First Class Behaviours for First World Nations. Public behaviour in Singapore

Anthology, 2018

139 Pages

Free online reading






















Thanks to:

Foo Koong Hean and K Thirumaran for helping organize and coordinating with the authors for this work.

Samuel Gan for the organization to make the 1st publication into an E-book possible.

Cornelius Koshy for help with the E-book formatting and arrangements.

All the authors who contributed the various chapters.

Diane’s Blietz for reviewing and editing the first 100 pages of the 2nd Edition revised book.

Alexander K T for the book cover design.

James Cook University, Singapore.


Singapore has come a long way to become what the International Monetary Fund and World Bank define as an advanced economy or developed country or a first world nation (FWN).

To be a FWN requires more than just a claim or a certain standard of living or per capita GDP. It also requires certain behaviours of the nation’s people, herein defined as First Class Behaviour (FCB).

In other aspects like education, science and technology, and more importantly, the intellectual and cultural realms, is Singapore still within FWN standards?

When we examine the behaviours of Singaporeans, we find undesirable public behaviours commonly practiced by many. Although there are many others with desirable public behaviours, their numbers could certainly increase.

That is not to say that people of other FWNs always exhibit FCBs. Even other FWNs have undesirable behaviours. Ideally, people of all nations should exhibit FCBs all the time.

To help Singapore progress over its next 50 years towards becoming a gracious society where FCBs are common, this book examines 19 areas of human behaviours and offers suggestions for adopting FCBs.

The suggestions of the book are not meant to hurt feelings, but to identify behaviours that could be modified or improved upon for the betterment of everyone in Singapore and beyond.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our review editors Professor Robert Morgan and Diane Blietz for their contributions to the editing process. We also would like to thank George Jacobs in assisting us to conceptualise the chapter format and style. Additionally, this book project would not have come to fruition had it not been for the tedious review process and patience of all our esteemed international contributors.

Each of the chapters is intended to resonate with a particular area of human behaviour. The opening chapter sets the book’s major trajectory. Comparing Singapore to Switzerland, Peter Hardstone distinguishes certain public behaviours that must be brought to par commensurate with or similar to that of Swiss norms in public behaviour if Singapore truly intends to embellish the status of First World Nation. In the process of achieving the material wealth in living standards, there also arises the idea of whether a society’s comportment levels can match up to that of a first world nation status. Singapore’s GDP per capita of $56,319 for 2014 is just 9th place in ranking compared to Switzerland’s $87,475 at 4th place. As Hardstone observes, the tiny city-state in Southeast Asia continues to strive to refine its citizen’s social behaviours.

Several other major themes carried in this book include awareness of others, social etiquette in various interactions and settings, use of public facilities, perceptions of junk, and finally the virtue of savings. Public behaviour is a function of awareness of our immediate social setting and response to it. Building on a five-case scenario, Keane Lim and Samuel Gan’s chapter on “Awareness of Others” suggests that sometimes our own responses to situations needs to be evaluated instead of seeking comfort that a personal challenge could be due to the result of another’s bad behaviour. Nimrod Delante and George Jacobs’ chapters on positive social networking behaviour and email responses and 30 suggestions provide the basis for a rich exercise of first class behaviour when communicating online. Elaborating further on social network and email correspondence, Annetha Ayyavoo and Gabriel Roman Ayyavoo’s chapter and Diane Blietz’s chapter together outline ways to be casual and formal with words and expressions, primarily advocating politeness and mindfulness of the reader and the message intended to be communicated.

Foo Koong Hean’s chapter gives advice on driving and cycling behaviours. Lim Boon Yeow’s chapter on group behaviour and money matters examines an interesting link we often make between lending to a friend and giving to an extended family member. We often demand that friends return promptly what they borrow, but with family, our expectations tend to be different; we are inclined to softness with a kinship heart and that affects the way we deal with money issues and relatives. In the same vein, Annetha Ayyavoo and Brandon Tennakoon debate the issue of “kiasu” behaviour as a subject that either can be negative or positive. Trying to be the first or the best by putting down others along the way is considered “negative” kiasu, whereas attempting to make every effort without causing hurt or pushing and shoving others out of the way is considered “positive” kiasu.

Diane Blietz’s chapter looks at desirable office behaviours, whereas George Jacobs and Harshini Siriwardene’s chapter examines politeness in the classroom.

If we think about first class behaviours, there is often the issue of how we treat our waste. Do we dump it in public places? Do we separate the recyclables for someone to collect for further processing and disposal? Roberto Dillon points us to the direction of how one man’s junk could be another’s resource for an invention or simply a collector’s item that could fetch billions of dollars. His chapter nudges readers to be thinkers and innovators in a First World Nation.

Lau Wen Huey’s exposition on Singapore’s expansive charity works and the emphasis on being compassionate and generous to the poor causes us to reflect on the whole meaning of First Class Behaviour. Taking a slightly different take on money, Harshini Siriwardane and George Jacobs’s chapter provides 9 reasons for possessing the good habit of saving; always thinking of the future preventing one from becoming a burden to others, as well as careful planning on savings and spending are needed.

The use of public facilities and consideration for others is another major theme that runs through this book. In Thirumaran and Raghav’s chapter, swimming rigidly in a lane and not giving in to others purposely is considered a form of kiasuism in addition to undesirable public behaviour. Similarly, Gandhi Sundrum and Kris Koh discuss considerate behaviour on public transport in terms of giving up one’s seat for the needy or elderly. They highlight some of the best practices when using public transport including to move towards the middle of the train or towards the end of a bus so that others boarding can actually find space.

Gan and Lim’s earlier chapter in which they used the theory of mind (ToM) and fundamental attribution error (FAE), reminds us that we should put ourselves in the shoes of those boarding a crowded train. The “feel good” factor is evident when we can board a train where people are mindful and considerate to make the extra space for others so that they too can get to their destination on time with comfort.

Kanwaljit Kaur’s chapter on toileting habits is timely, as it exposes some individuals’ worst nightmares when running into an inhospitable restroom in an emergency. Inconsiderate toilet behaviour is also comparable to the way deviant acts are found on public buses where used tissue papers are strewn on the floor, stuck between seats and sometimes stuffed into an air-conditioner vent by the passenger seat. Abhishek Bhati’s chapter on vandalism analyses good tourist behaviours at a destination. Recognizing a broad spectrum of vandalism committed at various attractions around the world, he advocates further sensitivity by travellers when appreciating attraction sites and gets us to think how stakeholders can work together to adopt more effective measures to prevent bad tourist behaviours.

The various chapters address the issue that a First World Nation is expected to have positive and civil behaviours. However, these First Class Behaviours as alluded to by Annetha Ayyavoo, Brandon Tennakoon, Nimrod Delante, Abhishek Bhati, Samuel Gan and Keane Lim, are present in societies both developed and developing. All the authors provided solutions to deviant behaviours that were deemed inconsistent with First World Nations. This book is thought of as a provocative must read for those in public policy, teachers, students and parents to understand social norms and share important virtues that are necessary to elevate a society to First Class Behaviours in a First World Nation.


Foo Koong Hean | K Thirumaran





For more than thirty years, the Singapore government has held the nation of Switzerland in high esteem and has often used it as the role model that Singaporeans should emulate. Indeed, there are many superficial similarities between the two countries. But can Singapore really ever achieve a Swiss standard of cultural finesse and truly become the Switzerland of Asia?

Switzerland was founded in 1291 and so has enjoyed the luxury of more than 700 years of independence. Today, regardless of ethnic-linguistic differences, the Swiss are strongly Swiss—and proud of it. Most can trace their heritage back through many generations and can easily link to their ancestral village in the country. In order to apply for a passport, for example, a Swiss citizen must return to the local administrative offices in the Canton (regional division) in which he/she was born. Many continue to farm the land that has been in the family for aeons. There is therefore a strong bond between people and land, and so much Swiss culture today—the very essence of this strong national identity—derives from this.

Singapore, on the other hand, was founded by Stamford Raffles in 1819 and its history and culture date from the large nineteenth century in-migrations of population from southern China, India and South-east Asia under a British colonial administration. The new immigrants shared little in common and most were left to their own devices to settle and make a living. Unlike the Swiss, these new "Singaporean" immigrants hoped to eventually return to the lands of their birth. Indeed, many were young married men who left a wife and children at home while they came to Singapore to work. This situation was maintained throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth century so, for many years, Singapore was seen simply as a transit point, a place for a job rather than a permanent home in which to sink deep roots. Only after the Second World War (1945), and particularly after independence (1965), did the idea of a "nation" really begin to take shape. The transient nature of the population began to change and a distinctive Singaporean identity slowly emerged. However, this identity was fragile and has had to be deliberately nurtured by the Singapore government over the past forty-eight years.

Despite difficulties, the two nations do now portray a superficial similarity, particularly as far as the "hardware" is concerned. Both are entirely surrounded by larger, more powerful neighbours and both have adopted an external policy of neutrality in politics and business.

In Switzerland, this has been in place since the nineteenth century and helped to protect the country from invasion during World War II. Likewise, Singapore stood up successfully to communist takeovers in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 1975 and remained strongly capitalist and pro-western. To a large extent, this proved possible because both nations maintain a compulsory national service and reservist training liability, which includes all able-bodied young men from the age of 18. Here, Singapore's national service is shaped on the Swiss model and so makes for a close parallel.

The two nations comprise multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic societies. Singapore's ethnicity is based upon the points of origin of its early settlers and reflects a diversity of languages and dialects. These include Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochiew, Hockchiu, Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam and Malay. In Switzerland, linguistic diversity reflects a geographical basis where some 65% of the Swiss population of 7.5 million speak German, 20% speak French, 10% Italian, 1% Romansch (an ancient language closely related to Latin) and the remainder reflect the languages of recent immigrants such as Spanish, Turkish and Arabic. Although this makes for potential conflict, there has never been any difficulty in either country due to the fact that both nurture a multi-linguistic policy that includes the study of English as the "neutral" intermediate language. This neutrality in language has done much to protect against linguistic chauvinism and the development of any potential narrow nationalism and so promote a positive, integrative feel.

From an economic point of view, there are again close similarities. Although there are some heavy industries in both Switzerland (machine tools and locomotive engineering) and Singapore (biotechnology), their economies derive income essentially from services; banking/insurance, tourism, and international education are the chief pillars of national support.

Switzerland has long been noted for its banking secrecy, and today hosts one of the world's strongest and most stable currencies, the Swiss franc. A number of banks, such as UBS and Credit Suisse, are world institutions and continue to expand internationally.

In terms of tourism, Switzerland was the first nation in the world to develop this industry, together with the sister industry of hospitality (hotel management). Since the mid-nineteenth century, foreign visitors—mainly British—began to discover the country and brought with them the newly developed sport of skiing. The Swiss Alps provided an ideal environment for this. As rail transport developed, it made it possible for Europeans to travel to Switzerland for vacations. This was accompanied by the growth of guest houses, country inns and city hotels. Training schools also developed to teach the art and craft of culinary endeavour. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Switzerland was already accepted as a leading tourist destination.

The growth of the hospitality training industry stimulated a more general development of quality education. In this respect, engineering, robotics and pharmaceuticals are leading areas of the nation's research, manufacturing and export.

The service industries of banking, tourism and education were chosen by the Singapore government after independence in 1965 to propel the new Republic into financial viability. Today, Singapore has become a leading financial centre and stock market. Like Switzerland, the national currency—the Singapore dollar—is strong and stable and has helped to underpin economic development and thereby provide a firm basis for growth. It also attracts large inflows of international capital as, like in Switzerland, there are stringent regulations relating to financial control and money management.

In order to succeed with tourism, the Republic embarked on ambitious building plans to capitalise on what resources it could muster. Already well known as a stopover destination on the London-Australia route and a favourite shoppers' paradise, Singapore moved to widen the number of tourist attractions, build new hotels and diversify source markets to score expanded visitor numbers. At the same time (1972), the birth of Singapore Airlines did much to put the destination on the world map and the airline, working closely with the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, promoted the Republic to an ever-wider world audience. In the past forty years, tourism has developed to become a major player in the national economy.

The development of education in Singapore has also been an industry that has taken advantage of geographic location. While Singapore has an excellent national school and university system, it has gone far beyond these confines into developing an exceptional international system of learning. It hosts educational establishments from across the world and sees many tie-ups between reputable local and foreign institutes. This sets Singapore off as an "international school house" and here it acts as a close match to Switzerland. Indeed, Switzerland, like Singapore, trades on both geography and an international reputation of quality service to promote the educational industry in general and the hospitality and tourism industries in particular. Switzerland now hosts seventeen hospitality—training institutes; all of them offering a superb education.[1] It is this that Singapore is now trying its best to emulate.

In terms of national "hardware", then, Switzerland and Singapore show many parallels. From a human point of view, there are also significant links—in education, tourism, airlines, banking and finance, hotel appointments, currency trading, gold holdings and tax structures.

As can be seen, there are now many links and similarities between Singapore and Switzerland.


When turning to the "software" side and examining the nature of society in the two countries, many significant differences become apparent. Unlike the long-term stability of Switzerland and the strong rootedness of its people to their land, Singaporeans display a totally opposite sense of behaviour, and, often a quite complete lack of social graces. This behaviour has been researched by many writers[2] and is given the term "kiasu" or "kiasuism", which loosely translated means "fear of failure," a "fear of losing" or "the need to be first" It is a Singaporean character trait which is instilled from the earliest age. Competition in school is the name of the game. From the kindergarten into primary level (Age 6) there is a rigorous balloting system in place with some of the prestigious schools having fewer than twenty new, available places on any intake. In order to secure one of these coveted seats, either a parent or parents would have had to have been alumni or, if not, would have had to perform part-time voluntary work for the school. Based on these results, the child would either be successful or not in the balloting exercise. This system places children under intense pressure from such a young age.

As a child moves up through primary school, each grade level must be passed in order to rise to the next class. At the age of 12, the highest level of primary schooling, the individual sits for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Again, competition is stiff, and many primary pupils are sent for private tuition in order to enhance their chances of success.

For those who pass their PSLE, they join Secondary One classes and remain until Secondary Four if they have been placed in the "Express" stream and to Secondary Five if they have moved through the "Normal" stream. Again, this "streaming" reflects the competition. At the age of 16-17 years, pupils sit for the GCE "O" level examination, and the results earned here channel students into either GCE "A" level (taken at Junior College after two years) or to Diploma (taken at Polytechnic or Institute of Technical Education) after three years.

The tertiary (top) level of education in Singapore is university, but to reach there and then graduate requires a continuation of this now well-imbibed competitive struggle. By the time a Singaporean student graduates from School or University, he/she will have been exposed to a rigorous system that makes failure a dreaded fear and instils a deep sense of "self-first" (Kiasuism) in order to succeed.

In Switzerland, on the other hand, the national education system is available to all Swiss citizens equally when reaching kindergarten/primary age for schooling. Indeed, Switzerland is one of the world's leading investors in education. In 2006, for example, public expenditure totalled CHF 26.86 million Swiss francs.[3]

Switzerland's system of political division into 26 cantons gives full control to each to oversee its own educational polices. This means that children/students who reside in any particular canton automatically attend a school near to their homes. As they progress up through the education system, there is very little "pressure" placed upon them, as is the case in Singapore. At the highest (tertiary) level, Switzerland has ten cantonal and two national universities in addition to 60 universities of applied sciences, which dispense a more practice-oriented standard education.[4] With a total of seventy-two universities to serve a national population of just 7.5 million, the element of competition for places exists but is nowhere as severe as in Singapore, where a 5.5 million population competes for just five national universities.

The contrasting education systems in the two nations help to account to a high degree for the acutely different perspectives that the Swiss and the Singaporeans have imbibed. For the Singaporean to attain a more gracious cultural manner similar to the Swiss, he or she must develop an acute awareness of others. When one can appreciate that we all live as part of a society—a nation—and not as an individual, the sense of shared common values will come into play. The importance of the respect for members of the common populace in Singapore is often lacking by the local citizens, so the government has been trying to instil a more courteous Singapore in the many campaigns that it has put out over the past thirty years. It is indeed the government that has to play the role of catalyst in order to show Singaporeans their lack of common courtesy and to try to improve this. In the case of Switzerland, on the other hand, a sense of "civic consciousness" is taught in the home from early childhood and surmounts all other stresses and strains to remain into adult life. On no occasion has the Swiss government ever needed to put out a courtesy campaign to improve the sense of graciousness on the part of its citizens.

There are many other instances of "kiasu" behaviour in Singapore, none of which would ever be found in Switzerland. The "awareness of others" referred to above links closely to the "giving way to others". The sense of common decency which prevails among those who travel on Swiss public transport is often not replicated in Singapore where some people charge into an MRT (subway) train and occupy the seats as quickly as possible regardless of old or infirm individuals who may be in much greater need of that seat. Likewise, in cafeterias or libraries seats are "bagged" literally (people leave a bag, a book or a packet of tissues on a seat while they go to get their food). In other countries, Switzerland included, people would go and get their meal first only then to bring it to a seat which may still be available.

Driving in Singapore may appear much more orderly than in other countries in Southeast Asia. Motorists do slow down to stop at red traffic lights and usually give way to pedestrians on crossings. However, on closer inspection, this only happens due to the plethora of traffic cameras which are in perpetual film mode and also because of the heavy fines which accompany traffic violations.[5] In Switzerland, by contrast, driving is dignified and polite but this stems, once again, from the sense of civic consciousness that every Swiss understands and honours.

Heavy fines are such a common phenomenon in Singapore that the Republic is sometimes referred to as a "fine city". T-shirts are often printed making a joke of this fact. All of this is not new. One of the first Singapore campaigns dates from the mid-1970s when then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew moved to enforce a "No Smoking" and "No Littering" campaign. Fines were initially fixed at S$500.00 for significant contravention of these laws. Both are still in force today, but with the government now implementing a S$1,000.00 penalty. After forty years, it takes these fines to remain in place in order to secure total compliance from the local populace. And here, in essence, is the fundamental difference between these two countries—force of law in Singapore and willing participation in Switzerland.

So, will this ever change? This is the essence of this paper and, on reflection, it will be difficult to see such change in the short term.


Despite remarkable parallels that can nowadays be observed in both nations' "hardware", the "software"—the people side—still needs to be brought into harmony. In order for this to happen, Singapore still has a lot more to achieve. Can Singapore really ever achieve a Swiss standard of civic behaviour and truly become the "Switzerland of Asia" and, if so, how soon? Time alone will tell.


1 Figure provided by Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Berne, Switzerland, 2013.

2 For example: "Kiasu Tendency and Tactics: A Study of their Impact on Task Performance" by Eric G. Kirby and John K. Ross, Texas State University in Institute of Behavioral and Applied Management Research Journal, pp.108-121, 2007.

