Children Learn the Best and Especially the Worst from Adults

About four days ago, I witnessed a scene that left me utterly shocked and quite disgusted.

I was on the MRT train heading towards Pasir Ris. Unfortunately, the train was crowded, but thankfully not too crowded. The seats were all taken, but there was a handful of people – including myself- standing.

There was an elderly man carrying a large bag on his shoulders, and he looked quite tired. He was standing in front of the reserved seats (meant for senior citizens, and pregnant women), waiting for someone to give up their seat for him. After a few stations, one of the passengers got up from the reserved seat and got off at his station.

The elderly man slowly took the bag off his shoulders, but before he could step forward to take a seat, guess what happened next?

A small girl, about  lower primary age, ran up and stood in front of the reserved seat. If that’s not all, she glared  aggressively at the old man. The elderly man (and myself too) was shocked. He stood still. The girl’s mother, who looked like she was in her late 30s, strolled in a few seconds later. She saw the old man; she saw her daughter glaring at the old man. But guess what she did? She told her daughter to sit on the reserved seat, with absolutely no care for the elderly man at all!

The elderly man just stood there. Probably in shock. My jaw dropped after witnessing that. I was shocked too.

The next station, the passenger sitting at the adjacent reserved seat got up and left. But instead of giving the elderly man the seat, the woman sat on it.

The poor man continued standing for about another 20 minutes before someone finally gave up his seat for him.

I actually wanted to intervene and tell the girl (and mother) off for preventing the old man from taking a seat. However, seeing how the mother saw what had happened and had endorsed her daughter’s actions, it would have been a futile attempt that would spark off an unpleasant argument. Lately (or maybe thanks to social media), there’s been many incidents of ravingly mad adults hurling abuses at people who attempt to correct their children’s misbehaviour. This might turn ugly.

Anyway, I was quite horrified by what I saw. I was quite disgusted by how the small girl, who was probably around 7-10 years old, treated the elderly man with such disrespect.

I’m not going to repeat the usual refrain that the youth of today have no manners. I grew up hearing that on a frequent basis. In fact, even now as an adult, I still hear it repeated over and over again that children today have no manners. This statement is false. It’s pointless lamenting about how rude the youth of today are.

Over the years, I’ve come to realise that in reality, there are just as many adults who misbehave in public than children. In fact, I dare say that this year alone, I’ve witnessed far more adults behaving like brats all over this country than children. In hawker centres, buses, trains, libraries, etc.

If children are indeed behaving badly, I think it’s because they have learnt how to misbehave and treat other people like dirt from the adults around them. They have seen how adults treat other adults with the utmost disrespect and have gotten away with it.

Children are not stupid. They learn from what they see. And if they see adults getting away with all kinds of misbehaviour, these children know that they too can get away with mistreating other people. More so if their parents endorse the same kinds of rude behaviour.

In hawker centres, buses and trains, I’ve seen uncles and aunties cursing and swearing at people over all kinds of small and ridiculous matters. For example, in May this year, an elderly cleaner accidentally bump his cleaning cart against another elderly man. The cleaner apologised profusely. But guess what the other guy did? For the next 5-10 minutes, he just kept hurling vulgarities at the cleaner and kept scolding him. The cleaner continued to apologise profusely and tried to walk away. But the other guy didn’t let him. He even tried to pick a fight with the cleaner. His children (young adults) actually had to get up from their seats to withhold him!

This is one of the many similar countless situations I’ve witnessed here in Singapore. I’m very very sad, and I do often wonder if this society is going down the drain. Are we so ungracious, so morally bankrupt that we have forgotten how to treat other people with the dignity and respect deserving of human persons?

Of course, occassionally, I do see acts of compassion and kindness in public places. But these are sooooo rare! The number of times I witnessed acts of kindness here in Singapore are so few I can count them with one hand! The number of times I’ve witnessed public misbehavings in public actually far outnumber the public acts of kindness. It bothers me so much because I have counted far more public acts of kindness (by strangers to strangers) the few times that I’ve crossed the Causeway into Malaysia just this year alone! Despite the high crime rates in Malaysia, people there still have a heart. Strangely, the crime rate is low here, but look how people are treating people here in Singapore.

This is so disturbing.

Anyway, back to the point. I think the adults here (of all ages) have been setting a very bad example to children. If we continue to condone these public acts of rudeness and disrespect, our children will learn likewise to be just as rude and disrespectful to people of all ages.

Sure, we all have our own human failings. I do believe that people here are very stressed. On the trains and buses, I hear more complains about work and family, than happy stories (they’re very rare). But I don’t think it’s fair to vent our stress, anger, and frustrations on other people. Nor is it fair to treat others with disrespect.

But we must do more than just pay lip service to the importance of treating people with dignity and respect. We must try our best despite our human failings and weakness.

At least do it for the children that they learn to respect people. Do you want a small child to glare aggressively at you and deny you a seat on the bus or train when you are old and frail? How would you feel if you see the small child’s mother endorse her daughter’s rude behaviour?

This is not the kind of society I want to live in. This is not the kind of society I want to raise my children in. I’m sure you wouldn’t want that too, would you?