Always give up your seat - unless you're the driver

Pan-democrats with chance to steer reform on Shanghai trip must not give up their plane seat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 3:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 3:28am

From a very early age, I was taught that young people should give up their seats on public transport so that those with a greater need - the elderly, the infirm, pregnant women or people travelling with young children - could ride in safety.

Now that I am at the other end of the age spectrum, I am happy to see the tradition is upheld by a good many Hongkongers. Twice in the last week, as I have stood in the bus aisle secretly wishing there was a vacant seat, a younger person has gently touched my arm and indicated the seat from which they have just risen.

In the past few months, I have seen several such incidents - a Filipino helper jumping up to assist a Chinese elder, a Chinese youth offering his seat to a pregnant Indian lady. There is seldom any drama. It is not always necessary to speak when making the offer, for example. A simple gesture will do. A smile and a murmured m goi are more than sufficient by way of thanks.

Not everyone takes part in this civilised social behaviour, of course. I am sure we have all seen teenagers in school uniform occupying the red priority seats and playing games on their phones, as passengers four times their age struggle to keep their balance alongside.

But the examples of the better kind keep me optimistic about our future. We can make life a little easier for one another; all it takes is some goodwill.

It was while mulling over these matters that I began to struggle to understand the conduct of some legislators from the pan-democratic camp, especially in the context of an invitation to Shanghai to discuss political reform.

There are some who I really wouldn't want to represent me. Will they shout and throw bananas at the hosts? I would curl up in embarrassment. But others could make a persuasive case for greater democracy, in a polite but firm way, and I would be proud to have them speak on my behalf.

Yet some of these are indicating they might send junior representatives in their place to avoid being seen as "taking part in a show".

I cannot follow this logic. After all, politics is about taking part in a show. And we are paying them to be in the cast.

Just as the young should make way for the older generation on public transport, so those who are more experienced have a duty to assist the younger generation by showing courage and leadership in the political arena. And they won't do that by giving up their seat on the plane to Shanghai.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at Chinese University. mike@rowse.com.hk