3 Figure provided by Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Berne, Switzerland, 2013

4 As above.

5 For example: Speeding by exceeding 21-30 km/h = S$150 fine and 6 demerit points. Running a red traffic light = S$ 200.00 fine and 12 demerit points.

Source: Singapore Traffic Police, July 2013.


Dr. Peter C. N. Hardstone gained his Bachelor's and Doctorate degrees at the Queen's University of Belfast, U.K. He has lectured in the U.K., Singapore and Switzerland. In the latter case, he headed the International Tourism Institute in that country. He retired in 1999 and, since that time, has taught at various academic institutes in Singapore. In 2011, he accepted a full-time position at JCU, Singapore to teach in the ELPP program.




The awareness of others can be defined simply as being in full knowledge of: 1) the different needs, 2) the desires, 3) the presence of, and 4) the actions of others in our daily activities. These daily activities can include walking, driving, cycling, eating, swimming, and standing in public or any shared facilities. It is essential to have a gracious and productive society, and both good habits and behaviours are necessary for its continued maintenance. Some theories underlying many of these behaviours, and why we need to address them, are included. For those whose interest is roused, a more detailed background of these theories is included in the "Additional Reading" at the end of this chapter.


You may be wondering why there is a need for a gracious society. Is it because the word “gracious” seems to elicit a nice feeling, or is it because the act of being gracious serves a greater purpose? If you are considering the latter, you are right. Being gracious and being aware of others help to serve the collective interests, including your own. Indirectly, it also raises productivity. Often, we are victims to situations that can be described by the ‘Prisoner’s dilemma’,[2] whereby we have to compromise a little for the greater benefit of everyone, provided that they too, are willing to compromise. If one is only concerned about his or her own interests without the intent of compromising, everyone would suffer. This is aptly explained in ‘The tragedy of the commons’,[3] where everyone does what they do for their own benefit only, often leading to greater negative consequences.

Let us now explore a few common scenarios.


You are coming out of a hall after attending a fantastic seminar. As you are not the first in line to leave the hall, you are behind a crowd of people who are all leaving the full-house seminar. While you are walking out, you realize that everyone before you have stopped moving on. Since you are seven feet tall, you can look over everyone, and you notice that a man leaving the hall is looking at his smartphone and has stopped walking out, blocking everyone's way.



You are rushing off after work to a hot date with the sexiest man/lady you know. As you exit the office building, you see an empty cab coming up. Not noticing anyone else waiting for a cab in the vicinity, you start flagging for a cab frantically. Suddenly, you hear a loud "Hey!" about ten meters behind you. Turning around, you see an annoyed pregnant woman who is clearly waiting for a cab before you came out of your ivory tower….



You have just completed your shopping of a beautiful large frame for the portrait of yourself (talk about Narcissism at its best), and are just going down the escalator. As you are about to reach the lower floor, a lady before you has stopped at the bottom of the escalator, unsure if she should go right or left. You are now panicking as the escalator is now bringing you closer and closer to a collision with her, and she is not a supermodel.



You are out cycling at East Coast Park to lose the extra bit of weight you put on from supersizing every fast food meal you take. Your gym instructor tells you that you need to maintain a constant speed of 15 km/hr to ensure you burn fat. As you cycle, you have to brake constantly because of the throngs of people who do not seem able to keep to their designated cycling paths. As a result you are cycling at a speed half of that recommended. You wonder why these people are unable to keep to their tracks when they are so clearly marked out.



You are going to this famous stall in the hawker. Being street-wise and smart, you avoid the crowded lunch hour, and have gone to the famous fishball noodle stall only at 2 pm. You are right, most of the seats are now empty. However, you notice that almost every table is full of disgusting leftovers and used tissues. Suddenly, you see a clean table. There is someone sitting there, but at least it's clean. As you move towards to sit there, you see the elderly old man cough loudly with a chesty sound. He doesn't cover his mouth and coughs across the table. He is also picking his nose and flicking it in any random direction. There it is the best fishball noodles in town right before you, but you have no place to sit.



What did you think was wrong with the individual's action in Scenarios 1, 3, 4, and 5? How should you react? What did you think about your own action in Scenario 2? How should the annoyed pregnant lady react to you? What was the common problem in these scenarios?


The common problem in the scenarios described is the lack of awareness (by others and us) to what is happening around. Often we humans are too caught up in our own thoughts and fail to pay attention to others, and how our actions affect other people. The scenarios illustrate the lack of awareness of both by others and by ourselves. Basically, we often do what we want whenever we want, without consideration of others. As a result, the inconvenience caused to others can create unwanted misunderstandings or even aggression in some cases. To avoid all these unintended consequences, we need to more aware of others, be less self-centred, and think and act considerably of others, by doing unto others what we like others to do unto us. And it should start now with ourselves.

Another common issue in these scenarios, is the lack of empathy for others. In the case of scenarios 1, 3, and 5, the man looking at the phone or the lady at the escalator may have stopped because of unexpected reasons. Similarly, the old man could be ill and suffering from a cough and blocked nose. Likewise, the people responsible for the dirty hawker tables (Scenario 5), and the pregnant lady (Scenario 2) did not empathize with our plight or our lack of awareness. More often than not, we fail to empathize and rationalize graciously the reasons behind other people's actions. Instead, we make snappy judgements based on what we often assume to be the worst of others. This may have arisen because we have employed an ‘observer’ role.[1] As an observer, we do not have a first-hand experience of the other party, and this can cause us to fill out the ‘missing information’ by reasoning on our own biased set of rules (see FAE later). Hence, we blame the other party because their actions were not as we expected.

For a gracious society, it is insufficient to simply be aware of the presence of others. There is a need for positive responses to be translated into real actions, such as, giving way, signalling your intent, and even acknowledging the presence of the other party(ies). For these, we need to pay attention to our surroundings and be aware of the "Theory of Mind" (ToM), while keeping the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) in check.


Theory of Mind (ToM) is the ability to understand the mental states of oneself and that of others being potentially different.[5] Humans need this innate ability to predict the behavioural responses of others, and evidently, the best way to understand this, is to first put "oneself in another's shoes".

Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) is the bias that we tend to have when rationalizing the behaviour of others and ourselves. Simply put, the rationale of other people's bad behaviour tends to be attributed to their intrinsic characteristics, whereas our individual bad behaviour is often attributed to be a result of external circumstances.[6]


What makes a good and gracious person? A person who is unable to understand how people can be different, and insists that the difference is wrong, cannot possibly be a good person. Yet, do we not do this all too often? How would it feel to be judged? Are these new concepts?

To quote a famous saying from the Bible:


Book of Matthew, Chapter 7, Verse 3 (KJV).

In Scenario 1, the man who decided to stop at the doorway to look at his smartphone was clearly unaware that he was blocking the exit. Of course, most of the inconvenienced individuals would assume that the man was just being inconsiderate and rude (a function of FAE). We may not have considered that the man with the smartphone may have just received a message shocking enough to make him pause on the spot. On this, the lack of awareness by the man should not be reciprocated with the lack of awareness by the rest of the crowd. Some individuals may respond less graciously and tell the man off for his actions, some may simply ask to be excused as they push him to one side, but a gracious society would put itself in his shoes and show empathy towards him by checking if everything was all right so as to bring him back to his current physical state.

Figure 1. Photos of a staged scene illustrating scenario 1.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In Scenario 2, you were unaware that the woman was behind you. Why did she have to stand in that obscure corner or shadow? It was her fault. If you knew, you would not have cut in front of her. It was not that you were a terrible person, but it was simply that you did not see her. However, applying the FAE, it would be clear to us that the woman would have assumed that you are a taxi-snatching thief with poor character, and it would not be surprising for her to snap at you. However, what is evident here is that we are not aware of our surroundings as much as we should be. In this scenario, we are in the same lack of awareness as the individual in Scenario 1.

Figure 2. Photos of a staged scene illustrating scenario 2.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In Scenario 3, the woman stopped because she was not sure if she was to go left or right. Unfortunately for her, the escalator could not be paused by her willpower alone. She had no self-awareness of her standing position, as well as the physical awareness that others were being pushed towards her on the descending escalator. Regardless of what our own FAE tells us, she is not an evil witch with a poor upbringing to have the intention to trip people coming behind her. For all we know, she was in urgent need of finding a lavatory. Again, this tells us that when we are too engaged in our own thoughts, we may fail to attend to our surroundings, resulting in unintended inconvenience to others.

Figure 3. Photos of a staged scene illustrating scenario 3.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In Scenario 4 (the cycling situation), the entire world was out to ruin your day by not cycling in their designated paths. Everyone had the sole evil purpose to slow you down and keep you fat. You were their enemy and they were yours.

No, of course not.

These people simply are not aware of the needs of others, and they are not aware of the consequences of their actions. They may even be ignorant of what the lines are about if they had come from a different culture or if they were children. The awareness of others and their needs are clearly problems that resulted in the inconvenience of others.

In Scenario 5 (the hawker), you were just unfortunate that a horde of barbarians held a party there right before you came, and the elderly man was just one of the remaining barbarians. Well, this was what some would have thought, but we might not have considered the better possibilities where the "return tray points" were obscured or under maintenance, and there was no cleaner to help. Similarly, the elderly man was simply unaware of how disgusting his actions were due to cultural differences. One might remember the example of slurping soups where it is expected in Japanese culture, but very rude in Western fine dining. Similarly, the act of holding your rice bowl up differs within oriental cultures.

Figure 4. Photos of a staged scene illustrating scenario 5

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Thinking of the 5 scenarios, have you ever been in similar situations where you were the person who was not aware? Reverse the situation for Scenario 2. Are you sure you have never done what Scenarios 1, 3, 4, and 5 described? Or were you simply unaware that you had not? What were the responses from the other people? What should their responses be? Did it align with your planned response when someone else was making the mistakes? In order for us to consider the needs of others, we may employ a peaceful solution termed as the ‘generous Tit-for-Tat’ strategy[4] that requires us to reciprocate the action of others. For example, standing on the left side of the escalator to make way for others walking up/down as a sign to reciprocate other's desires and needs. In doing so, we work towards the collective interests of the society.

An ideal Scenario 1:

You are coming out of a hall after attending a full-house seminar. While you are walking out, you realize that the people before you had stopped. Looking out, you notice that a man leaving the hall was looking at his smartphone and had stopped walking out, blocking everyone's exit. You would apply ToM, by putting yourself in his shoes, generating a list of possible reasons to why he had stopped. In doing so, you are also shifting from an ‘observer’ to an ‘actor’ role, reducing FAE by considering the various situational factors that may account for his behaviour. Thinking about how it could have been you, helps you to increase empathy towards him and prevent unnecessary conflict. If you were the man who stopped, you would attend to your surroundings by continuing your walk or stepping aside to look at your phone regardless of how shocking the message may be. In doing so, we are being gracious to others. Everyone has the right to walk or be shocked as we do.

How would you apply these concepts in scenario 2, 3, and 4? Try applying these to your daily life to see if it helps you increase your awareness of others.

Additional reading:


The ToM was first described by David Premack and Guy Woodruff in 1978 when they studied how chimpanzees could understand the intentions of humans.[5] Subsequently, this work was widely referred to in the study of child development where ToM was typically found at the age of 3 or 4 when children come to realize that desires and beliefs underlie the action of others. ToM was often tested in children using the false belief task,[7] where they were given a band-aid box and asked to guess the contents. Often to the child’s amazement of finding pencils, he or she would then ask what another child who had not seen the box would guess. A child who had developed the ToM would be aware of the concept of false belief and suggest ‘band-aids’. However, children at the age of 2 with no ToM would typically reply ‘pencil’. In other words, ToM is an innate ability to understand another’s situation, and have empathy for others.


Judgement and inferences are part of our lives. In this, we have to ask to what source do we credit one’s successes or failures? Is it innate ability or circumstantial luck? Although a rational conclusion should be reached through observing all of the factors, in reality, we automatically attribute it to one’s behaviour.[8] This is referred to as fundamental attribution error (FAE), a term first coined by Lee Ross in 1977.[6] There are several reasons for this error. First, people are more salient than the situation itself, thus we would tend to pay more attention to the prominent individual rather than the situation. Secondly, we tend to first make behavioural inferences since situational inferences require a deliberate conscious response. Thirdly, it may also be a result of the actor-observer difference.[1] An actor would make an assessment of the current event because he or she is experiencing the situation itself, whereas, the observer would tend to attribute it to behavioural factors since he or she is not experiencing the state first-hand. In order for us to shift from an observer role to an actor role, we would need to put ourselves in the shoes of others, which is the ToM.


The concept of attention had its roots in philosophy and was introduced to the field of psychology when Wilhelm Wundt brought forward experimental psychology. It only gained interest when cognitive psychologists such as Donald Broadbent started to develop models to explain the attention process in human.[9] Attention is simply the ability to focus on a particular task, object or situation. We often fail to be aware of our surroundings because we are ‘blind’ to what is happening around us. This inattentional blindness is the lack of awareness arising from focus on a particular thing. A classic experiment demonstrating the concept of inattentional blindness is one where observers are asked to spot the gorilla that walks pass the scene of basketball players passing the ball.[10] Viewers tend to focus on counting the number of basketball passes in the game, and in doing so, miss the gorilla (you may search for a video of this online using keywords: Gorilla, basketball, attention). In other words, we can reduce inattentional blindness by making a deliberate effort to note the details around us.


1 Pronin, E., Lin, D. Y., & Ross, L. (2002). The bias blind spot: Perception of bias in self versus others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 369-381.

2 Poundstone, W. (1992). Prisonerne, W. (19. New York: Doubleday.

3 Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science, 162, 1243-1248.

4 Nowak, M. A., & Sigmund, K. (1992). Tit for tat in heterogeneous populations. Nature, 335, 250-253.

5 Premack, D. G., & Woodruff, G. (1978).Does Chimpanzee have a theory of mind? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1, 515-526.

6 Ross, L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol 10, pp. 173-220). New York: Academic Press.

7 Jenkins, J. M., & Astington, J. W. (1996). Cognitive factors and family structure associated with theory of mind development in young children. Development Psychology, 32, 70-78.

8 Gilbert, D. T. Inferential correction. In T. Gilovich, D. W. Griffin, & D. Kahneman (Eds.), Heuristics and biases: The Psychology of intuitive judgment. New York: Cambridge University Press.

9 Broadbent, D. (1958). Perception and Communication. London: Pergamon Press.

10 Simons, D. J., & Chabris, C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: Sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception, 28, 1059-1074.


We would like to thank Mr Poh Jun Jie, Mr Mathew Chiam, Ms Lin Meiyin, Mr Sim Jiazhi, Mr Nguyen Phi Vu, and Mr Jeremy Lim, and Dr Samuel Gan who were part of the staged photos.


Keane Lim is a graduate of BPsych (Hons) from James Cook University Singapore who did his final year project under the supervision of Dr Samuel Gan.

Dr Samuel Gan is the Assistant Principal Investigator of the Antibody and Product Development Lab (joint lab of Bioinformatics Institute and the p53 Laboratory, A*STAR Singapore), and a sessional lecturer at the School of Psychology of James Cook University, Singapore. He is an author of a science-fiction novel, and two E-books on philosophy of religion. Samuel is trained in a wide variety of disciplines across biomedical sciences, translation & interpretation, psychology, higher education, theology, business admin, complexity science, and commercial law & tech transfer. He is the founding Editor-in-Chief of "Scientific Phone Apps and Mobile Devices", the first specialized journal for scientific apps, and is a pioneer in this field. He is also a member of the Higher Education Academy UK, the British Psychological Society, Biochemical Society UK, and Allergy & Clinical Immunology Society, Singapore.




Famous quotes about behaviour can be found in many psychology books and websites. One of these quotes states, “It's no use growing older if you only learn new ways of misbehaving yourself” (Munro, n.d.). The message is clear: as people mature, their behaviour is supposed to mature as well. However, this is not what reality seems to show. For instance, some adults deviate from what is expected of them in a civilised society. They act irresponsibly either during face-to-face interactions or in the virtual world.

In 2012, for instance, one woman posted a status update on her Facebook page that triggered a loud uproar from “netizens” because the post was seen to be derogatory towards Malay weddings.[20] In addition, a university student posted a disparaging comment on his Facebook page earlier the same year. It was written in Chinese but a translation of this insulting comment revealed a statement from this student that there are more dogs than people living in Singapore.[22] In April 2015, in the U.S., an officer of a telephone company became the subject of a million-dollar discrimination lawsuit for using his work phone to send racially offensive images,[1] and an officer person in Hong Kong faced the wrath of netizens over her racist and sexist statements about Filipino domestic helpers sleeping with their expatriate bosses.[16] Netizens abhor such offensive and racist comments and the people who posted such derogatory statements on social networking sites (SNSs) received their fair share of criticism.


Why is posting disparaging comments on Facebook and other social networking sites strongly discouraged?


Social networking is now a part of the lives of millions of people worldwide. In Asia, Friendster started social networking two decades ago, whereby millions of users started to share their profiles, personal experiences and views online. However, due to Friendster's lack of innovation, Facebook came on the scene and made social networking more potent by intensifying users' drive to become more socially active and engaging online.[10] Friendster’s failure hinged on the fact that it “puts way too much emphasis on the media, and not enough on the social.”[10]

In social networking sites (SNSs), some people feel that they can express their thoughts freely however attacking or derogatory they may be. Due to insufficient laws that deal with freedom of expression in the internet world,[15] people, teenagers and mature individuals alike, see a gigantic freedom to post comments online, with the mindset that their posts are personal opinions. It is not only derogatory comments that people post but also images and videos, some of which are unpleasant, defamatory and indecent. Yes, laws are an effective regulator of behaviour; yet, until today, “enforcing new laws [emphasis added] governing online behaviour is intrinsically more difficult than the enforcement of traditional laws”.[15] Much work needs to be done in terms of implementing these cyber laws to regulate online behaviour.

In 2012, two students faced legal and moral issues due to posting explicit images on their blog site, which was viewed as an online misdemeanour.[3] These students announced that they had only uploaded self-made content and were prepared to face the consequences. This act could be seen as an act of freedom, a deliberate act in which actors were conscious of the repercussions of their acts. This supports the idea that in the digital world, some people believe that they can do anything they want online. For instance, they show lascivious photos or post personal yet culturally insensitive, distasteful and racist language that berates others without thinking of the damage it brings to themselves and to society in general. Lack of ethics can be one of the causes of the proliferation of indecent acts online.[2],[12]

Ethical values are a key factor that determine how people behave in social occasions, whether in the real world or in the virtual world. They are deeply connected to people’s sense of morality, the principles that shape their decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Indeed, as Shavell[14] commented, the challenge lies as to how the nexus of law and ethics or morality, although sometimes in rough alignment, can be optimised in regulating good conduct, online or offline.


