Lack of graciousness and reciprocation in society



I was at a MRT train station previously and while I was about to exit the station, I saw several yellow signboards on the floor about a metre apart and a lady probably in her late forties to early fifties standing nearby. Upon closer observation, she is actually directing passengers who are coming up the escalator to exit the station to move away from the cordoned area which she has segregated using the yellow signboards. It seems that several passengers had ignored the message on the signboards and had walked into the area, probably unintentionally.

That’s when I realise that the lady is probably an employed cleaner, and who was about to start mopping the floor.

“Hi auntie,” I heard the lady’s voice as I walked past her. “You are educated, right? Are you able to see the message on the signboards?”

The “trespasser” whom the cleaning lady was addressing ignored her remarks and kept on walking.

I was surprised at the indifferent attitude displayed. This is by no means the first incident I have witnessed a disregard for instructions but this incident was prominent because all the indicators of instructions are present: the cleaning lady’s directions, the yellow signboards, the reactions of the other passengers adhering to the instructions.

Yet, there still exists an implicit intent to disobey.

Such incidents can also be seen in classrooms where some students are exhibiting signs of disobedience. Such disobedience may not be overt but if educators are observant, most should be able to detect such signs of disregard for instructions.

Yes, some have argued that in contemporary times, authoritative approaches are no longer applicable. Schools are making do without corporal punishment and replacing them with “teaching” moments, some parents have opted to replace rattan canes with words of encouragement and bosses are choosing to be more emotionally sensitive rather than logically-driven (all thanks to the proliferation of Emotional Intelligence (EQ)).

However, instructional discipline still has its place in society.

Think about its existence in various aspects of society such as legalisation in the courts, upholding of discipline within the armed forces, enforcement of discipline in the inculcation of virtuous values in school, as well as corporate rules and regulations within the workplace.

Would that fellow passenger ignore that cleaning lady if she was a police officer or her boss? I doubt it.

In contemporary times, people tend to react differently to people of different social status or positions. There is – upon closer examination – a tendency to differentiate people according to their abilities, work position, social and financial standings, as well as familiarity. Put in another way, this penchant to choose one’s reactions to others is also a form of subtle discrimination.

To it more explicitly, there is a tendency for people to respect authority (mostly out of fear of negative repercussions when transgressions are committed, rather than out of respect) and to be friendly towards individuals of higher social and/or financial standings (again not out of respect but rather, in a way to ingratiate themselves into their goodwill for personal gain).  Along the same vein, people also tend to disregard individuals of lower societal standing (the reasons if which I leave it to you to assess).

We shouldn’t allow ourselves to treat one fellow man different from another. While admittedly, being a total egalitarian is an uphill task for most of us, we should at least strive to accord a high level respect towards every person that we see.

We should feel ashamed of ourselves if we treat even one individual badly, as compared to the rest. In such instances, we have to self-reflect and ask ourselves why. We will soon realise that one of the common causes is  that we are looking at one or more negative aspects of this individual.

I used to not do well in this area in the past but in the midst of brainstorming and examining the ways to resolve such issues, I realise that one of the best ways is to consider the good in that person and then express my gratitude about  it.

For instance, you might encounter a boss who is bossy and arrogant. Then you might like to find out more about something positive about  him/her (maybe he/her brings her parents out for a meal once a week). Once you have found a positive characteristic, use that to magnify the good in the person. There will come a point where this good would outshine all the flaws that the person has.  Your subsequent positive response to that person will often have a reciprocal effect and your rapport with that person usually improves over time. In some instance, that person might become a better person because of you.

We should not underestimate the power of one. Research has shown that when a place is fill with litter, people would not hesitate to further dirty the place, while one is often hesitant in doing so when the place is pristine.

For the incident above, if we are among the passengers exiting the station at that point in time, what would we do?

First, respect the lady for her profession and if not, at least for her being a positive contributor to the cleanliness of the station. Then give her a nod or a smile to thank her for her service and most importantly, stay away from the area designated for cleaning.

One area for exploration is the reason behind a disregard for others. More often than not, it is unintentional as more and more of us are getting preoccupied with our own thoughts, thereby allocating less mental resources to our external environment and external stimuli. We need to identify the worries and concerns that we might have and address them. Without doing so, it is very challenging to be gracious.

In addition, I have noticed that most people in current times like to use silence as a form of reply. While it has often been acknowledged that silence is a valid response, such responses are usually negative in nature. For instance, silence is usually used as a form of rejection in some cultures. And just imagine not talking for a minute and the party on the other line gets panicky. A boyfriend dates his girlfriend using SMS and the she went silent on her side. An ongoing concert goes silent suddenly. Which of these responses are positive?

Indeed, reciprocation is also something that is lacking in our time and age, alongside graciousness.


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