This week, various stories ranging from maids asking questions about pay and food entitlements, business woes, and the lengths the average person has to take just to keep their small business afloat provided me with much food for thought.
While getting the best deal possible is a national pastime, does it get in the way of us seeing each other in society as fellow human beings all trying to live the best life possible?
The term “kiasu” (or, “scared to lose out”) has become synonymous with Singaporean culture. We make fun of it, we deride it, but, we also embrace it as an integral part of what it means to be Singaporean.
Indeed, it permeates every part of our lives. From “choping seats” (or reserving seats) with tissue packets in hawker centres to queuing for 90-cent durians and standing in line for hours for Mr Donut, the penchant to be the first person to try something or to get a good deal is a strong motivating factor for many Singaporeans.
While this trait of “kiasuism” might be endearing and humorous in many scenarios, does it also encourage selfish behaviour, which in turn causes a lack of empathy in society?
Recently, an anonymous question appeared on the popular page FDW (Foreign Domestic Worker) in Singapore. An FDW was asking if she was entitled to pay if her employer was going away for a fortnight. She further queried whether her employer needed to pay for her food during the duration when they were away.
To many of us working in an office environment, it is par for the course to have a fixed number of paid days off per year. It is therefore jolting to see someone ask whether they would get paid when it was their employer’s choice to go for a holiday. FDWs live at their place of work, often with limited privacy. Apart from the weekly or fortnightly Sunday off, FDWs have very limited time off.
It is also a well-known fact that they are paid well below what a local Singaporean would expect to be paid. Given the low salary and the limited number of days off, it seems strange to consider a situation whereby an employer would actually consider not paying their FDW when they were going away on a holiday! But yet, it must be common enough for the FDW to even have to raise this query!
What about the employer who expects their FDW to massage them every single day for 1.5 hours? Is the sense of entitlement so ingrained in our psyche that we fail to bat an eyelid at the laundry list of demands we place on our FDW with limited days off?
Has “kiasuism” contributed to this utter lack of empathy? Has our desire to pay the least possible amount for the best possible service led to this type of penny-pinching with our foreign domestic workers, who are already very underpaid?
Another example of this disconnect is when a woman took umbrage at having to pay a 10 per cent service charge at a self-service restaurant. While I understand that there would have been little “service” at a self-service restaurant, it is imperative to remember that many businesses are struggling to make ends need in the current environment of rising costs of raw materials. With this in mind, can we not extend some empathy to such businesses? There is after all a big difference between a big chain and a small business.
Even as we complain about the prices of everything, have we spared a thought for businesses who are also going through the same pain? Even if such small businesses were using “service charge” to make a little bit more money in a challenging time, is this really so bad?
Netizens have speculated that a Grab delivery rider who was captured on video falling off his bike was probably overworked and tired. Many expressed their sympathy for this poor rider. Yet, is our ability to express sympathy for this man only possible because we are not personally affected? Once we become personally affected, does the “kiasu” mentality kick in, thereby robbing us of our ability to be kind or empathetic?
On the one hand, we understand the plight of delivery drivers/riders but in the same vein, criticise small business owners for charging service charges.
Sometimes life can be hard, and we all need to do what we need to do to survive. For businesswoman Tammy Tay, she had to create “Onlyfans” content just to keep her businesses afloat over the pandemic.
On the one hand, we all understand that making a living can be hard, but in the same vein, we get offended that a business may charge a service charge?
Is this part of the negative impact of “kiasuism”?