What internet laws are you familiar of? Could you tell us briefly about these laws?


It is a general view that First World nations are expected to have achieved a certain level of first class, civil behaviour. The image that First World nations portray to the world is an image that defines their status quo: civilised, professional and diplomatic, both in oral and written platforms. They live in the expectation that their citizens should behave accordingly thus, meeting the norms and principles of a civilised society. However, circumstances reveal that civility of people in First World nations seems to be a struggle, especially in online platforms. Storck[19] argued that it is not the country’s developed socio-economic status that determines civil behaviour; what is to be understood is that people from diverse geographical backgrounds, regardless of their economic, social or political status, converge in virtual platforms globally, break rules of conduct, and misbehave due to a high level of anonymity. Thus, it can be argued that civil behaviour of individuals in online environments is not defined by their country's status (whether developed, developing or underdeveloped) but by their individual personality and behaviour influenced by values and norms dominant in their immediate environment.[2],[12]

Some nations seem to live in limbo with the expectation that their people should behave appropriately. Some civilised societies actually failed. For instance, an emergency medical services officer in a Western hospital posted gory photos of a heavy-set woman in a wheelchair with the words ‘Wide Load’ as textual description. Such an online misdemeanour highlights the problem of prejudice, a preconceived judgement or an adverse opinion formed without just grounds. Shinder[15] asserted that it is a matter of morals, not an issue of whether the individual lives in a developed society or in a developing society, that makes people behave or misbehave online.


From what you have heard or seen, what other factors drive people to post uncivilised comments and gory or explicit photos online?


For one thing, bad behaviour in SNSs can be a reason for employees to lose their job and to lose face as well. Donston-Miller[6] argued that employees who are berating or badmouthing their company on SNSs are unprofessional. They might be burning bridges instead of maintaining positive connections. In the past couple of years, dozens of employees have been fired or forced to resign because of negative content they posted on Facebook, Twitter and other SNSs. In May 2015, a foreigner living in the Philippines lost his job and was deported after posting racist remarks against Filipinos on Facebook calling them “low-class slum slaves” and most “useless race in the world” (Hegina, 2015, p. 1). Also, in January 2014, a banker in Singapore caused outrage by sneering at poor people on Facebook. He lost his job and was forced to flee Singapore with his family due to online threats.[11] In March 2009, a tweet of an employee about her new job said that taking a “fatty pay check” would come at the expense of “hating the work”.[21] A more senior employee in the U.S. responded to her tweet, offering to pass her sentiments along to the hiring manager. However, she had already lost the job even before the review of her qualifications was started.

At times, some companies undertake background checks on their employees, and SNSs are a quick source of information. Mooney (2009; as cited in Das & Sahoo, n.d.) recounted that a president of a consulting company decided to check on a pertinent candidate's Facebook page before confirming his appointment, and found descriptions of marijuana, shooting people and obsessive sex. The candidate was rejected for the position despite being clearly suitable for the job. It is, thus, wise to remember that people’s social networking presence is a reflection of who they are, and not being circumspect of what they say or post online may bring them to a miserable condition.


How do you control an intense emotion that urges you to post derogatory or scathing remarks against an individual or institution on SNSs?


People, therefore, should make rational decisions in terms of what to disclose in the virtual world and what not to. As obnoxious posts can easily go viral online, Chan[4] advised that online users should be mindful of three principles: rule of law, accountability and people-centricity. The first entails an understanding of legal ramifications in terms of posting comments on SNSs, the second is taking responsibility for whether an action is justifiable or not, and the third entails integrity and respect for other people. To avoid online outrage and bullying, Chan[4] recommended that social media users should be more people-oriented in their expression and terminology, such as avoiding the use of labels (e.g., xenophobic) as well as sexist and racist language.

Also, Sternberg[18] suggested that people should enhance their knowledge of both the symbolic and the physical environments they currently inhabit—the communities that thrive in cyberspace as well as their traditional communities offline—by “studying the ways in which people make, break and enforce rules of conduct in online environments.” At times, because people can be anonymous online, the tendency to misbehave increases. These people seem to forget that the value systems that are evident when they interact with people in the real world also apply to the virtual world. To this effect, Davis[5] suggested that groups or institutions should build social mechanisms which are useful in making users more accountable for their actions in online situations. This entails careful construction of an online social space to avoid bad behaviour in online platforms.

In cases where some employees want to grumble about work conditions or employment benefits, experts advise that these employees go through proper channels, such as arranging for a private meeting with the company’s HR manager and other relevant personnel.[7] Posting complaints on Facebook using derogatory language will not help employees resolve their issues; rather, it exacerbates the situation into something unpleasant and depressing. If the complaint is a concerted idea, that is, shared amongst employees, it might be advisable for employees to discuss the matter as a group yet keep the issues confidential amongst themselves. Being circumspect as to confidentiality is a mark of professionalism.

Moreover, with the advent of technologies, the percentage of people spending more time online through their gadgets has been rapidly increasing, which decreases personal or face-to-face interaction.[13] Jason Foreman, described the impact of SNSs on personal relationships as toxic, and stated that "the grip of Facebook and computer games has stifled people's ability to hold or instigate conversations").[13] Although other people claim that social networking brings people closer[17] as it defies distance, geography and time, social networking also brings a digital backlash, whereby internet users ‘switch off’ their real-world activities and “disconnect from everything, constantly being online”.[13] This disconnection can lead to bad behaviour online and even to physical health concerns. Persistent online users, therefore, need to be reminded of the value of respectful personal interaction via digital means of communication. In sum, maintaining a good image in SNSs will keep people out of trouble and will contribute to keeping peace and harmony in society.


How much time do you spend in SNSs in a day? How does it affect your face-to-face interaction with people? Have you ever taken steps to cut down your SNS presence?


It is commendable when people remain tactful, sensitive and professional when interacting with others on SNSs, as these respectful interactions reflect people’s character, principles and value system while influencing others. Who would not appreciate Facebook posts that convey integrity, respect and cultural sensitivity? Indeed, civilised, sensitive and people-centred presence on SNSs can cultivate attitudes that are positive and invigorating, which heighten people's peace of mind and escalate into a harmonious community. It is not too late to behave well in the social networking world and it pays forward when people walk the talk.


1 Associated Press. (2015). ATC agent fired for racist, sexual texts on work phone. Retrieved from

2 Bonnar-Kidd, K. (2010). Sexual offender laws and prevention of sexual violence or recidivism. Retrieved from

3 Chai, G. (2012). NUS law scholar faces disciplinary inquiry for explicit blog posts. Retrieved from

4 Chan, D. (2014, December 6). Values, outrage and the good society in 2014. Retrieved from

5 Davis, J. P. (n. d.). The experience of bad behaviour in online social spaces: A survey of online users. Retrieved from

6 Donston-Miller, D. (2012, May 14). Might as well face it, you’re addicted to Facebook. Information Week Online. Retrieved from

7 Hill, K. (2011, August 26). When you can and can’t fire employees for social media misbehaviour. Retrieved from

8 (2015, May 5). BI mulls deportation of Thai man over racist slurs vs. Filipinos. Retrieved from

9 Munro, H. H. (n. d.). Hector Hugh Munro quotes. Retrieved from

10 Pachal, P. (2011). Why Friendster died: Social media isn’t a game. Retrieved from,2817,2384588,00.asp

11 Parry, S. (2014, January 25). Out of job: Banker who sneered at poor and ‘the stench of public transport’ sneaks his family out of Singapore in economy class. Retrieved from

12 Rehman, H., & Sadruddin, M. M. (2012). Study on the causes of misbehaviour among Southeast Asian children. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 2(4), 162-175. Retrieved from

13 Rock, M. (2013). Is digital technology destroying human interaction? Retrieved from

14 Shavell, S. (2002). Law versus morality as regulators of conduct. American Law and Economics Association. Retrieved from

15 Shinder, D. (2011). What makes cybercrime laws so difficult to enforce? Retrieved from

16 Siu, P. (2015). Domestic workers’ protest over Regina Ip’s comments on Filipino helpers ‘bedding expat bosses’. Retrieved from

17 Smith, C. (2012). Mark Zuckerberg outlines Facebook’s social mission. Retrieved from

18 Sternberg, J. (1999). Virtual misbehaviour: Breaking rules of conduct in online environments. Retrieved from

19 Storck, M. (2011). The role of social media in political mobilisation: A case study of the January 2011 Egyptian uprising. Retrieved from

20 Tan, J. (2012). NTUC fires assistance director for racist comments. Retrieved from

21 Warren, C. (2011). Ten people who lost jobs over social media mistakes. Retrieved from

22 Yini. (2012). Singaporeans outraged over PRC scholar’s ‘dog’ comments. Retrieved from




“I don’t know”, sighed EmailOne. “I love email; it’s so quick and easy to use, especially with email on my phone and tablet, along with my laptop. I just wish people would use it right!”

“Sad, but true”, muttered EmailOne’s colleague , EmailTwo. “Our university teaches students the dos and don’ts of complicated pieces of writing such as a 3,000-word essay, but our students should first learn to write short, simple emails”.

“And”, continued EmailOne, warming to the topic, “It isn’t just students who seem to have lost the plot when it comes to email, but businesses and organisations, too, seem equally impolite, whether they mean to be or not.


Do you ever feel annoyed at the way some people use email? What are examples?

Before looking specifically at some of EmailOne and EmailTwo’s complaints about the current state of email communication, this chapter begins with some background on email use and then looks at four maxims about general communication. The main part of the chapter makes recommendations for email use based on these communication maxims.


Communication constitutes a key form of cooperative behaviour, and much of human communication now takes place electronically. One common means of electronic communication involves electronic mail, which can be defined as a method for the exchange of digital messages. Now called email or e-mail, electronic mail’s popularity began to blossom in the 1990s.[1] While initially users needed to pay for email accounts, most people now enjoy free email accounts.

The low-cost nature of email constitutes one reason that this mode of communication has continued to grow to the point that one 2013 study[1] offered a worldwide estimate of 3.9 billion email accounts, with that number set to grow to 4.9 billion in 2017. Another reason for email’s growing popularity involves the expansion of devices on which email, formerly limited to computers, can be used. These devices include phones, tablets, watches and other mobile devices. While email appears to be dominant for communication within and between businesses and other organisations, for personal communication, other forms of electronic communication, such as Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter and Instagram, are challenging email’s former dominance.[1]


How much do you use email these days? With whom do you communicate via email: friends and family members, businesses, school, volunteer work, etc? Over the years, have there been changes in how much you use email and in your purposes for using it?


As a prominent modern form of communication, email can be examined with reference to the work of scholars who have studied how humans communicate. Grice[1] was a prominent philosopher of language perhaps best known for his cooperative principle, which explained how humans should work with others to combine their information, ideas and energies. Indeed, communication plays a central role in how humans and other animals cooperate. To facilitate communication, Grice developed four conversational maxims, which apply both to spoken and written modes of communication.[1]

Briefly, Grice’s maxims comprise:


Provide just enough information to satisfy your readers or listeners’ interests: no more, no less. For example: If people who are not familiar with public transport ask you how to go somewhere on public transport, you should not say, “Just take the Bus 163” (too little information), nor should you give specific directions for taking the bus and then provide a detailed history of the bus system in your location (too much information).


The Maxim of Quality has two aspects:

1. Only state what you think is true

Example: When playing badminton, even if you are one point away from losing, you should tell the truth and state that your opponent’s shuttle landed in play, even if the shuttle was almost outside the line.

2. Only state what you can support with adequate evidence

Example: If you and a friend are discussing the hours of a shop which sells special ‘harumanis’ mangoes from Indonesia, you should only state that the shop will open at 7 am, if you have recently confirmed that time with the shop.


Only state what is connected to the topics raised by others. For example: If someone asks about your favourite colour, do not change the topic and start discussing your favourite sport.


Ask yourself whether your readers/listeners can understand and follow what you are writing/saying. This involves such areas as:

1. Vocabulary

Example: If you are writing to people who have not lived in Singapore, and you write, “I live in an HDB flat”, your readers may not know that you are describing the type of flats built by the Singapore government’s Housing Development Board, in which more than 80% of Singaporeans live.

2. Clarity

Example: In the following conversation, is the meaning of ‘her’ clear? “EmailThree told Dr EmailFour that her presentation was not very clear”. Does this refer to EmailThree’s presentation or Dr EmailFour’s presentation?

3. Logical Order

Example: Too often, what people say and write is not orderly, e.g., the flow jumps around.


In your communication with others, how do you evaluate yourself on Grice’s four maxims? On which maxim are you best?


This next and largest section of the paper utilizes Grice’s four maxims as a category system to offer 20 suggestions for enhancing email communication. Unless otherwise stated, these suggestions refer to genuine emails, not spam.

Maxim of Quantity (Not too much information, not too little information)

1. Reply promptly or state when you will reply. When using email, a key piece of information people need is when to expect replies to their messages. Thus, you should either reply within 48 hours (during the work week) or, if that is not possible, you should state when you will reply; for example, “Thanks for your email. I hope to reply within a week”.

2. Along similar lines, when you will be away from email for a day or more, use automatic messages to inform people of that fact. Such messages are often called “out of office” or “vacation” email messages. Here is a sample:

Thank you for your email. I will be out of office from Tuesday, 12 January, 2016 and will be back on Monday, 18 January, 2016. I will have limited access to my email during this period. In my absence, please feel free to contact my colleague so and so at SOS@ Thank you for your understanding. I look forward to communicating with you again soon. -- Your Name

3. If you really do not wish to communicate with certain people, at least not by email, seriously consider politely informing them of this fact, rather than just not replying and hoping that these people will figure out your true intention. Perhaps, a phone call would be a more personal way.

4. The Maxim of Quantity as applied to email also includes the quantity of recipients to your email. Perhaps, it is best to err on the side of including too many people in your emails, as many people appreciate the courtesy of being informed about events and ideas, even if they are not directly affected.

5. When someone sends you an email, check to see if anyone else is Cc-ed in the email, and, if others are included in the email, consider including them in your response email. For instance, too many times, EmailFive has accidentally replied only to the sender of an email, leaving out the other recipients of the initial email.

6. If you are sending attachments, make sure they are not too large for your recipients’ email systems. If the attachments are very large, use systems such as Dropbox or Google Drive to share the attachments.

7. When replying to emails, be sure you have considered all the points raised by the sender.

8. Emails do get lost. Computers are stolen, lost or damaged beyond repair. People change email addresses or service providers go out of business. Thus, do not depend on one email to one address. Write again; try a different email address or a different mode of communication, such as Facebook, texting, phone or even a face-to-face visit bearing a smile and a gift of a mango. To facilitate such multimodal communication, consider including in your emails information letting people know other ways to contact you, including Skype, WhatsApp, Twitter and Viber.


Of the suggestions for email under the Maxim of Quantity, which do you think is most important?



9. Acknowledge the source of your words and ideas. It is easy to copy and paste others’ work into your email, and the honest thing to do is to let your readers know when you have done this. You do not need to provide a detailed reference; however, you should briefly indicate the source.

10. Back up your claims. If, in your email, you claim to know something, you should state your evidence, e.g., include a url or attach a file to substantiate your claim. For instance, EmailFive often communicates with people who have questions about plant-based (vegan) nutrition. When replying, he inserts one or two sources of research based information to support his advice.

11. Be truthful: let your readers know who else is receiving the same email from you. In other words, use Bcc (blind carbon copy) with care. Legitimate reasons for using Bcc include:
a. to prevent unintended use of “Reply to All”.
b. to prevent recipients from receiving unwanted emails from others to whom you are sending the original email.
c. to avoid troubling your readers with a long list of email addresses which delays readers from finding your message.
d. to avoid confusing readers with email addresses of people whom they do not know.

Yes, sometimes using Bcc is the polite and efficient choice. However, often “Honesty is the best policy”.

12. To be honest, few situations are life and death emergencies. Thus, avoid overuse of screaming with CAPITAL letters. Similarly, only label a message as URGENT or High Priority if it really is.

13. Check about the authenticity of the source before forwarding email. Yes, email can be an excellent tool for rapidly sharing valuable information, such as health and safety information. However, the internet is a notorious source of unreliable information. For example, one email hoax circulated widely (and probably still circulating), alleging to be cancer information from Johns Hopkins, a prominent medical centre.[1]

14. Be truthful before sharing with others an email that someone sent you. If sharing their email might make them uncomfortable, you should ask first. However, one exception is when people are using email to spam you or bully you. In such cases, you are perfectly within your rights to let others know about this abuse of email.

15. Nowadays, everyone claims to be green, to care about protecting the environment and reversing or at least slowing climate change. Walk your green talk; only print emails and attachments when necessary. Instead, save emails and attachments as soft copies with multiple backup mechanisms.

16. As is discussed in this book’s chapter on social media, think first before hitting the send button. Does your message reflect your true feelings towards others and their work, or, in the heat of the moment, are you blowing things out of proportion? Just one harshly worded email may require weeks, months or even years of positively worded repair messages.[1]


Of the suggestions for email under the Maxim of Quality, could you improve on any?



17. Put something on the Subject line of your email. The subject line of your email primes readers to understand your writing by activating the proper schema, i.e., background knowledge.[1] Clearly stating the subject of your emails also makes your emails easier to find at a later date. The Subject line or elsewhere near the beginning of the email are good places for such information as:
a. for whom the message is intended.
b. whether any action is requested.
c. if action is requested, by which date the action is desired

18. Similarly, label your attachments from the recipients’ point of view, not yours. For example, if there are 150 students in a Marketing 1108 class, pity the poor lecturer who receives 150 emails with attachments all labelled Marketing 1108 Essay. Instead, put your name and the title of the assignment in the name of the attachment.

19. When, during a series of emails, you change the topic somewhat, also change what is written on the Subject line in order to reflect the new topic.

20. When emailing the same person or people on multiple topics, either send separate emails, one for each topic, or indicate on the Subject line that this one email will concern more than one topic, either by naming the topics on the Subject line or by stating the number of topics.

21. Within an email that discusses multiple topics, clearly indicate where you shift topics by numbering the topics or by inserting headings.


Of the suggestions for email under the Maxim of Relation, which do you most wish people would implement?



22. When replying to more than one point in emails you receive, make it clear which are your points:
a. put your reply after each point.
b. differentiate your words from those of others by using such means as <<carets>>, [brackets] or different colours.
c. if your replies are not integrated with the points made by your correspondents, as suggested above, take pains to make clear to which points you are responding.

23. To save your readers’ time, when forwarding emails, consider deleting the messages from the previous senders of the email. For instance, some emails with jokes are forwarded again and again, until new recipients have to scroll a long time to finally find the joke. For example, EmailFive has a family member who enjoys forwarding emails with jokes, but these emails have been forwarded many times to long lists of recipients.

