matter at hand. Doing the right thing.
What is legal is not always ethical. What is ethical is not always legal.
Liquidating a company can be legal, but is not ethical if consideration is not given to the employees. Stopping by the roadside with double yellow line during the day time to assist an injured person is technically illegal, but is ethical and the right thing to do.
With the reserved seats in MRTs and buses, some see it as a rule to be enforced. Woe to whoever dares occupy these seats if you are not elderly, handicapped or pregnant. Prepare your best-looking pose if you fail to give them up on request. Face the brunt of the internet righteous vigilante.
Meanwhile, the other passengers who are no less abled body nestle in their seats, comforted by fact that they, unlike the reserved-seat-taker, knows what is right and wrong, and is safe from the witch hunt. An occasional shuffle or a look of disdain and contempt is not uncommon.
Why the difference? All because we are not in the reserved seat?
Just because we are not in the reserved seat does not mean that we cannot give up our seats nor does it make it right not to do so. We do not need a label or coloured seats to get us to be a good decent person.
Now this does not make those who hog the reserved seats right. It just mean that we should perhaps rethink how we look at attempts to promote intangibles, like kindness, compassion and charity. Less we become so affixed to these labels and constructs that we lose sight of kindness to begin with.
When I get on the bus or train and there are no one who need the reserved seats, I would sometimes take them. I take these seats so that I can offer to others who need them later … and spare everyone the hassle and glare. Or if the reserved seats are not available, I’ll just do likewise with a normal seat.
As Russel Peter would say, “Be a man, do the right thing!”
Let us be kind and compassionate to others, regardless of where we are …. sitted.