The trains broke down last night. Thousands upon thousands of Singaporeans were on their way home, only to find themselves stranded. Muslim commuters who had fasted the whole day were now stuck in traffic, and I can only imagine the very keen edge of hunger and thirst they must have felt as the promise of food and family shifted back a few more very long hours.
To add insult to injury, it had only just been reported that the CEO of train operator SMRT had his pay doubled in less than three years.
But out of the barrage of anger poured on the internet, there were people who saw the problem, and got down to trying to solve it. Some folks brought food to the overworked SMRT staff, Uber suspended surge pricing, choosing not to profit from the train failure.
How do we solve these issues that affect us on a national scale, should be the question we set our minds to. Over the years we have started to languish in our own complacency, content to pay a little to outsource these responsibilities to corporate monopolies or even the Government. “We’ve paid our taxes, now solve my work-life balance”; or “we’ve paid our train fare, it’s your job to ensure that I get to where I need to every single time”.
These expectations no longer seem unreasonable because we have become so used to this model of problem-solving. Our heavy dependence on domestic helpers and educational institutions in bringing up our children, or on CPF - a forced government savings scheme - to solve our retirement financials; we have chosen to specialise very narrowly on our responsibilities of our day job, because “we’re paid to do it”.
But there are many responsibilities that do not come by virtue of a job title or pay. I hope we widen our perspectives to see that we are beholden to our forebears to make our progeny better than ourselves. To leave problem solving only to corporations and governments is sub-optimal and archaic: nimble, disposable, highly-skilled quick and dirty communities provide a strong layer of national security on top of the established system.
So while many hoping to insert themselves into established institutions of authority jump on these opportunities to demand the of heads.
You can only be a martyr once. Heads rolling does nothing, serves nothing, and should be used sparingly, such as for incidents that display an individual’s lack of integrity or gross negligence. That something failed should not cause us to lose people with precious experience. They should be held responsible, definitely, not only to account for, but also to fix the failure. Armchair critics cannot help us here.
We should be seeing more discussions, like whether a Uber-like network of citizen drivers can be activated as a contingency measure when public transportation is crippled; or how we can create greater redundancy in our transportation networks. These discussions solve problems. Kicking out the CEO - not so much.
Ingenuity and social-mindedness, accelerated through times of adversity, is a very key trait we’ll need for our nation’s next 50 years.