24. Use technology to make communication clearer. For instance, tools are available that allow people sitting on the other side of the world to look and work on the same document simultaneously as they email or otherwise communicate about the document.

25. If you have multiple email addresses, make it clear to which address readers should reply. For instance, you might have one inbox for personal mail and another for work mail. Another approach is to synch all your email addresses so that they all go to the same Inbox. That way, you do not have to open multiple inboxes to check and reply promptly to the emails you receive.

26. Make your writing reader friendly. In other words, ask yourself, “Will all of my readers understand what I am writing?” If one or more of your readers might not understand something such as an acronym or the name of a person or place, spend a few words or use a url to explain. Err on the side of explaining too much.

27. If you want your readers to take any actions, make it clear, using such means as bold, underline, larger fonts and repetition.

28. If you are trying to be funny, make it clear with a smiley or writing something such as “hahaha”. Be careful with humour, though, as it does not always work across cultures, and generally care needs to be taken when communicating, through humour or otherwise, across cultures.

29. Reread your email message before sending. Check for clarity. Misspellings, grammar errors and typos can cause confusion. Tone (more or less formal or personal) may also need attention.


This chapter has offered approximately 30 suggestions for rescuing our friends EmailOne and EmailTwo from the frustrations they have experienced when using email. The internet offers many more suggestions, e.g., Grice’s four maxims provide a system for grouping the suggestions in this chapter,[3] and Grice’s maxims are relevant to promoting first class communication via any means. To conclude, here is one further suggestion: The best way to teach first class email behaviour is by example. Thus, be sure to “walk the talk”, by implementing first class email behaviours.


1 Partridge, C. (2008, April–June). The technical development of internet email. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 30(2), 3–29.

2 Radicati, S. (Ed.). (2013). Email statistics report, 2013-2017. Palo Alto, CA: The Radicati Group.

3 Radicati, S. (Ed.). (2013). Email statistics report, 2013-2017. Palo Alto, CA: The Radicati Group.

4 Grice, P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole, & J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics 3: Speech acts (pp. 41–58). New York, NY: Academic Press.

5 Johns Hopkins Medicine (n.d.). Cancer update email -- It's a hoax! Retrieved from

6 Purkey, W. W., & Strahan, D. B. (2002). Inviting positive classroom discipline. Westerville, OH: National Middle School Association.

7 Rumelhart, D. E. (1980). Schemata: The building blocks of cognition. In R. J. Spiro, B. C. Bruce, & W. F. Brewer (Eds.), Theoretical issues in reading (pp. 33-58). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

8 wikiHow (n.d.). How to improve your email etiquette. Retrieved from

9 Giang, V. (2013, October 7). 7 email etiquette rules every professional should know. Business Insider. Retrieved from


George Jacobs is a Learning Advisor at James Cook University Singapore. While he uses many means of electronic communication, email remains his favourite. George teaches students to write in a clear, elaborated, reader-friendly style, and he tries to practice what he preaches. You, kind readers, will have to be the judge of how well George succeeds.

Nimrod is a Learning Advisor for language literacy at JCU Singapore. His writing interests are varied, ranging from academic to non-academic genres. He advocates clarity, logic and brevity in writing. He is currently pursuing his doctorate through online and distance learning (OLD) while working full-time at JCU Singapore.





Today's computer-mediated communication has evolved and continues to be used outside of education particularly with virtual learning. Online learning is made up of teacher presence, cognitive presence and social presence.[1] The key component of online learning is the invisible social presence which involves emails and online discussions. Such a virtual learning environment provides opportunities for thinking, sharing and collaborating in order to construct new ideas.[1] Participants also feel emotionally and socially connected while interacting online. If so, why does the online message fail to display acceptable social mannerism or politeness? Apparently many Singaporeans do not seem to exhibit desirable netiquette behaviours or perhaps they are unaware of it. Briefly defined, the term social niceness or politeness online reflects relational aspects of communication and the emphasis on individual sensitivity to each other's views and perceptions. Some Singaporeans do not exhibit this social niceness online, which is a composite of first class netiquette behaviour. For example, in The Straits Times article dated October 2012, an assistant director with the NTUC posted the following excerpt on her personal Facebook page: " for a real wedding… maybe then the divorce rate won't be so high".[2] She assumed and complained about how a certain cultural group of Singaporeans cannot afford proper weddings; therefore, they hold them at void decks at the bottom of apartment buildings. This statement depicts lack of sensitivity to cultural traditions of fellow citizens.

The above case begs the question: Are online participants ignorant of cultural diversity and social practices? Are these virtual chats contributing to the deterioration of unspoken act of social niceness? In the following sections, we will examine some authentic online messages used in Singapore and suggest the netiquette of writing polite responses.

To maintain niceness online, it is worth considering the concept of social presence as an important feature of computer-mediated communication. Social presence is viewed as how a person becomes aware of another in a technology-supported environment. There are three features of social presence that inspire niceness online: social context, social interaction and text-based communication. [3],[4] These features are symbolized in figure 1 shown here. The image depicts the mechanism of gears supporting each feature for a better social interaction online.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1 Represents three interconnected gears of social presence generate the concept of niceness online.


Social Context involves informal ways of chatting with people in familiar environments. The use of online course management systems such as Blackboard and Desire2Learn, between people from a particular course, seems to drive individuals to drop their guard in cyberspace conversations.[4] The diminished politeness is frequently observed in student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions. Netiquette guidelines are therefore needed for virtual chat sessions.[4]


Social Interaction is a relational aspect of communication that involves being polite and responsive when contributing to a familiar topic. A teacher might post a question where students are required to give feedback to their peers’ responses. There is an expectation for participants’ responses to be clear, efficient and reliable to sustain positive relationships.


Text-based communication involves accurate construction of meaning to convey a message as intended.[1],[3],[5] The message in the topic, that is, the language used to deliver meaning, may convey opinions and emotions. Hence, mutual modification in the text is necessary for clear understanding of a message. This socially active dynamic process of mutual text modification is to achieve polite cognitive interactions online.[4]

Online communicators may need to consider these three features of social presence, which support both social and emotional connections. These cognitively enhanced text-based discussions are often conducted in a mutually collaborative learning environment. Learners’ sense of cognitive interaction (such as exploring, investigating, speculating, collecting data and reflecting on collaborated matter) may provide a community of learners with confidence and a safe way of learning.[1],[4],[5],[6],[7] In this virtual discursive environment, there should be a feeling of cohesion and freedom of expression as active participants, but with some culturally sensitive boundaries set by the teacher within the educational environment.


According to a Canadian researcher (Ayyavoo, 2013), providing guidelines to online text-based writers might entice effective interactions of the subject-based discussions such as in a language course or a science topic.[4] Indeed, teachers could help students develop netiquette rules for effective and polite online discussions. The following are some, but not exclusive, guidelines that can be used to achieve higher order thinking with features of niceness and politeness required for Singapore’s thumb tribe generation (i.e., individuals who text on their phones with their thumbs).

With the wide variety of social platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and LinkedIn, people are comfortable texting their opinions without any reservations. Today’s thumb tribe generation sends text messages swiftly without consulting spell checks or correctness in syntax (discussed later in this chapter).


Should there be guidelines to speaking freely with familiar individuals versus unknown persons? If so, what guidelines would you propose? Would these guidelines be different in schools and offices?



There is a sense of belonging in a course when students as well as teachers feel at ease while sharing and constructing ideas. This way of chatting creates a dynamic environment for social context. A number of variables can affect how they perceive social context. Research by Swan, Richardson, Ice, Garrison, Cleveland-Innes and Arbaugh,[3] shows how demographic variables (e.g., age and gender) influence interactivity and learning online. Discussing issues of common interests (e.g., music) by one particular age group or generation allows commonalities to be built. These interactions lead to strong correlation in enhancing social context.[3]

Another variable that may affect social context is teachers’ style of response. A teacher could copy and paste a comment from another document in response to a student’s query, which carries little personal input. Some students may be comfortable with this type of copy and paste response while others may feel that it is impolite. It is also important to consider subject interest and their online writing experiences to set a positive polite social context. In addition, students feel comfortable when teachers define their parameters (e.g., respond to only two threads) for discussions and provide guidelines to stay within those parameters.[4] The objective is also to establish standard online guidelines or netiquette. Examples of such netiquette are mentioned below.


Students should be encouraged to start their response using salutations and sign off with their names to establish a sense of respect online.[4] There are two types of formality required to set the appropriate tone for a message. For example, the salutation ‘Hi Michael’ and the sign-off ‘Cheers, Lisa’ are used in casual messages while ‘Dear Dr. Michael Tan’ and ‘Yours sincerely, Ms Lisa Fernandez’ are used in more formal and professional messages. Readers may better understand the entirety of a message, which establishes an overall intended tone, demeanour and meaning.


Forwarding an attachment online without a comment would seem to elude the topic in the message. It can be viewed as being rude or to possess viruses. Perhaps the writer assumes that the recipient knows what to do with it. Being in a familiar environment with familiar people may not justify such messages. Good manners offline as well as online never goes out of style, especially in an email setting.


In many cyberspace interactions, there is no doubt that some writers are hesitant to contribute ideas, even on a familiar topic for fear of affecting relationships. This idea is supported by authors Sing and Khine (2006) who state, “Teachers may treasure their collegiality more than the opportunities to create knowledge together”.[8] Therefore, in order to encourage critical thinking and questioning of ideas and opinions, there needs to be a trusting relationship. To build this trusting relationship, a safe and polite environment is required to support active discourse. Hence, learning to be tactful is required to negotiate meaning collegially.


Sing and Khine[8] conducted a study of in-service teachers attending a blended course (i.e., face-to-face and online learning) in Singapore. They noted that teachers felt uncomfortable criticizing peers’ online responses. This discomfort hindered knowledge building as it was bound by unspoken cultural politeness. Therefore, culture plays a significant role in discouraging exchange of opinions as it can be considered disrespectful to dispute or disagree.[8]

If teachers and students learn to be sensitive and tactful when responding to issues online, then the intended message will not be skewed but delivered intelligibly. This will reinforce their confidence in providing feedback without challenging cultural norms of niceness. Also, it is crucial to understand social presence in an online environment where non-verbal cues are lacking and cannot be detected. Hence, teachers and students should address issues tactfully to create a safe online learning environment.


In real world communications, body language assists in communicating a message as with emoticons and smiley faces online. These images give writers an opportunity to express an emotion for readers to better understand the written tone of the message. If necessary, emoticons and smiley faces can be used to soften the tone of a message in befitting situations. They are useful for the efficient conveying of emotions unless misused as shown in example 1.

Example 1

Dear Ms. Juditha,

Thank you for being such a great teacher! ;)

With regard to the assignment, I had problems with my laptop :( and could not submit the assignment onto blackboard. I will submit by today. Thank you! :)

Yours Sincerely, Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Suggested First World Version 1

Removal of all the emoticons and smiley faces will be appropriate here.

In example 1, the student Shawn, gives an excuse for the late submission of his assignment. He does not apologize for this tardiness. Instead the use of emoticons and smiley faces seem like a desperate attempt to soften any harsh response expected from the teacher. This teacher may find the emoticons and smiley faces to be an inappropriate student-teacher behaviour, posing great potential for misunderstanding. Would this be a safe environment for a teacher if he/she is unaware of the student’s intention? Is the student merely being nice or disrespectfully cheeky?


Adding social niceness (e.g, sensitivity) to a message such as a follow-up statement or question, creates a warm feeling, thereby establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships.[9] Kehrwald (2008) supports the idea of interpersonal communication which drives online learning and interaction.[10] The mutual acceptance of modification of attitudes, ideas, suggestions and knowledge that are exchanged supports social niceness. This social niceness helps close the online distance between a sender and a recipient.

Example 2 below shows an informative email from a student to a teacher. Suggested First World Version 2 shows an attempt to add a personal message to build goodwill and create a good impression.

Example 2

Dear Ms. Lynn,

Please find my writing assignment attached. Thank you.

Yours sincerely,


Suggested First World Version 2 (Note: Words in bold are follow-up statements)

Dear Ms. Lynn,

I hope you are fine today.

Please find my writing assignment attached. Thank you in advance for your feedback on my assignment. I will definitely make the necessary amendments.

I hope you have a great day ahead.

Yours sincerely,



In text-based communication, intelligibility of a message is crucial. All information should be accurate and complete. If these are not achieved, confusion may lead to detrimental consequences such as misinterpretation of messages.


People constantly decide whether to open an email based on the subject line, given the daily influx of numerous emails. Without meaningful subject lines, emails are bound to be deleted without being opened.

Example 3 shows a subject line that is not only vague but inaccurate. Suggested First World Version 3 is more meaningful. It corresponds to the student’s message showing a clear summary of the main idea.[4]

Example 3

Subject : Regarding Absence

Good day Mr. Mark,

I’ve completed all online tasks due last lesson though I was absent.



Suggested First World Version 3

Subject : Completion of all online tasks


Abbreviations might be misinterpreted, or unknown to peers and teachers during serious online class discussions. In addition, inappropriate or lack of punctuation could contribute to the misunderstanding of a message.

Example 4

Good morning Mr. Gerard,

This is Mary !!

With regards to the assign, I will bring my ass. I am attaching a screenshot. The % 16% is for words used in temp. Pls adv. coz idk. Shall give u hard copy ass tmr




Suggested First World Version 4

(Note: Words and punctuation in bold contribute to the intelligibility and niceness of the message)

Good morning Mr. Gerard,

This is Mary.

I am attaching a screenshot of t he SafeAssign report as there is a matching score of 16% for using words from the template. I appreciate your advice and feedback. I will give you the hard copy tomorrow for your reference.

Thank you for your time in reading this email.



Example 4 seems to disrespect the teacher and is unintelligible for the following three reasons. First, abbreviations such as ‘ass’ for ‘assignment’ gives the impression that the student is not concerned about the teacher’s opinion of her. The word “ass” is inappropriate and could be misinterpreted. Secondly, the lack of punctuation in ‘ Shall give u hard copy tmr’ may leave the teacher wondering if that sentence should end with a full stop or a question mark, which would change the meaning of the sentence. Thirdly, abbreviations like ‘adv’ are ambiguous. It could mean ‘advice’, ‘advantage’, ‘advance’ or something else. All these problematic areas hinder the accurate understanding of the message.


Turn on the automatic spell check option in the email software. This basic tool is available in most word processing software, which could be easily ignored by the eager technology-savvy generation. Example 4 above shows the necessity of the spell check function to correct spelling errors.


Using capital letters and words in bold unnecessarily should be avoided as it is usually considered as shouting in electronic messages. This may not seem polite, leading to misunderstanding of the sender’s message.

In example 5, the student may have capitalized and put in bold ‘ PLEASE CHECK ’ to show the need for urgency. This may be misinterpreted by the teacher as an impolite and unnecessary reminder to do her job.

Example 5

Dear Ms. Deborah,

Attached is my homework. I would appreciate if you could PLEASE CHECK.



Suggested First World Version 5

Do not capitalize and bold the phrase ‘please check’.


Students should use complete sentences when warranted in threaded discussions so that threaded responses are understood within the context of the discussion.[1],[4] Otherwise, it may frustrate the reader who has to decipher the meaning of sentences.

“… the discussions that were better written are the ones I chose to read them. If I saw that their writing didn’t make sense, or it was confusing I didn’t really comment on it. I didn’t want to be mean by writing to my peers and saying they don’t make sense. The threaded discussions that were better written in full sentences with complex language actually made sense. These are the coherent paragraphs I commented on.”

Quote from Veronica, a grade 11 student from an online discussion board, in Canada.[4]

Veronica’s online learning experience shows that students want to read messages that are complete and well organized. Therefore, in a virtual meeting place, clarity of message is of utmost importance for discussions.


What other issues may arise if messages are not proofread before posting? If time was spent crafting a message carefully, would it still be necessary to proofread the message? Why/why not?


Social connectedness prevails when people from different parts of the world communicate in a friendly and polite tone by using smiley faces, emoticons and pictures.[11] However, online participants may be prone to cross-cultural miscommunication, as identified in the NTUC assistant director’s case in the introduction.

Social niceness online creates a community of politeness emphasizing a feeling of cohesion and allowing freedom of expression. Online chats can enable higher order thinking process to be sustained for fruitful online discussions. Learning can occur without hindrance especially where ideas are negotiated. Can learners’ desire to negotiate foster sharing and caring about issues? Will emotions affect messages by jeopardizing the true meaning of the content? What should Singaporeans do to maintain first world integrity in the area of communicating in cyberspace?

Despite technology being the focus of the millennial generation of learners and users, it is the online users who need to be cautious and productive. A productive community of collaborators can be nurtured and motivated to sustain a socially acceptable online culture. Social niceness online is a human endeavour where technology can be de-emphasized to cultivate polite interactions in the 21st century communication.


1 Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based
environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

2 Durai, J. (October 8th, 2012). NTUC Assistant Director Sacked for Racist Remarks.
Th Straits Times, Singapore.

3 Swan, K. P., Richardson, J. C., Ice, P., Garrison, D. R., Cleveland-Innes, M. &
Arbaugh J. B. (2008). Validating a measurement tool of presence in online
communities of inquiry. e-Mentor, 2 (24).

4 Ayyavoo, G. R. (2013). Using Online Pedagogy to Explore Student Experiences of
Science-Technology-Society-Environment (STSE) Issues in a Secondary Science
Classroom. Ontario Institute for the Studies in Education/University of Toronto. Ontario, Canada.

5 Conrad, D. (2002). Inhibition, Integrity and Etiquette Among Online Learners: The
Art ofNiceness. Journal of Distance Education, 23(2), 197-212.

6 Ayyavoo, G. & Paniccia, R (2014, August). Lights, Camera, Action: Use of Video
Technology in The French (FSL) and Science Classrooms. Paper presented at
The annual meeting of the Malaysia International Conference on Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Penang, Malaysia.

7 Ayyavoo, G. & Paniccia, R (2013, August).Project-Based Professional Teacher Learning: The Teacher Learning Leadership Program (TLLP) In Ontario, Canada. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Advancing Teacher Education Conference, Washington DC.

8 Sing, C. C., & Khine, M. S. (2006). An Analysis of Interaction and Participation ` Patterns in Online Community. Educational Technology & Society, 9(1), 250-261.

9 Joel Bloch (2002) Student/teacher interaction via email: the social context of internet discourse. Journal of Second Language Writing, 11, 117-134.

10 Benjamin Kehrwald (2008): Understanding social presence in text‐based online learning environments, Distance Education, 29(1), 89-106.

11 Stornaiuolo, A., Hull, G. & Nelson, M. E. (2009). Mobile Texts and Migrant Audiences: Rethinking Literacy and Assessment in a New Media Age. Language Arts, 86(5), 382-392.


