Blowing Water

Yes, it’s legal, but that doesn’t make it right: Hong Kong’s ‘can-do’ spirit has been twisted

Luisa Tam argues that merely following the law is not enough in our society – there is no legislation to guide us on how to be a Good Samaritan

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 2:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 10:24pm

Picture this: you’re in a supermarket, waiting in the checkout queue to pay for only one item. The shopper in front with a big load of groceries sees this and offers to let you go first. You didn’t even think to ask, but this thoughtful person put your needs first with nothing to gain.

Why do some people do it? The answer is simple: because they are motivated by a strong sense of altruism and sensibility.

This city never stops and neither do its residents. Everyone and everything moves at breakneck speed, so you may think it’s justifiable for some people to feel frustrated when time doesn’t move as fast as they think it should.

I drive an electric car and there is only a small handful of charging stations in every car park. Almost daily, I see the limited number of charging stations being occupied by non-electric vehicles. It’s because they are often non-reserved places, which means any non-electric driver can take up these spaces with impunity – meaning no fear of car impoundment or fines.

I recently confronted a woman with a baby in the back seat of her car, and told her that the space she was occupying was a charging station for electric vehicles. She bluntly responded: “It says ‘non-reserved’.”

I retorted: “But it’s not very nice, is it?”

She jumped back into her car and drove off in a huff.

Rude as it was, I can’t say I was very surprised. Hong Kong prides itself on its so-called “can-do spirit”, which is said to be characterised by a sense of pride and perseverance to work hard and create a better future for oneself, family and community.

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However, it seems that said spirit is in short supply these days; this is thanks to the efforts – or lack of – by some self-centred individuals. These people feel that, morally, they just have to follow the law, but these same individuals neglect the well-being of others.

Let’s visit an example of this twisted interpretation of the “can do” spirit. About 20 years ago, I took a break from the media industry and worked for an international non-profit organisation as a media campaigner. One day, a director of the NGO picked my brain on some company leave policy because he thought I would be more sensitive to public perception, given my experience as a journalist. He wanted to know whether it would be acceptable to limit the scope of compassionate leave.

His intention was to set it at a maximum of three days and grant leave only in the event of death of an immediate family member, such as a spouse, child, parents, in-laws, grandparents or siblings. Further to that, leave would not cover extended family members such as uncles, aunts or cousins.

He firmly believed that since it was not compulsory by law to grant bereavement leave, it wouldn’t be illegal to set some restrictions. His ultimate goal was to save on operational costs and prevent abuse of the system. I immediately shot down his suggestion.

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As a non-governmental organisation that took pride in fighting to preserve the environment and create a better world, it seemed implied that we would be operating under the overarching principle of justice itself, not just for the environment.

My point is, as an environmental protection group, we often dedicated our time to challenging big corporations because we believed their practices were morally wrong. By that logic, if our own organisation extolled compassion and justice, we would have been practising exactly the opposite of what we were preaching if we had limited the scope of bereavement leave.

Ultimately, we are answerable to ourselves and accountable for our actions

I told the director: “What is legal doesn’t make it morally right, and just because we can do it without any legal repercussions, doesn’t mean it’s morally acceptable. Ultimately, we are answerable to ourselves and accountable for our actions, not to mention that it would be heartless to do so.”

He scrapped the idea in the end.

The Hong Kong government doesn’t demand employers grant special leave to help employees handle family needs such as weddings, childcare and bereavement. However, it does encourage company bosses to advocate good management approaches by voluntarily adopting family-friendly employment practices such as granting special leave.

For individuals, there is no law to guide people to be a Good Samaritan. The fact that we are not legally obligated to do good deeds or behave admirably towards others doesn’t mean we should stand idly by and do nothing when help is needed, or behave in such a way that benefits no one but ourselves.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post