Is The Priority Seat An Entitlement?

Date: 30 May 2019 | Category: Caring SG Commuters

Is The Priority Seat An Entitlement? 

By William Wan, Singapore Kindness Movement

This post first appeared on Wan of a Kind.
Cover photo: I don't like to squeeze on the MRT Facebook

Last week, I took the MRT and it was quite packed. I am a senior citizen and I had hoped that someone would be kind enough to offer me a seat, as has happened before. But not this time. 

I was standing in front of a younger lady who was seated on the priority seat and busily engaged with her smartphone. I tried to make eye contact with her but chose not to verbally request for the seat. I took the opportunity to do a personal experiment. She looked up at me momentarily, but quickly returned to her smartphone. At the City Hall MRT, we both alighted. I gave way to her as she made her exit and I followed.

Quickening my steps, I caught up with her, smiled and said, “Good morning. May I ask you a couple of questions?” She returned a smile and said, “Sure.” I asked her if she would give up her seat to someone in greater need, like a senior citizen. And she replied, “Of course, I would.” I then gently announced that I was the Senior Citizen standing in front of her. In obvious shock and embarrassment, she said, “I am so sorry!!! You do not look like a senior citizen. If I had known, I would have gladly invited you to take my seat. I am really really sorry.” Her sincerity was fully evident in her profuse apologies. I smiled and said, “Thank you, that is what they all say about me. No worries.” I then asked her if she would give up the seat for me if I had requested for it. “Of course,” she said. “ I would have... without any hesitation.” And she continued apologizing. I thanked her for her responses and we walked together towards our offices. 

We’ve read or watched Stomp videos of situations similar to what the younger lady and I were in, and those didn’t go well. If I had curtly demanded the seat, I would have either made her lose face totally, or worse, possibly triggered a defensive-aggressive response. So while we might be well in our place to expect the priority seat to be given up for us who are identified as needing it more, we can also ask nicely and without prejudging the person occupying the seat. 

My experience reinforced what I believe about our people. We are essentially kind. People do not act graciously because they do not know or are too caught up in their busyness to be aware of the need. If they knew, they would respond. This is why we keep reminding people and we know that many are responding. We need not prejudge, we can do our part by assuming the best of people. Chances are, people will respond according to what we think of them. 

Kindness is all about being other-centered. It is a value that should be inside us. But to look out for or not prejudge others, we need to consciously make an outward effort and take some time. And that only takes a moment. That’s why we say, there’s always time to make someone’s day.

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