Annetha Ayyavoo with a Master’s degree in second language teaches English Language and Communication Skills in several universities in Singapore, including the National Institute of Education where she works closely with pre-service and in-service teachers. She also conducts Social Etiquette and Grooming workshops for adults. Her pedagogical background ranges from behavioural science, teacher education and physical education. With her involvement in the performing arts, she won the 1998 Best Model of the World title in Turkey. These experiences locally and abroad have contributed to her teaching strategies, enhancing her ability to adapt and acclimatize to students' needs.

Her goals are to promote students' intellectual development and sustain a friendly and conducive learning environment. She believes these will instill a desire for self-directed lifelong learning, both online and face-to-face.

Dr. Gabriel Roman Ayyavoo wears two hats with a teaching in both University and School Board. He is the Head of Science Department within the Toronto Catholic District School Board - Canada. As a adjunct lecturer at University of Toronto –Ontario Institute for studies in Education, Gabriel emphasizes use of handheld technology into Science education particularly in Biology courses. His PhD in science education at the University of Toronto/OISE focused on the cognitive presence in Science Technology Society Environment (STSE)-based online discussions.

Gabriel Ayyavoo’s teaching excellence has been lauded with numerous awards including, the Prime Minister of Canada's Teaching Excellence Award (2013), the National Biotechnology Canada Teaching Excellence Award (2006), Central Canada’s Outstanding Biology Teaching Award (2005), the North American Environmental Teaching Award (NABT, 2005), and in 2002 he was awarded the Sigma Xi University of Toronto Science Teacher Award.

His research interests are in blended learning (online and in-class) discussions in the sciences, social sciences and environmental education. Gabriel leads professional development teams with in-service teachers and pre-service teachers at Teachers’ Colleges and recently sponsored by Ontario Ministry of Education (with TLLP funds). Dr. Ayyavoo has spent over 20 years conducting professional development workshops at conferences in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Canada and United States of America.




We have all heard the saying, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.” That couldn’t be truer than in the work place where written communication can be a letter, a memo, an email, or even instant messaging the person in the next cubicle (you know you really should get up and walk over there.)

This saying can be applied to a phrase such as, “I love you.” Verbally, we can put emphasis on a certain word to appropriately convey the message we wish to send. But in written work, it is often left up to the reader to interpret the meaning of the phrase. For example, does the writer mean, “I love you,” “I love you,” or “I love you” ? Without emphasis, misunderstanding and confusion can result and communication is hindered. Remember, communication of any kind is not about considering our own needs; rather, it is about considering the needs of the receiver of the message in order to be effective.

Imagine your boss tells you she wants you to complete and submit some paperwork by the end of the day, and she sends you a brief email telling you what she wants. You read her email and aren’t exactly sure what she means by the way she has worded her message. Without her in front of you to tell you what she wants, you are confused and ask her for clarification. You send her an email back that says, “I am not sure what you want exactly--confused, I guess. Please explain. Thank you.” Rather than thinking you admit to being confused about this, she immediately writes back, “I am not confused at all, you must be the one who is confused…” and so there is a misunderstanding about your intended meaning, along with a few ruffled feathers with your boss.

Because English is the official language in most international business settings, it is important to understand some basic rules for conducting the business of writing in…well, business. The main forms of professional written communication are, as mentioned above, formal letters, memos, emails, IM messages, and even texts. In a global society and professional work force, it is more important than ever to make sure our message is read, understood, and, if necessary, clarified (although many people across cultures refuse to ask clarifying questions for fear of sounding unintelligent or unprepared).

Some of the many factors that might affect the intended meaning in our written communication include: word choice, sentence structure (complete sentences versus cryptic phrases), punctuation, and as in the “I love you” example, emphasizing certain words constructs meaning for the reader.

Take punctuation for instance. One of the most amusing examples of how words and meaning can be misinterpreted or misunderstood concerns the use of the comma in writing, and it goes like this:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.” [1]

So, the comma in this case changes everything. Without it, we would correctly understand that a panda eats shoots and leaves in its daily diet, as opposed to toting a gun and firing shots in the air after enjoying a meal at his local café, and then walking away.


1) How we intend to say something isn’t universally understood through our written communication because the emphasis we put on certain words in our face-to-face communication doesn’t easily transfer to our written communication.
2) Email is one of the most common and fastest forms of communication in the workplace today. It can also be one of the most ineffective or unintentional methods of conveying ideas that can be intended one way but received another way altogether.
3) Even punctuation can have an impact on intended as well as real meaning of our words in written communication. Not everyone understands the proper use of syntax in the workplace and misunderstandings can affect overall communication .


What can you do to ensure your written communication is clear and concise, reducing as much ambiguity as possible for the reader? Here are some considerations:


In letters, memos and office correspondence, we often have the time to edit our work and make any final changes before we send it to someone else. It is important to read over what we write—more than once—or have someone else read it. And we can’t rely on spell check to fix all the spelling problems because it may not find all of them, only those that are most obvious, which can leave the author embarrassed or looking careless if there are typos.

A good rule of thumb, particularly in today’s international work environment, is to say what you mean without a lot of unnecessary words, be as concise and unambiguous as you can be, and use examples and explanations when necessary. Get to the point in the beginning and stay on point throughout. This can be a challenge for native English speakers, as well as for those who are not.

Here are some tips to help improve communication in written documents:

1) Consider your audience—what do they know and what do they need to know?
2) Keep the reader’s best interests in mind—stress the positive, not the negative; avoid accusatory “you” statements such as, “You didn’t finish your part of the report, now it is late.” Reword the sentence to avoid creating defensiveness. “Even though the report is late, we all need to finish our respective parts and submit it as soon as possible.”
3) Always plan what you want to say and organize your ideas. Consider listing or discussing items from most important to least important.
4) Be accurate, clear, and professional—proofread your work, use precise terms and details (what specifically do you want?), use an active voice, be consistent with names and titles (and be accurate!), avoid unnecessary jargon with an external audience to avoid misunderstandings or needless questions; and particularly in international work settings, avoid slang and pop culture terms that someone might not understand or can misinterpret unintentionally.
5) Be concise—avoid needless words and phrases, eliminate “who is” and “that are” when explaining someone’s role (ex. write “Donna, the secretary” vs. “Donna, who is the secretary,”), be careful using gratuitous words such as “really”, “very,” “fantastic,” “best,” “absolutely,” “positively,” and so on; they are hard to prove.
6) Pay attention to the appearance—decide whether it should be written or typed, make sure it is laid out on the page so it is easy to read, choose the right size font (between 10 and 12 points in business writing), and avoid fancy or hard to read fonts. In other words, keep it professional looking and consistent throughout.[2]


1) Consider the audience
2) Keep the reader’s best interests in mind
3) Plan and organize ideas
4) Be accurate, clear and professional
5) Avoid needless words and phrases—be concise
6) Pay attention to the overall appearance of written communication


Includes instant messaging, social media sites, and texting. It is easy to communicate across many channels these days, and along with that convenience comes the inconvenience of trying to interpret some of the messages we receive in haste—not just from our friends, but our colleagues as well.

Too few people consider grammar, punctuation, capitalization, sentence structure, and so on, in a text, which can lead to unprofessional communication, or at the very least, misunderstanding. For example, if your cell phone’s auto-correct changes a word, you could be quite embarrassed if you don’t double-check the accuracy of your message. Are you really in that much of hurry to text your boss or client before checking to see that the correct message is about to disappear from your grip forever? And, remember, what is posted on online social media sites is also gone forever, and you can’t get it back.


1) When using instant messaging, pay attention to syntax and word choice even when communication is informal. Make sure communication is clear and concise.
2) Be careful what you post to social media sites. You might think last weekend’s wild office party should be shared with your “friends” on social media, but your boss might not agree.
3) When texting, proofread and edit yourself so you communicate the messages you intend, rather than risking potential misunderstandings. Perception is everything.


Many executives and professionals receive hundreds of emails daily or weekly—really. In order to have your email message received positively, and more importantly, to be read in the first place, consider the following tips when writing an email:

1) Put the topic of e-mail in the subject line.
2) Avoid “cc” and “bcc” unnecessarily; at least be ethical about using them.
3) Put a person’s name in the salutation, not just in the text of the message (e.g., Good Morning Diane:).
4) Be clear and concise with the reason for your e-mail. Avoid wordiness and ambiguity whenever possible, just like you would in any other written communication.
5) Avoid sending lengthy attachments; consider sending relevant excerpts of written materials instead.
6) Always sign the e-mail with your first and last name if the recipient doesn’t know you well. Consider an automatic signature line with full contact information, much like a business card would have on it.
7) Share gratitude for any assistance offered by someone else, a department’s contributions, etc. Don't take all the glory when others were involved.
8) Acknowledge receipt of an e-mail rather than leaving the recipient to wonder if you got it (e.g., “Got it,” “Thanks!” or something similar is enough to let them know). This communicates with them immediately and can be followed up later.
9) Double-check the address list. Make sure you don’t send a message to the wrong person/people.
10) If it takes too long to write an e-mail to make a point, use the phone. Or, walk to your colleague’s office or cubicle and have a conversation; much more can be accomplished with personal, two-way communication.


Taking the time to learn email etiquette and content considerations will help you get the right message across in a professional and efficient manner. As a general rule, always proofread and edit your messages before hitting the “send” button.


Communication of any kind is a two-way street. The sender and receiver of information must both do their jobs to ensure effective communication takes place in today’s global work environment. It is no longer possible to walk into someone’s office or call him or her on the phone when we want to conduct business. Busy schedules, time constraints, a global office environment, and the rapidly changing technology that enables millions of professionals around the world, and in Singapore, to communicate their thoughts, opinions, and ideas within a moment’s time, must rely heavily on effective written communication skills when face-to-face communication isn’t possible.

The skills discussed in this chapter are not all-inclusive, but they will help most of us be more successful and more confident in our written work, regardless of our cultural, educational, or professional backgrounds. These basic principles to help improve written communication skills, regardless of the channel we use, can go a long way to ensure that the messages we send are received as we intended.


1 Adler, R.B., Elmhorst, J., & Lucas, K.,Communicating at Work, 11th Ed., Publisher: McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.

2 Truss, L. Eats, Shoots and Leaves. 2003. Penguin Group Publisher. New York, NY.







CarAA moves sluggishly along the extreme right lane of the expressway. At 85 kph, it is travelling slightly below the allowed speed limit of the expressway at 90 kph. The driver and his front passenger are hooked to their radio playing their morning musical favourites, oblivious to the surrounding traffic, causing a slowdown to the entire lane. Two minutes on, an ambulance is flashing its emergency lights and blaring its horn behind this vehicle to allow it to pass. An injured person from an earlier accident needs to be rushed to hospital soonest. Not getting its way, the ambulance has to swerve left to cut past this vehicle.

CarBB, a sporty model, swerves in and out of traffic along another busy expressway, trying to get to the front of traffic in the busy rush hour. Some other vehicles have to brake hard to avoid a collision tooting their horns in annoyance. Some motorcyclists have to swerve out of their usual “line-riding” to also avoid being hit by this reckless vehicle; again tooting their weaker horns in retaliation. One can feel the thundery sound waves coming from the base music from CarBB.

PedestrianAA is strolling with her 4-year-old son along a footpath outside her condominium. Suddenly, a cyclist rings his bell loudly from behind demanding the pair move out of his path. PedestrianAA pulls her son to her side just in time to have the bicycle brush past his schoolbag. She yells at the cyclist for being rash. He rides off in disregard, ringing his bell as he gets his way round the footpath.

A group of pedestrians, 4 of them, are walking astride a bicycle path chatting away as loud as they like, apparently enjoying the day of friendship together. Out of the blue, 3 cyclists come charging at the group, with the front cyclist shouting, “Get out of the way, Get out of the way”. The 4 broke ways, 2 on each side of the path, surprised and disgruntled. One of them utters, “What the heck are these cyclists doing?”

It’s twenty past midnight when most people are in bed. Suddenly a car roars down the road with engine blaring like those of racing cars. An hour later, a motorcycle roars down the same road with engine blaring like those of racing bikes.


The above scenarios sound and look familiar? Has it happened to you? Have you seen it? Are you doing it? Though not happening every minute, they often occur along pedestrian walkways and cyclist lanes, and roads or expressways. The questions to ask are: What is happening to today’s people, cyclists, motorcyclists and motorists? What is with walking, cycling, riding and driving these days? What is with vehicle inspection today?


1. Cyclists riding on pedestrian walkways
2. Pedestrians walking on designated cyclist lanes
3. Road hogging on expressways
4. Driving recklessly
5. Driving noisily without regard for others


Each group above has the belief in having the right of way as paths or lanes are designated for them. I am walking with my friends on the footpath or pedestrian walkway meant for us; why should I share this with others? I rang my bell before cycling through the walkway, pedestrian should give way to me; slow driver should keep to the left lane, and not keeping a large gap from the front vehicle; I am on the outermost lane, I cannot move aside, other drivers in the middle lanes should give way to the ambulance.


Perhaps, the greatest undesirable behaviour of people is their lack of awareness of the presence of others. They often consider their own acts as acceptable without understanding the impact on others: The extreme lane is often free from vehicles; Some motorists drive too slowly; We are gathering here for a walk and chat; I am cycling on the footpath to work because the road is too dangerous for cycling; I have to run my sports car over 100 kph because it is designed for that, failing which the engine will not work well.


Car and motorcycle racing, named grand prix, among enthusiasts have come a long way to entertain the public as well. What such enthusiasts need are speed thrills and noise stimulation. What is happening is that such people have carried themselves too far considering the normal roads for racing their sport bikes and cars. If they put their minds to it, they would realize that road conditions are not suitable for racing. But given their enthusiasm and egged on by peers and a tendency to show-off, racing their sport cars on roads is a common event. This is done oblivious to the public, often resulting in terrible accidents.


On a small island like Singapore, land space is precious, increasing the population increases crowding, decreasing personal space, be it a person, a bicycle, a motorcycle, or a car. If a lane or path cannot be created for each group, then sharing is necessary, between pedestrians and cyclists, and between motorcycles and cars. Unfortunately, such sharing is not taking place amicably. The interesting thing about local people and vehicles alike is that giving way to others means speeding up, then give way.


Together with the ramps created at every concrete path for people on wheelchairs, cycling unrestricted becomes a possibility with unlimited connections to places. Together with overhead shelters, connecting buildings makes it even more tempting to cycle through them as well!


1. Be considerate of other road/lane users and pedestrians
2. Share the lane; better still, have a lane each.
3. Drive within speed limit with concern for other motorists
4. Keep your vehicle tuned to safe and quiet mode
5. Use your form of transport strictly for transportation
6. Stick to racing circuits for sports vehicles
7. The social media is abound with information and comments on the topic of driving and bicycling behaviours in Singapore.


Dr Foo Koong Hean is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer with James Cook University. He is also Senior Consultant Psychologist at The School of Positive Psychology, Singapore. He holds a PhD in Psychology and a Post-graduate Diploma in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. He has extensive experience in practicing psychotherapy with individuals and groups, and has run a childcare centre in Singapore. He is currently practising online therapy: HTTPS://WWW.HEALTHYMINDONLINE.COM/DOCTOR/DETAIL/221





GB1 was nine years old when dad passed away. His elder brother was in secondary one then, and younger brother was only five years old. His sister was still very young. Overnight, his 30-year-old mother became a widow with four young children, and the family was plunged into poverty. He remembered that none of his relatives and parent’s friends were willingly to assist them financially during that period. A lot of relatives and friends including his grandmother were avoiding them.

GB1 recalled that after his grandfather passed away, grandmother had to look after her many sons and daughters left behind. In the early stages, GB1's father regularly provided monies to support grandmother and her family members as they were unable to meet daily needs.

GB1’s family even moved into his grandmother’s house at her request citing that her children staying with her were able to look after themselves. Unfortunately, in less than three months, GB1’s family was pressured to leave. His grandmother and his mother’s sisters had “ganged” up to force them out of the house.

In the next few years, GB1’s family moved from one rented place to another, and finally managed to apply for a one-and-half room Housing Development Board (Public Housing) flat in Toa Payoh town. Not many of his close relatives and friends that his parent socialized with previously came to visit them. However, he remembered those neighbours who had given them food and incidentals regularly, and assisted them in their daily needs. For nine years, his mother managed to earn enough as a seamstress to provide GB1’s brothers and sister with their daily needs, and some pocket money to go to school.


What are the various kinship systems in the circle of parents, relatives and friends? In what ways were people behaving toward one another?


1. Kinship system of parents
2. Kinship system of relatives
3. Kinship system of friends

Singapore has attempted to promote a national identity since its independence in 1965.[1] The concepts of group, harmony and mutual security are more important than that of individual.[2] The family is the core of the social structure in Singapore that emphasizes unity, loyalty and respect for the elderly.[3] The term “family” generally includes family members, relatives and close friends.[4] Respect for elderly and seeing family as the place one goes to for support.[5]

The group behaviour we see in GB1’s case may take place in many forms in Singapore. This group behaviour happened to a typical family, but we can see other forms of behaviour in term of kinship interests[2] in Singapore.

Let’s look into three different group behaviours in terms of kinship systems.[3]


As we saw in the scenario at the beginning of this chapter, the kinship systems among parents, children and significant others could take many forms. Have you come across families disunited by relational boundaries among family members, with clearly defined ties?

The grandmother and aunts of GB1 did not reflect to protect and enhance their family kinship interests after GB1’s father passed away. When GB1’s family moved into his grandmother’s house, assuming the collectivistic nature and parental favouritism could have showered over GB1’s mother being the eldest in the family, and in addition, she had lost her husband, but, the opposite happened. It seemed that GB1’s grandmother was concerned and stressed about her obligations to provide some form of financial support to her eldest daughter and her children in the long run even as GB1’s mother did not asked for it.

The issue of money in many Singapore families seems to create enormous forces in the society that resulted in many unacceptable behaviours toward one another.

As another example, GB2 had borrowed some money from a family member citing that he felt uncomfortable being around the person who loaned him money. He also noted that it was also uncomfortable to be around other family members who knew about the loan. He advocated that no one wanted to talk about the loan or about money, or even about anything that involved money, because people might wonder why some loans were not repaid. Others had even resolved to litigation against one another (brothers and sisters) in claims on their parents’ properties.

When GB1 was studying overseas, he needed some additional financial support to cope with his school’s fees. He approached his elder brother through overseas call and immediately without hesitation, his elder brother transferred some money to GB1’s account.

In a society like Singapore, would family members sacrifice themselves for the benefits of the family or society due to a particular social group behaviour?


Have you witnessed how family members manage the kinship’s behaviour when dealing with money issues? If so, what are the group behaviours of the family members?


People are constantly reassessing their relationships with other people who demand but never give. It may be hard to acknowledge the number of times we need to do this in Singapore, but we set boundaries in our relationships with relatives.

