It takes considerate adults to inspire selfish youngsters

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2003, 12:00am


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Having seen the disgraceful amount of litter and vandalism at the Cultural Centre following Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, any citizen who cares about the world must be asking: 'Why?'

There is, perhaps, a simple explanation. Those involved wanted to enjoy themselves to the fullest. They clearly did not consider the damage to the environment or the rights of other citizens to enjoy the Cultural Centre the following day. They did not care that a massive cleanup operation would have to be mounted afterwards.

Anyone who has been observing life in Hong Kong will not be surprised by this behaviour. At arts performances and in cinemas, inconsiderate people talk on their mobile phones. Those who ride on buses and trains hear their fellow passengers bark loudly into their phones on a daily basis.

We also see people pushing their way on to trains the minute the doors open, despite announcements urging people to first let passengers disembark. At shopping centres, we rarely see people holding doors open for others. And, of course, we see incredible amounts of rubbish left behind at barbecue sites or beaches after almost any event where large numbers gather.

I, therefore, am not surprised by the rubbish left behind at the Cultural Centre. But I do wonder why it was so.

Hong Kong has always been an everyone-for-themselves society. Ironically, this attitude is also at the core of its capitalist success. Time is money, and if it is necessary to push and shove to save time, no accusatory finger-pointing is warranted.

Such selfish and self-centred behaviour and practices are rarely condemned. Hong Kong can only become a less selfish city if every individual thinks twice before acting in such a way.

Selfish behaviour has a tendency to reinforce itself. When everyone behaves well, the result is a healthy society and a high quality of living. But if only one person breaks the social code and starts misbehaving to seek enjoyment or to pursue self-interest, and is seen to get away with it, the rest will feel aggrieved and start behaving irresponsibly as well.

That is why we need to use both carrot and stick to ensure every citizen behaves in a way that selfish behaviour stands out, and people think twice before misbehaving.

This takes a concerted effort. For starters, public transport companies should stop broadcasting the sound for in-transit television programmes through loudspeakers. This is antisocial and means passengers have to talk even louder on their phones. On Tokyo trains, conversations on mobile telephones are banned and passengers use text messages. In Berlin and London, in-transit televisions are silent. In Singapore, the soundtrack of bus televisions is delivered on a radio frequency.

The Tung administration needs to do more. It must promote considerate, unselfish behaviour, not just from individual citizens, but more importantly, from corporate citizens. The government must get tough with companies that pollute the environment. Where is the justice of penalising the average citizen for littering when companies can dump waste at landfills at no extra cost?

Friends of the chief executive's wife, Betty Tung Chiu Hung-ping, asked her why the youth of Hong Kong were misbehaving. She can tell them it is because they see no leadership and there are no role models showing them why they should love Hong Kong first and themselves second. Instead, they see that business interests and capitalistic pursuits have overridden the quest for a better living environment. This will only encourage more selfish behaviour.

Catherine Ng is an assistant professor in the department of management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. She chairs the Hush the Bus society