In the earlier case, we saw that GB1’s relatives refused to give a helping hand to his family members when his father passed away. After the funeral, each of his relatives tried avoiding them, considering that GB1’s family would be needing money to make ends meet for quite a while. Many of the so-called “closed” relatives from his father’s side refused to visit them regularly, and not even a phone called to say “hi”. GB1’s mother had never ever thought of borrowing monies from the relatives as she had some saving while her husband was still alive.

The kinship group behaviour among relatives seems to take different forms when money was concerned as can be seen from the case. In a society like Singapore, do we dedicate our behaviour with relatives accordingly to the needs of money?

When GB1 got married, both he and his wife decided to purchase an old four-room flat in Toa Payoh Central to start a family. However, they were short of about $20,000 to purchase the flat. His wife approached one of her relatives for a loan in purchasing the flat, and promised to return the loan at an unspecified date. Without any hesitation, his wife’s relative immediately gave them the loan.

In other cases, many grandparents in Singapore who lived alone were succumbing to the effects of age. Ideally, one member of the family (uncles or aunts) would step out with a plan of pooling resources together to take care of their parents, such as engaging a domestic helper, or taking turns to attend to the grandparents’ daily needs by housing them in their own homes or visiting them regularly. However, many unexpected behaviour turned out with relatives shunning their responsibility, citing a lack of time, money or resources (i.e., no spare rooms to house grandparents) as excuses, thus diverting the responsibility to relatives, reflecting well their self-centeredness.

After one’s parents and siblings, the immediate next-of-kin are close relatives, whose ties should be closer than that of friends. Yet, some relatives often harbour personal agendas and take advantage of family ties to fulfil their self-interests whenever opportunities arise. Hence, these relatives are often perceived to be self-centred. Fulfilling the needs and interests of their spouses and their own children would be their utmost priority. They generally treat the needs of their parents (in this case the grandparents) or other members of the extended family as secondary.


What are your experiences with relatives when you need some form of assistance from them? How will you behave to one another as relatives?


It is important for people to have friends because everyone needs others from time to time. They are usually the people that one can count on in times of need, or be there to share the joy. A true friendship means that both parties do not judge but accept each other’s flaws, and are willing to sacrifice one’s interests, and always be there for you. Nevertheless, that was not the case as discussed earlier.

GB1 remembered that his father was rather helpful and caring toward his friends. He recalled when one of his father’s friends was seriously ill and was unable to manage a retail shop, his father volunteered to help without any compensation for a couple of days, and in spite his own shop’s businesses.

In another case, GB1 recalled that when one his neighbourhood friend’s father passed away, they were so poor that they could not afford to buy a coffin the deceased. GB1’s family came to know about it, and raised enough money such that his friend’s family was able to have a proper funeral.

A friend whom you have not contacted for a long time, suddenly approaches you because he is in need of cash. Questions would be raised immediately regarding the person’s purpose for the money, and the duration of his repayment. However, it would be a totally different reaction if the person happened to be a close friend. The cash would be loaned to him without further hesitation, because of mutual respect and trust. This is a clear example of how people treat others differently, based on the standards of friendship.

Many Singaporeans are apparently introverts. Unless they are in a situation whereby it requires them to make new friends, they are very unwilling to step out of their comfort zone to do so.

Regardless of any situation or condition, it is very common to find Singaporeans forming their own familiar groups and cliques instead of mingling around with others. They only feel comfortable interacting with their friends, while neglecting others. This typical conduct is often seen as unsociable behaviour and it is most likely to form negative impressions of themselves.


Have you witnessed how your friends manage the kinship’s behaviour when dealing with money issues? If so, what are the group behaviours as friends?


The group behaviours in various kinship systems depicted a collectivistic nature of protecting and enhancing their private kinship interests that accrue to particular social systems as a whole.[6]

1. Singaporeans do take into account other members of the families, relatives and friends when making decisions.
2. Singaporeans are more motivated towards achieving the goals of the (extended) families or groups that they are affiliated with than of individual self-fulfilment.
3. Their values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations legitimize the existence of various group behaviours and their modes of functioning, as well as the patterns of behaviour members towards social units with close interaction.


1 Lee, K .Y. (2000). The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Vol. 2: From Third World to First, 1965-2000. Singapore: Times Media Private Limited.

2 Lim, B. Y. (1997). Board Involvement and Organisational Performance: A Study of Overseas Chinese Incorporated Firms in
Singapore. Unpublished PhD Thesis. Faculty of Business, Economics and Law. University of Queensland, Australia.

3 Lim, B.Y. (2014). Conceptualization of board involvement in privately incorporated Chinese firms. International Journal of Management and Organisational Studies, 3(4), 16-23 (Refereed).

4 Lim, B.Y. (2015). Cultural values as institutional forces in shaping board involvement. Asian Journal of Social Sciences and Management Studies, 2(1), 17-20 (Refereed).

5 Redding, S.G. (1990). The Spirit of Chinese Capitalism. New York: de Gruyter.

6 Hofstede, G., (2003). Cultures and Organizations Intercultural Cooperation and Its Importance for Survival Software of Mined. London: Profile Books Ltd.


Dr Lim Boon Yeow was born in Singapore in 1960. He received his MBA (General Business Administration) from the University of Hull in 1992 and a PhD (Management – Organizational Psychology) from the University of Queensland in 1997 under the University of Queensland Postgraduate Research Scholarship. He was the Founder and Group Executive Chairman for seven companies in both Singapore and Malaysia from 1998 to 2010. He was also the honorary adviser to a division in the Ministry of Commerce, People Republic of China from 2008 to 2010.

At present, he is serving as a Professor of Business with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (United States of America) cum Project Adviser to the Asia campus where he joined in 2012. He publishes quite widely and his papers have been accepted by many journals and conferences. His research interests focus on corporate governance paradigm: Agency theory, Dependence theory, Transaction Cost Economics theory, Stakeholder-Agency theory, Instrumental Stakeholder theory, Traditional Stewardship theory, Corporate Social Performance theory, Corporate Social Responsibility theory, Integrative Social Contract theory, Modern Stewardship theory, Resource-Based theory, and Normative Stakeholder.





Singapore, a little red dot at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, is blessed with a multicultural, multiethnic and multinational make-up. Some have said that Singapore is a melting pot, a mix of different cultures and religions blending together to exude a heady and intoxicating mix of delicacies and customs. Some liken Singapore to a salad bowl, a smorgasbord of numerous festivals, celebrations and cuisines that are both separate and distinct. It is situated strategically where people from almost all over the gather to work and to celebrate.

When people from diverse cultures and backgrounds gather and stand shoulder to shoulder on this tiny red dot, many interesting observations can be made. For instance, people often wonder why Singaporeans hurt themselves over a plush toy called ‘Hello Kitty’.[1] Why would grown-ups, sane and educated, stay in line under the hot sun and in the rain for many hours for a small furry toy? People have often been perplexed by this fear of losing out or ‘Kiasu’ behaviour of Singaporeans.[2] They often ask themselves why its people behave contrary to their first world status. But is Singapore the only first world nation whose people behave this way? Within these pages, the reader will discover that ‘Kiasuism’ is unabashedly not Singaporean, that is, it transcends the shores of Singapore.


Today, Singaporeans find that they are surrounded by close to 2 million foreign workers and talents.[3] It was not as pronounced back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s where the population of citizens then was more sizeable. Foreign workers and talents had yet to be encouraged to enter this nation in swarms. Any bad habits exhibited back then in Singapore were thought to be from its citizens. The government in 1979, knowing the impact these bad habits could have on foreigners’ perception of this Garden City, embarked on its first campaign.[4] Subsequent ones, such as the 1993 National Courtesy Campaign helped to spruce this image up. Its slogan “If we could only see ourselves sometimes” was a desperate attempt to rid its citizens of the ‘Kiasu’ spirit.[2] It was an intense time of government propaganda exhorting its people to free themselves of this ‘ugly creature’ that could turn tourists and workers away. It was a time of both economic as well as nation building, and anything that could jeopardise this was religiously exorcised from the Singaporean psyche.[5]


According to the Australian Macquarie dictionary, ‘Kiasuism’ can be defined as a negative fixation to obtain maximum value for money, and at times even something for nothing.[2] This is a national preoccupation in Singapore that some have attributed to being the reason for that nation’s success. At the most fundamental level, kiasuism is about being over competitive. It is about being motivated and driven to excel at what one is doing. On the other hand, it can also be about greed and selfishness.[2] More often than not, people label ‘Kiasuism’ as a negative human behaviour that stresses the need to excel at all cost, even to the extent of alienating friends and loved ones.


Speak with any Singaporean today, and they will explain to you that being 'Kiasu' is a national trait. Despite repeated attempts to vanquish it, the 'Kiasu’ spirit or being afraid of losing out, is very much alive and well in Singapore.[2] It can manifest itself as the office worker, who sabotages a colleague by deliberately losing a completed report so that the colleague would get into trouble, and the saboteur would be in his boss’ good books, thus securing his job. Or it is about the student, while in the library, spying the last available copy of the text he needs, proceeding to squirrel it away behind books on the shelf, hiding it from others’ view with the intention of depriving others from gaining access to it. These are just some examples of negative ‘Kiasu’ attitudes of envy and selfishness, where one prevents another from being ahead possibly becoming overly aggressive.[6]


Kiasuism can also motivate one to be ahead of others without the intention of depriving them. An example is when individuals, using a soft-drink dispensing machine, fill their cups up to the brim. Some have been known to, while still being at the machine, take a gulp of the soft-drink and then proceed to fill it up to the brim a second time before reluctantly returning to their tables. This behaviour can also be seen at buffet queues where individuals would pack their plates to the brim with the most expensive items. Expensive items are believed to be “good” items. They would rush to get their 'share' and immediately vacuum the serving dish of its content when waiters refill them. Even airline cutlery is not spared from being removed from aircrafts.[2] The intention in these behaviours was probably to get the most value for their money, and not to prevent others from having more, which is only unintentional if it happens. This positive ‘Kiasu’ attitude also allows students to be ahead of others. This motivator propels students to put in extra effort in their work by searching for library resources beyond what is expected of them with the intention of being ahead.[7] This competitive ‘Kiasu’ spirit can lead to success in some situations.[6]


Did ‘Kiasuism’ originate from Singapore? Or would it be more appropriate to note that it is a learned behaviour? It has been suggested that Singaporeans’ propensity to exhibit ‘Kiasu’ tendencies is the result of its early immigrant roots.[8] Singaporeans being “descendants of migrant coolies, traders and merchants, and never the cultured scholar class, are obvious delegates for boorish, kiasu behaviour”.[2] In other words, these early settlers who were from the lower crust were mostly uneducated. They were the riff raff of society. In order to survive, they had to be rude, and they had to fight. These negative behaviours would have been passed down generations. If this is so, then being descendants of such immigrants would only prove that it is a learned behaviour, which is a common human tendency, brought into Singapore by immigrants from other parts of the world. Would not ‘Kiasuism’ then, be found in other societies too?

Taking a cue from the definition of ‘Kiasuism’ as having an over competitive nature,[9] it can then be inferred that other nationalities would have this form of 'Kiasuism'. They may not call it ‘Kiasuism’ but it does not mean it cannot be found in other countries. In Russia, the term 'zhlobstvo' describes people who are rude and greedy.[10] In Hong Kong, it is known as 'Par Chup Sue' (scared to lose out).[11] It also rears its ugly head in the United States[6] as well as Australia.[2] Therefore, ‘Kiasuism’ is a natural learned behaviour which can be found in many parts of the world regardless of social settings and cultural backgrounds.[2]


How then can an individual unlearn this behaviour? On another note, wouldn't these same attributes that have caused us to be viewed as being "uncouth and boorish" be the same attributes that have caused Singapore to prosper? If so, should Singaporeans unlearn this behaviour and stop being ‘Kiasu’?


A study between Singaporean and Australian students’ responses to ten common scenarios, will substantiate the idea that ‘Kiasuism’ is not just a Singaporean trait but possibly an international one that is learned.[2] Table 1 shows the perceived ‘Kiasu’ tendency of Singaporean and Australian undergraduates, from their responses to ten scenarios and Table 2 shows the means of Singaporeans' and Australians' ‘Kiasu’ tendency.

Table 1. Perceived kiasu tendency of Singaporeans and Australians[2]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Note. NS = No Significance.

Table 2. T-test for independent samples: Australians versus Singaporeans[2]

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

From A preliminary study of kiasu behaviour – is it unique to Singapore? By J.T.S. Ho, C. E. Ang, J. Loh, and I. Ng, 1998, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 13 (5/6), pp. 359-370.

Three significant differences in behaviour in Table 1 (i.e., rushing for train/bus seats, reserving library seats and studying before the commencement of the semester) show the prevalence of these behaviours among Singaporean students compared with Australian students. These behaviours in Singapore show the desire for academic excellence and the necessity to be overly competitive to achieve top grades.[2] In fact, another study shows that the number of Singaporean students who took up tuition almost doubled within a decade from the early 1980s.[2] In addition, some parents volunteered their services in churches affiliated to good schools to ensure a place for their children there. Others, through their monetary donation, got their children into prestigious schools.[2]

However, from Table 1 again, results of the seven other ‘Kiasu’ tendencies indicate that there are no significant differences between ‘Kiasu’ behaviours of Singaporean and Australian students. In addition, the means of the two groups’ ‘Kiasu’ tendency in Table 2 (Australia = 2.76; Singapore = 2.46) also show that there are no significant differences, though there may be some present to varying degrees, between Singaporean and Australian students justifying the idea once again that ‘Kiasuism’ is probably a learned human behaviour found in societieThree significant differences s other than Singapore.[2]

In a 1980 study of 50 national cultures by Hofstede, Australia topped the list in being the country with the closest culture to the United States.[6] It is understood that identical ‘Kiasu’ tendencies can be expected from closely related cultures.[6] Therefore, it can be anticipated that students in the United States may portray similar kiasu tendencies to Australian students.[6]

But is any good guaranteed from ‘Kiasu’ behaviour? Two studies present contradicting results. In a 2007 study on students in the United States by Kirby and Ross, a significant positive relationship between ‘Kiasu’ tendency and academic performance was seen.[6] However, according to a 1998 study by Ho et al., ‘Kiasuism’ does not ensure academic success.[2] This only goes to show that there is no assurance of success from ‘Kiasu’ behaviour.


So why then do students still exhibit these tendencies when success in academia is not guaranteed? Could it be possible that parents play an influential role in their children’s ‘Kiasu’ behaviour?


Why is Singapore the only country closely, or rather solely, associated with ‘Kiasuism’ when it is found in other parts of the world? Whether ‘Kiasuism’ is a self-preservation instinct, a non-satisfaction of human desires or an extreme desire to win, it exists everywhere.[2],[6]

The 1993 and 1994 Singapore Courtesy Campaigns were successful in minimizing ‘Kiasu’ behaviour.[4] 15 years later, in 2009, the Graciousness Index was established to measure the level of graciousness in Singapore. In 2012, this index was 61 and in 2013, it was 53, the lowest since 2009. This means that Singaporeans are less gracious now.[4] If the influx of foreign workers and talents contributed to a less gracious Singapore, it could imply that foreign workers and talents, some of whom are from First World Nations, have contributed to a less gracious society. With the citizens of Singapore being a collection of people from many different countries and races who do not look very different from some of the foreign workers and talents, it is definitely difficult to distinguish a local from a foreigner. So how would one be able to ascertain if the person showing ‘Kiasu’ tendencies is a local or a foreigner? In this case, can anyone say that Singapore is the only First World Nation that needs to work on its First Class Behaviours?

Kiasu people, who have no qualms in taking advantage of others, can be found in many parts of the world.[2] So, societies should determine what constitutes undesirable behaviour so that individuals can recognize their negative ‘Kiasu’ behaviour. Then societies at large should agree to eradicate these behaviours, possibly across countries, through education.

In conclusion, ‘Kiasuism’ has been shown to be a universally learned behaviour and to say that it only occurs in Singapore is unjustified. Maybe, Singapore should be ‘Kiasu’ and take the lead in this exercise to help other nations tailor programs to identify and eradicate undesirable ‘Kiasu’ behaviours through educational programs.


1 Chong, C. K. (2000, January 14). Seven hurt in rush for Hello Kitty toys. The Straits Times.

2 Ho, J. T. S., Ang, C. E., Loh, J. & Ng, I. (1998). A preliminary study of kiasu behaviour – is it unique to Singapore? Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 13 (5/6), 359-370.

3 Department of Statistics Singapore (Nov 7th, 2013). Population and land area. Latest Data. Retrieved from latest_data.html#14.

4 Tan, H. Y. (June 28th, 1995). Success in previous campaigns. The Straits Times, Singapore.

5 Clements, Q. (1999). A gracious society: The engineering of a new national goal in Singapore. History and Anthropology, 11(2-3), 257-289, DOI: 10.1080/02757206.1999.9960915

6 Kirby, E. G. & Ross, J. K. (2007). Kiasu tendency and tactics: A study of their impact on task performance. Journal of Behavioural and Applied Management, 8(2), 108-121.

7 Hwang, A. (2003). Adventure learning: Competitiveness (Kiasu) attitudes and teamwork. Journal of Management Development, 22(7/8), 562-578.

8 Koh, B. S. (December 25th, 1995). S-League is a good way to eradicate the Kiasu behaviour. The Straits Times, Singapore.

9 Kirby, E. G., Kirby, S. L., Bell, J. D. & Schafer, C. (2010). Exploring the factors affecting the use of Kiasu tactics. Journal of Behavioural and Applied Management, 11(3), 249-262.

10 Sherstyuk, J. (n.d.). Kiasu: Singaporean by origin, global in meaning. Meridian 103. Retrieved from

11 Foo, C. P. (1991). For every Kiasu Singaporean there is a Par Chup Sue Hongkonger. The Straits Times, Singapore.


Annetha Ayyavoo teaches English Language and Communication Skills in several universities in Singapore, including the National Institute of Education where she works closely with pre-service and in-service teachers. She also conducts Social Etiquette and Grooming workshops for adults. Her pedagogical background ranges from behavioural science, teacher education and physical education. With her involvement in the performing arts, she won the 1998 Best Model of the World title in Turkey. These experiences locally and abroad have contributed to her teaching strategies, enhancing her ability to adapt and acclimatize to students' needs.

Her goals are to promote students' intellectual development and sustain a friendly and conducive learning environment. She believes these will instil a desire for self-directed lifelong learning, both online and face-to-face.

Mr Brandon Tennakoon has had a varied work experience which has enabled him to bring this experience into the lessons that he teaches.
He has worked in the broadcast industry as a video editor and broadcast product specialist as well as in the education industry moulding the minds of young people.
His interest in technology and his past work experience has enabled him to create an engaging learning environment for his students. These experiences have also equipped him with his administrative duties. He has also taught soft skills and IT related topics to both students and adults.




In a multicultural society such as Singapore, there are many rules, or norms, that guide each employee in the professional workplace. Some of these rules are established by the individual’s culture and others are established by the work culture, but cultural traditions and customs vary greatly amid the diverse workforce in Singapore. These differences can affect behaviours and attitudes in the office environment, and, ultimately, the professional relationships within, and functions of, a team or project group.

Imagine you are a new employee at one of the major companies in Singapore. You have just arrived from Shanghai and find that your supervisor and fellow employees are from cultures very different from your own. They represent the United States and Europe, the Middle East, as well as other Asian countries. Each of you has your own personal and professional cultural views and you have to find common ground among your individual, unique perspectives in order to function efficiently and successfully on a major work project you have been assigned. Differences among group members often arise, and all of you must find a way to help the group move toward its goals and ensure all members feel their ideas are valued, they are a part of the group’s overall success, and they begin to function as an interdependent team rather than just a group of individuals with a job to do.

Some of the differences that arise in your group include views on work distribution, ethics, communication, leadership roles, and time; group members see not only their role in the group, but also how they view the roles and behaviours of fellow group members. These differences adversely affect the outcomes of the group because members fail to see the benefits of another’s cultural perspective, and the group fails to reach consensus. Or, perhaps the group conforms too easily to the perspective of a few members, and groupthink results, whereby members limit their thinking to only a few ideas and fail to consider options that might make the project more successful. What type of member will you be? Will you try to influence the group to think that your ideas and your norms are superior to everyone else’s? Or will you conform to the ideas and norms of the most outspoken members and fail to contribute your own ideas to the project’s success, resulting in personal disappointment or an inferior outcome?

Regardless of our position within a company, we all have potentially great ideas we can contribute to the overall success of the organization and its work. A collaborative work environment and an understanding of diversity and cultural differences within the workplace encourage this type of civil discourse and exchange of ideas.


1. Different cultural norms can result in workplace communication problems and frustrations and create a non-collaborative, and perhaps non-productive, work environment.
2. Often in the multicultural work environment, there is a perceived or even evident misunderstanding and lack of acceptance of diverse opinions and ideas. As a result, not all key group or team members feel their ideas are being heard and valued by superiors and colleagues.
3. Conformity, whether through cultural influence, groupthink or compromise, risks ignoring better, sometimes more efficient and creative ways of completing a task or project, which can negatively impact a group’s or team’s success.

Every office employee has a cultural lens through which they view the office environment, co-workers, and their own contributions to the company’s success. Without our own cultural lens, in fact, we would not be able to define ourselves as individuals and understand how we view others within our larger culture much less the workplace sub-cultures or co-cultures we identify with on a daily basis.

But the consequence of viewing life through one cultural lens is that we fail to notice the other lenses that are out there—we become content and complacent. We can open up any newspaper, turn on the TV, or go online to find cultural insensitivity, bias, and single-mindedness based on cultural differences—religious, political, gender, age—it is everywhere, in every society, and these places are becoming less and less remote all the time, particularly in today’s global office setting.

Dealing with cultural differences in a global work environment is not always easy. In addition to some of the problems your group is facing, as mentioned above, race, gender, and regional differences are also bound to exist in Singapore’s diverse office environment. It is essential to learn about different cultures, view diversity as an opportunity, and talk about differences so they can be understood and respected (Adler, et al., 2012).[1] Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned the people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”[2]

Discussing how cultural awareness and embracing diversity can impact desirable office behaviours relates to a story about a frog that was born in a small, circular well, similar to the kind found on a typical rural farm. He lived with his family there, and he was content to play in the water, swimming around that little well. He thought, “Life doesn’t get any better than this; I have all that I need.”

But, one day he looked up and noticed a light at the top of the well. The little frog became curious, wondering what was up there. He slowly climbed up the side of the well. When he got to the top, he cautiously peered over the edge. Lo and behold, the first thing he saw was a pond. He could not believe it. It was a thousand times bigger than the well (and the creatures living there were like none he had ever seen). He ventured farther and discovered a huge lake (and even more creatures living there in harmony). He stood there in amazement.

Eventually, the little frog hopped a long way and came to the ocean, where everywhere he looked, all he could see was water. He was shocked beyond measure at the life that existed there. He began to realize how limited his thinking had been. He thought he had it all back in the well, but all he really had was a drop in the bucket compared to what the rest of the world had to offer.[3]

So many times, we are like that little frog; we have been enclosed in our own little well, our own culture. It’s a comfortable environment; it is how we were raised or perhaps a certain way of thinking.

But we need to be more like the little frog because there are oceans of culture and diversity in the world around us, and most certainly among Singapore’s professional workforce. And, as our world gets seemingly smaller and closer to us, it will be absolutely necessary for each of us to get out of our comfort zone and explore all the cultures and look through all the different lenses that make this world great. Think about it, once we accept and understand the benefits of diversity within our office environments, then we can truly begin to capitalize on the immense resources every person in the office is able to contribute. The end result is that a group of individuals with their own objectives becomes a collaborative team of colleagues who share a common goal and who are more likely to reach that goal because of this acceptance and understanding.


1. Keeping an open mind to the various cultural norms that drive behaviours and attitudes of a culturally diverse work force leads to better understanding and acceptance of cultural differences and the important role they can play in business. The result is a more collaborative and positive work environment—employees may have different perspectives about how to reach goals, but different perspectives can bring better outcomes.
2. There is an ever present need to understand and accommodate diverse opinions and ideas in a multicultural work environment to ensure all employees feel they are understood and valued by superiors and colleagues. When we leave our own comfort zones and keep open minds to other opinions and ideas, we communicate a true willingness to succeed together, regardless of the task or project.
3. Once cultural differences and diverse opinions are understood and accepted, conformity through groupthink and compromise is replaced with cooperative idea sharing and effective strategies and methods for achieving group outcomes. Cohesiveness is the result, creating a co-culture of trust where ideas and strategies can be shared openly, leading to greater group or team success.


1 Adler…Communicating at Work.11th Ed. McGraw-Hill, publisher.
[3] Osteen, Joel. Your Best Life Now; 7 steps to living at your full potential. 2004. Warner Faith; Time Warner Book Group, publisher; New York, NY.


Diane Blietz

(B.A. Communication, M.A. Education)

Diverse communication background and experience in communication, fundraising/marketing, journalism and English fields. She has experience coaching and training professionals and international business clients to improve writing/editing, public speaking, negotiating, and online technical communication skills in the workplace.

Ms. Blietz started her own consulting firm, DMB Communication Strategies. in 2014, to help U.S. businesses build, grow, and prosper from the inside out. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication and a master’s degree in Education.




Class started 15 minutes ago at the university, and the lecturer is up front delivering her well prepared lecture with colourful, informative powerpoint slides and an occasional clip from a YouTube video. However, many of the registered class of 80 students have yet to arrive, or maybe are not going to arrive at all today. Of the 50 students who are in class, only about 30 seem to be paying attention.

The other 20 students in the class are engaged in a variety of other pursuits. They are holding not-so-quiet conversations, texting with their phones held below their desks, surfing the web on their tablets or drifting towards dreamland.

Even among the 30 students who are trying to follow the lecture, attrition is setting in. One looks at his neighbour and with a lost, helpless look and whispers a plaintive, “Huh. Did you get that?” Others are reaching the ends of their attention spans. (A common estimate is that university students have an attention span of 10-20 minutes.) [1]

After 20 minutes, the lecturer attempts to add variety to the proceedings by asking the class a question and calling for students to work in groups of four to develop answers. Unfortunately, some students ignore one or more of their group mates, and other students work alone without consulting the members of their group.

The lecturer is losing patience with the class. When she calls a student to answer her question and does not like the student’s answer, she calls the answer “stupid” and scolds the student and his group mates. After 25 minutes, when two students walk in, she sarcastically asks if the tardy students would like her to send a limousine for them next week. When the lecture resumes, even fewer students seem to be paying attention.


Have you ever been in a classroom such as the one described above? In what ways were people impolite to each other?


1. Students being impolite to lecturers
2. Students being impolite to peers
3. Lecturers being impolite to students

The impolite behaviour we see in the Lecturer’s class takes place in far too many classrooms. This class was at university, but we can see other forms of impolite classroom behaviour in classrooms from pre-school, to primary and secondary school, and in universities and other arenas of tertiary and adult education. One term for this impolite behaviour is incivility, which we can define as, “speech or action that is disrespectful or rude”.[2]

Let’s look a bit more closely at three forms of classroom incivility: incivility of students towards their lecturers/teachers;[3] incivility of students towards one another[4] and incivility of lecturers/teachers towards students.[5]


As we saw in the scenario at the beginning of this chapter, student incivility towards lecturers can take many forms. Do you remember the students who came late for class and the ones who did not attend class at all? This shows a lack of interest in the class and in what the lecturer has prepared. Such lack of interest can spread to other students. Students were also uncivil to the Lecturer when they talked while she was speaking. In many people’s minds, talking while others are talking constitutes a prime example of open rudeness. Other students were less openly rude, but they showed a lack of interest by staggering towards dreamland or using electronic devices while the Lecturer was talking.

The issue of student use of electronic devices in class is a controversial one, due to the advent of smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices that have many tools students can use to understand and participate in class.[6] For instance, students can use these devices to take notes or to annotate the notes provided by lecturers. These electronic devices also provide resources that allow students to check the meaning of unknown terms and find other background information.[7] Additionally, electronic devices provide means for students to interact with lecturers and peers during class. For instance, the class can use polling software in which lecturers or peers pose questions, and students, alone or in groups of two or more, offer answers, sometimes with explanations.[8]

Thus, gone are the days when banning phones and other electronic devices would make sense.[9] Instead, responsible use of such devices might be the best policy. Indeed, the growing number of electronic affordances specifically designed for classroom use promises to lead to higher levels of student engagement and, thus, more civil behaviour. Furthermore, the use of electronic devices in class mimics, to some degree, their increasing use in the modern workplace.[10]

Last but not least, incivility towards lecturers can take even more serious forms. These include threats of violence and even actual acts of violence.[11] For instance, a lecturer was threatened with violence because she asked a student to turn off his mobile phone, which had been ringing during class.[12] Indeed, violence by students against lecturers and other teachers has occurred in classrooms in many countries and at many levels. Perhaps, the more peaceful forms of incivility towards lecturers lay the foundation for future violence by poisoning relations.


Have you witnessed student incivility towards teachers? If so, what form(s) did the incivility take?


The rules of traditional classrooms were, “Eyes on your own paper. No talking to your neighbours”. However, modern education emphasises what is known as ‘social construction of knowledge’.[13] In other words, students work socially, i.e., with others (teachers, peers, etc.), to each build his or her own understandings. To facilitate this social construction, group activities (usually groups of two to four) are a regular feature of many classes, although important chunks of time can still be devoted to students listening to lecturers, watching videos and otherwise receiving knowledge, as well as working alone.[14]

However, many group activities fail to deliver optimal learning, because students are not polite to one another. For instance, as we saw in the opening scenario, sometimes students may exclude certain group members from participating, or some students may opt out of their group and work alone. Other ways that students can be impolite to group members include insults, bullying, laughing at them, speaking in a language they cannot understand, not taking the time to explain to a group mate who is having difficulty, not thanking group mates for their effort at helping the group succeed and. In whichever form this incivility takes, the groups lose out on insights from the non-participating members, and students miss opportunities for the peer interaction that can spark thinking and enliven classrooms.


What are your experiences with students acting in a polite way towards their peers? What collaborative skills do you see in such circumstances?


In traditional classrooms, lecturers acted as judge, jury and executioner. In some cases, lecturers were expected to rule with an iron fist, punishing students who broke the lecturer imposed rules. Fear of punishment served as a key means of motivating students.

We saw some of this fierce behaviour on the part of the Lecturer in the opening scenario. She insulted one student, scolded others and was sarcastic with some other students. Additional ways that lecturers can be uncivil to their students can be similar to the ways students are uncivil to lecturers and peers. These include ignoring certain students and not seeming to be very interested in the class, for example, by arriving late and poorly prepared.[15]

In one case, students at a university accused a prominent professor of sexual harassment and verbal abuse.[16]


This chapter focuses mostly on incivility in university classroom. Does incivility take much different forms in classrooms for younger students? What about incivility in online learning?[17]


Many solutions have been proposed for addressing impolite classroom behaviour. Some of these solutions veer towards the extreme, such as lecturers who lock the classroom doors and refuse to admit late arriving students. Other solutions involve oversight by students and lecturers, such as students rating their group members as to their participation in group activities,[18] and students evaluating their lecturers on factors such as their friendliness, approachability and ability to provide clear explanations.[19]

One perspective that offers a path towards polite, productive classroom behaviour by all participants encourages everyone to see one another as part of a Community of Learners.[20] A Community of Learners’ view of classrooms sees everyone, including lecturers, as learners and sees knowledge as something that is uncertain and changes. Furthermore, the purpose of knowledge is not mainly to feather one’s own nest and earn a degree or degrees. Rather education serves to benefit the wider society.

Community of Learners strives to create a feeling of positive interdependence. In other words, students and teachers feel as though they are the Three Musketeers, with the slogan, “One for all, all for one”. Put in statistical terms, they believe that their outcomes are positively correlated. For example, if students learn more and develop a more positive attitude towards learning, lecturers feel as though they benefit, too. Similarly, if the lecturers learn new ideas or become better teachers during the term, the students benefit as well. Additionally, this feeling of positive interdependence extends beyond the classroom to encompass others at the same institution of learning and beyond, until everyone is included in the class’s Circle of Compassion.[21]

As lecturers are the professionals in the classroom, the majority of the responsibility falls on them. First, they should model polite behaviour. This includes such behaviours as being inclusive. In other words, lecturers should strive to make all students, regardless of race, nationality, religion, social class, etc., feel that they are important and have an equal place in what the class does. Inclusiveness can be especially important in the case of students who struggle to do well in the subject being studied. Lecturers may be tempted to “fly with the eagles”; in other words, if lecturers ask questions about what was just taught or ask “Is that clear?”, and a few students can answer the content questions or reply that everything is clear, lecturers can easily fall into the trap of thinking that everyone understands and then go on to the next topic.

How can lecturers promote civility by going at a pace that values all students and not just the eagles, while at the same time not boring the eagles? One way is for students to work in groups of 2 to 4 with an eagle in each group. Then, the eagles have to be taught, in part by lecturers’ example, to appreciate that “if something is not clear to everyone, it is not clear”, and to see that “those who teach learn twice”.

At the same time, the lower flying students need to do their fair share by letting others know when they do not understand and by trying their very best to take on board what they are taught by teachers, peers and learning materials. For example, prior to class, they should reread materials and search on the web to enhance their understanding, rather than making their first option to ask others.

In addition to how lecturers/teachers interact with students, another area in which lecturers can demonstrate civility involves how they present key learning points. The lecture harks back to the days, hundreds of years ago, before the printing press, when the main way that students could learn was by listening to a lecture and taking copious notes. Those days are long, long gone, and teaching as if they still exist strikes many students as an impolite waste of students’ time. In the Information Age, we not only have print resources, we also have the internet, which can put the equivalent of billions of publications at our fingertips.

Nowadays, the lecture may seem a bit old-fashioned, as it embodies one-way communication, teacher as knower (similar to a preacher sharing divine knowledge), and teacher as ‘sage on a stage’. A more modern view of learning sees lecturers as guides on the side, with the students as the centre of learning, in a collaborative, constructionist, problem solving mode. Singapore’s Ministry of Education has a catchy phrase for this guiding approach, “Teach Less, Learn More”.[22]

Two terms for this student-centric view of learning are Lectorial,[23] which has some mini-lectures, but focuses mostly on activities, and flipped classroom,[24] in which rather than receiving information during class and then applying it as homework, students now find and receive information at home (via such means as videotaped lectures and reading material), and then practice and apply what they learned in class, where they interact with lecturers and fellow students, that is, some of the other members of their Community of Learners. Again, it bears repeating that classroom civility operates on a two-way street. While lecturers need to use modern means of teaching, students have to change, too. No longer can they expect to be spoon-fed everything they need to know.

Another feature of Community of Learners involves problem solving. Problem-Based Learning (PBL)[25] offers an example of a methodology that harnesses the power of collaboration to solve real world problems. PBL started in medical schools and has spread as far as primary schools. It uses student-relevant, contextualised problems to drive and motivate learning. Students work in teams to address the problem. As Figure 1 demonstrates, students learn the same content, but rather than the content being spoon-fed to them through a lecture, as in the Traditional Approach, in the PBL Approach, students search for the content as they address the problem, thus, also acquiring important skills and attitudes; for example, seeing themselves as problem solvers, for life-long learning.

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Figure 1. Contrasts between the traditional approach to instruction and the PBL approach to instruction


What other solutions to classroom incivility can you think of?


1. Lecturing is confined to mini lecturers.
2. What had been covered in lectures is now read/viewed before class by students.
3. The class uses the content to address real world situations.
4. Lecturers learn along with students.
5. Students often work together in groups.

It is a new term, and the Lecturer and some of her colleagues have resolved to adopt a different approach to teaching. Key features of this approach are:

1. Lecturing is confined to mini lecturers. This fits with what we know about attention spans. A wide variety of activities maintains student interest, and makes it less likely they will use their electronic devices for non-learning matters.[26]
2. What had been covered in lectures is now read/viewed before class by students. This reduces the need for lecturing, and lets students learn at their own pace. Online discussion boards and other technology enable students to discuss outside of class with both peers and lecturers.
3. The class uses the content to address real world situations. Thus, learning is not just about grades, not just about oneself. Students now also learn in order to help others.
4. Lecturers learn along with students, as everyone works together to address problems that affect others beyond the classroom. Gone are the days when lecturers pretended to be or were expected to be all-knowing. Instead, lecturers and students all appreciate that knowledge develops through an exciting, on-going process of inquiry and trial.
5. Students often work together in groups. These groups can meet in and out of class, and students can consult with others beyond their group, because, after all, the entire class and others form a Community of Learners. Lecturers do short team building and class building activities, and stress the need to work well with others as an essential life skill. Some of the higher achieving students tutor their lower achieving peers outside of class.

Despite the changes that the Lecturer and her colleagues have made, the class has not been transformed into a paradise of politeness. Some students still arrive late or miss the class entirely because they’ve messed up or have some urgent matters to attend to. Fortunately, their classmates help them catch up on what they missed. Some students fail to prepare properly, thus imposing on their non-always-patient partners to do much of the work in class activities. The Lecturer stays calm about this and sticks to the program, as she shares her enthusiasm for learning and for the topics which the class explores. She continually invites students to join her in the Community of Learners who can make exciting discoveries which can benefit many.


Is this scenario realistic? If not, what would need to happen to move towards the type of classrooms envisioned in this closing vignette?


1 Morris, L. V. (2009). Little lectures. Innovative Higher Education, 34 (2), 67-68. doi:

2 Tiberius, R. G., & Flak, E. (1999).Incivility in dyadic teaching and learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 77, 3-12.

3 Boice, B. (1996). Classroom incivilities. Research in Higher Education, 37, 453-486.

4 Editorial: School violence reflects society gone wild: Our view: Class harassment, violence are symptoms of widespread incivility. (2009, Sep 29). McClatchy - Tribune Business News, p. 8.

5 McPherson, M. B., Kearney, P., & Plax, T. G. (2003). The dark side of instruction: Teacher anger as classroom norm violations. Journal of Applied Communication Research,. 31 (1), 76-90.

6 Rush, K. L. (2008).Connecting practice to evidence using laptop computers in the classroom. CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing, 26 (4), 190-196.

7 Castek, J., & Beach, R. (2013).Using apps to support disciplinary literacy and science learning. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy,. 56 (7), 554-564.

8 Landrum, R. E. (2013). The ubiquitous clicker: SoTL applications for scientist–educators. Teaching of Psychology,. 40 (2), 98-103.

9 Tomas, K. M., & McGee, C. D. (2012). The only thing we have to fear is… 120 characters. TechTrends,. 56 (1), 19-33.

10 Prescott, W. A, Johnson, H. L., Wrobel, M. J., & Prescott, G. M. (2012).Impact of electronic device use in class on pharmacy students' academic performance. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 76 (9).

11 Türküm, A. S. (2011). Social supports preferred by the teachers when facing school violence. Children and Youth Services Review,. 33 (5), 644-650.

12 Lawnham, S. (2002, September 25). Police probe campus violence. The Australian (Canberra, A.C.T.), p. 23.

13 Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society (ed. by M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

14 Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Holubec, E. J. (2002). Circles of learning (5th ed.). Edina, MN: Interaction Book Company.

15 Boice, B. (1996). Classroom incivilities. Research in Higher Education, 37, 453-486.

16 Leatherman, C. (1997). Students accuse drama professor of sex harassment and verbal abuse. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 44 (8), 1.

17 Clark, C. M., Ahten, S., & Worth, L. (2012). Cyber-bullying and incivility in an online learning environment, Part 2: Promoting student success in the virtual classroom. Nurse Educator, 37 (5), 192-197.

18 Brutus, S., Donia, M. B., & Ronen, S. (2013). Can business students learn to evaluate better? Evidence from repeated exposure to a peer-evaluation system. Academy of Management Learning & Education,. 12 (1), 18-31.

19 Clayson, D. E. (2013).Initial Impressions and the student evaluation of teaching. Journal of Education for Business,. 88 (1), 26-35.

20 Sewell, A., St George, A., & Cullen, J. (2013).The distinctive features of joint participation in a community of learners. Teaching and Teacher Education,. 31, 46-55.

21 Allo, M. (2009). Presidential address: Widening the circle of compassion. American Journal of Surgery, 198 (6), 733-735.

22 Ministry of Education (Singapore). (2009, May 20). Teach less, learn more. Retrieved from

23 Obrien, M. (2013).Bridging the gap between theory and practice: Pedagogical innovations in the biomedical science classroom that engage students in active learning and enhance both teaching and learning. INTED2013 Proceedings, 6423-6430.

24 Davies, R. S., Dean, D. L., & Ball, N. (2013).Flipping the classroom and instructional technology integration in a college-level information systems spreadsheet course. Educational Technology Research and Development,. 61 (4), 563-580.

25 Barrows, H. S., &Tamblyn, R. M. (1980). Problem-based learning: An approach to medical education (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

26 Johnson, B. (2013, June 28). Great teachers don’t teach. [Blog]. Retrieved from


Dr George Jacobs is a learning advisor at James Cook University, Singapore. He has taught elsewhere in Asia, as well as in the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific. His favourite topic in education is cooperative learning, in which learn and enjoy together. You can read more from George on this and other topics at

Dr Harshini P Siriwardane is an accounting lecturer. She has taught accounting at several universities in the US as well as in Singapore. Her main research area is activity-based costing. She is also passionate about improving the quality of accounting education and has published several articles on the subject.




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Figure 1. Are old electronics just junk to be quickly disposed of or do they have an historical value? Should we preserve some of them as part of our common legacy or simply throw away everything that is not considered up-to-date anymore? (Photo by Curtis Palmer, (c) 2007)[1]

The last quarter of the XX century witnessed a technological revolution that had no equals in the history of mankind and that, arguably, can be considered as important as the industrial revolution of the XIX century: computers entering the homes of millions of people.

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Figure 1. Unused Computer Junk Site

While the first modern computer was developed in the USA during the second world war to help with ballistic missile computations, and was made public soon afterwards,[2] computers remained confined in government offices and university research centers till the mid-seventies, when advancement in technology relying on transistors and microprocessors made the design of cheaper and smaller machines possible.

It was at this time that a new generation of enterprising hardware and software engineers graduated from universities where they were exposed to the new technological marvels and realized the importance computers could have had in the daily lives of people.

The first fully assembled machines that we could unmistakably recognize as personal computers were officially introduced in 1977 by Apple with the Apple II, Commodore with the PET and Tandy RadioShack with the TRS-80. All these machines had hefty price tags that made them affordable only by wealthy hobbyists. Nonetheless, at the same time, stripped down computers started also to appear more and more commonly in the houses of many in the form of entertainment devices made with the sole purpose of playing video games, like the Atari VCS (Video Computer System), which was also released in 1977.

Another fundamental breakthrough happened in 1980 with the first batch of computers being sold at truly affordable prices, thanks to pioneers like Sinclair with the ZX-80 and Commodore with the VIC-20. Technology, computers and video games quickly became mainstream and an integral part of society, spreading like wildfire around the world.

Once the market was established, savvy users started fuelling the wish for new and better devices, and new generation of gadgets followed each other at a very fast pace, often in a matter of months.

As high-end electronics in general, and computers as well as video game consoles in particular, became more and more popular, there was also a change in perception: people started viewing these devices no more as mysterious technological marvels to be treasured, but as simple consumable items to be used, shown off and discarded as soon as a new version came to market. As a direct consequence of such attitude, a whole new type of junk started appearing in landfills and dumps around the world (Figure 1), often highlighting additional problems as materials from electronic equipment are often challenging to recycle properly, and dispose of without damaging the surrounding environment.

It is then very interesting to see how, in the last few years, people in many countries all around North America and Europe started looking back at those pioneering days, and realized that such devices and their different iterations were actually so much rooted in society to have become an integral part of our popular culture, and are now a remarkable tool for understanding and analyzing the lifestyle of the past decades. Perhaps surprisingly, sometimes they can even be considered worth of artistic value.

To have a better understanding of how different regions in the world are perceiving the value of these once forgotten devices today, let us explore and compare the different scenes across USA, Europe and, last but not least, Singapore.

Being the main hub where technology flourished, USA has also been at the forefront of today's rediscovery and appreciation of vintage technology. Several museums dedicated to old computers and video games have been started, for example "The MADE"[3] in Oakland, California, the "Computer History Museum"[4] in Mountain View, California and the RICM,[5] in Rhode Island, among others.

These have often expanded their activities to also become educational centers, organizing classes and open meetings to introduce the new generations to technology, and help them appreciate, and not simply take for granted, the terrific advancement we managed to achieve in just a few years’ time. Some, like the "Video Game History Museum",[6] are also arranging travelling exhibitions around the country within popular events such as the Game Developers Conference, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, DICE and more, while others, like the RICM, also help people in disposing and recycling of their old equipment.

At the same time, movies and documentaries focusing on the history of these devices have been shot and released and, even more impressing, specific items are restored and taken care of in a way not dissimilar to centuries old paintings and sculptures.[7] For example, "Computer Space" cabinets, the first commercial arcade video game released in 1971, have by now assumed "cult status" among collectors and historians alike, so much so that 1972 classic movie "Soylent Green" is actually not remembered for Charlton Heston's performance but only for showcasing the video game in one of its scenes.

The rediscovery and appreciation is not limited to official Museums, though, and it is something that is getting more and more traction among common people alike.

Reboots of arcades that were typical in the 1980s are again brought to life, like the "Funspot Family Fun Centre"[8] in Laconia, New Hampshire while, at the same time, a very active community of collectors and amateurs regularly organizes "swap meetings" and visits thrift stores as well as garage sales to discover and save long forgotten equipment that would otherwise end up in a junkyard.

Collecting vintage hardware and software is actually becoming more and more mainstream on both sides of the Atlantic ocean: exactly like with collecting antique coins or stamps, rare specimen can fetch several thousands of dollars on common auction websites like ebay and others. In 2012, games like "Air Raid" for the Atari VCS sold for $33,433[9] and old computers can get an even higher price, with a motherboard of the historical Apple I being sold for as high as $630,000.[10]

Besides its share of collecting activities, the European scene is also getting more aware of its own legacy: new documentaries are being shot there as well, like the 100% crowd funded project "From Bedrooms to Billions"[11], outlining the history of the British game development scene and due in 2014.

Museums and public collections are also on the rise: after the pioneering effort of the "Computerspiele Museum"[12] in Berlin that started operations as early as 1997 and then rebooted in 2011, others followed: "La Mecca del Videogioco"[13] and Vigamus[14] in Genoa and Rome respectively (Italy), and several more in the UK, including the "Centre for Computing History"[15] in Cambridge, the "National Videogame Archive"[16] in Bradford, and the "Retro Computer Museum"[17] in Leicester, among others.

Interestingly, the European scene is also still very active on the development side of things: even commercial games for computers like the Commodore 64 are still being developed and sold in small quantities to enthusiastic collectors by publishers like RGCD and Psytronik Software, which release a few new games per year. Online communities, events and friendly competitions, both for programmers and players alike, abound as well, making for a thriving and lively environment.

Judging from all these activities, it is clear how, for many enthusiasts around the world, “old” technology doesn’t necessarily mean “dead” and several novel, experimental and educational uses are still found, marking a sort of renaissance for machines that refuse to fall into oblivion and be forgotten.


The city state is actually in a very unique situation, having developed extremely quickly during the very same time that this technological revolution took place. Indeed, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Singapore was used as a manufacturing hub like nearby countries such as Malaysia and Hong Kong: for example, several cartridge based games for Mattel's Intellivision gaming console were actually manufactured in Singapore. On the other hand, the island was not really seen as a potential market able to consume the products themselves.

In a matter of just a few years, though, very rapid economic development allowed for a quick turnaround, and Singapore, with rising costs of living, better wages for workers and an overall higher quality standard of life, started changing from being a mere manufacturing partner towards becoming an avid consumer of technology as well as an innovator itself, thanks to companies like Creative[18], founded in 1981 as a computer repair shop, that in just a few years, became a driving force in the PC market, thanks to cutting edge audio peripherals that were at the forefront of the ongoing technological revolution.

This quick switch of roles and newly found wealth may have contributed to form a mindset where technology is seen as a mere gadget with a short lifespan, ready to be upgraded and quickly forgotten as soon as a new product would be launched on the marketplace.

Indeed, Singaporean consumer behaviour today can be seen as focused on a basic use, upgrade and dispose cycle where little or no legacy of the past is preserved. Going around Singapore's thrift shops in search for technological antiques, like what collectors love doing in the USA, is most likely a source of huge disappointment: finding items older than 5-10 years is extremely unlikely and simply asking for old devices is generally met with surprised looks or even laughs of disbelief by the shop owners.

Is our technological past, a past that Singapore itself helped creating decades ago, going to be entirely forgotten over here then? Or is something slowly changing, and Singapore is also getting more aware of this legacy and the inherent value of technology and its history that goes beyond the trends of the moment? Encouraging signs in this regard are actually showing up: in January 2014 MediaCorp's TV station "Channel News Asia" broadcasted the documentary "Silicon Valley", showing the origins of modern technology while the "JCU Museum of Video and Computer Games"[19], the first museum in South East Asia dedicated to the preservation of old systems and games, also opened in 2013 hosted by JCU Singapore. The museum is currently showcasing about 200 unique pieces, including 16 systems ranging from the first home gaming console ever, the Magnavox Odyssey (1972) to the modern Sony PlayStation 3 (2006).

Hopefully, it will not be long before tech-savvy Singaporeans start appreciating the evolution of technology like their American and European counterparts, and realize that even old devices may still have a secondary value, whether as collectible items, to run legacy but still useful software, or simply as aesthetic and nostalgic objects to remind us of the early days of computing. Most likely, such results can gradually be achieved through well thought-out educational rediscovery programs and initiatives like those listed, with the ultimate goal of bringing awareness about new ways of reusing or properly recycling our old equipment.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2: Preserving the past: students and visitors exploring old games and systems at the JCU Singapore, Museum of Video and Computer Games: a step towards making people appreciate the past that made modern technology possible.



2 Roberto Dillon: "The Golden Age of Video Games", CRC Press, 2011





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Dr. Roberto Dillon is the author of different game design and history articles and books, including "On the Way to Fun" (AKPeters, 2010), "The Golden Age of Video Games" (CRC Press, 2011), "HTML5 Game Development from the Ground-Up with Construct 2" (CRC Press, 2014) and "Ready. A Commodore 64 Retrospective" (Springer, 2015). He is active both as an academic and as an indie developer, with his games being showcased at events like Sense of Wonder Night in Tokyo, FILE Games in Rio de Janeiro and the Indie Prize Showcase at Casual Connect Asia. He is currently an Associate Professor at James Cook University in Singapore lecturing game design and project management classes.





Towards the end of every year, while Christmas carols and songs are being heard in malls around Singapore, volunteers dressed in red from The Salvation Army are busy collecting donations from the generous public at various places. Among the many temporary stalls set up along Orchard Road a couple of years ago, some hand-painted candle holders caught my eye. These were all made by children who were intellectually challenged. All the proceeds from the sale of these creative products contributed towards a charity project under the Community Chest.

Does one only think about giving in the season of giving? Does one do good only to be on Santa’s list, to be viewed as a compassionate person, or just simply because it feels right to do so? In this chapter on philanthropic and social work behaviours, the purpose is not to tell the readers what constitutes desirable or undesirable behaviours, nor does it intend to act as a guide on how to be a successful philanthropist or social worker. Instead, this chapter will take you on a little journey as I myself set off to understand a little more about charity, volunteering, as well as the philanthropic and social work landscape within Singapore – past and present.

Do you know?

December 5 has been designated as International Volunteer Day by the United Nations since 1985. Joining the spirit, in Singapore, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) has made every December V-Month (Volunteer Month).


So, what are the differences between “charity”, “philanthropy” and “social work”? According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary,[3] “charity” means the giving of necessities (money or its equivalent) to the needy, public institution or humanitarian cause; “philanthropy” is defined as goodwill by individuals or organisations to fellow mankind; which can either be an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes. Whereas, the social work profession “promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being”.[2]

The terms “charity” and “philanthropy” are often used interchangeably. Charity embraces love and kindness. It reflects the basic quality of mankind as the Chinese Three Character Classic . san zi jing) says that man’s nature is essentially good. At a higher level, philanthropy is built upon the foundation of charity. On such a basis, philanthropy is more physical whereby one may react or do something more concrete, and its influence is often far-reaching. I tend to interpret philanthropy as the realisation of charity. The difference is the extent of goodwill rendered; but it is hard to have a clear and standard demarcation.

“To give away money is an easy matter, and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter. Hence it is that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble.”


In Singapore, under the Charities Act,[3] all charitable organisations must be registered with the Commissioner of Charities. There are four categories of charitable purposes: (i) the relief of poverty, (ii) the advancement of education, (iii) the advancement of religion; and (iv) other purposes beneficial to the community (e.g., the promotion of health, the advancement of arts, heritage or science, etc.). As of 31 December 2012, the total number of registered charities was 2,130.[4] Meanwhile, to encourage and promote the adaption of good governance and practices among charitable organisations in Singapore, the Charity Council[5] was legally appointed on 1 March 2007.


The SHARE[6] (Social Help and Assistance Raised by Employees) programme allows every working person to do his or her part for charity. Every dollar donated through payroll, credit card or GIRO enjoys 2.5 times tax-deduction, and 100% of the donation goes to helping the needy.


Consider this...

You are approached by the following people. How likely are you going to extend your generosity?

1) A school girl / boy in uniform, holding a tin container with the label "XYZ Charity" or "XYZ Fundraising".
2) A handicapped old man selling tissue paper in a hawker centre.
3) A street performer playing guitar at a corner of an MRT station, with a donation hat in front of him.


A foreign student once said to me, “There is no poverty in Singapore; you don’t have any shortage in social welfare provision. Everything is good here.” Indeed, life in modern day Singapore is relatively comfortable, but that does not mean things should and would remain at status quo, or that nobody needs a helping hand out there. While Hong Kong has established a poverty line recently in September 2013, Singapore’s Prime Minister Mr. Lee Hsien Loong said the nation does not need a poverty line as the groups of needy now “take shifting and multi-faceted forms”.[7] Poverty is defined by the United Nations as living on less than US$1.50 (or S$1.90) a day. While Singaporeans have moved beyond extreme poverty, the challenge and priority for Singapore would be the extent of help provided to the right group of people in a timely manner.

“The value of the profession lies in its versatility and responsiveness in addressing and solving societal problems, and in meeting the ever-changing needs of our society.”

Mr. Gilbert Fan, President,

Singapore Association of Social Workers

The President’s Challenge[8] launched in September 2000 by the sixth president of the Republic of Singapore, Mr S R Nathan, is an annual charity fundraising campaign. In 2012, over S$12 million dollars was raised to support more than 50 appointed voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), and the figure was close to S$11 million the following year.[9] Another similarly important organisation mentioned earlier, the Community Chest,[10] was launched in 1983 under the then Singapore Council of Social Service. It allows individuals, organisations and charity agencies to come together to support a common cause. Through Community Chest, national fundraising events are possible whereby greater funds can be pulled together, while smaller charities or individuals concentrate on delivering their services.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

Recently after the Philippines was hit by typhoon Haiyan, the Singapore Red Cross (SRC) immediately launched and dedicated countrywide fundraising appeal for the relief effort. As of 27 November 2013, it has raised S$3.8 million in donations.[11] Founded on 30 September 1949 and later incorporated by an Act of Parliament on 6 April 1973, the SRC can been liken to the UNESCO within Singapore. During its earlier years, the SRC provided services for people with disabilities. Today, this non-political, non-religious organisation has time and again been put to the test to help victims of natural calamities and disasters in the region. It also acts as a focal point for cash collection and donation of other kinds during humanitarian crises. Through extending hands to others, providing assistance and enhancing the well-being of others around the region and the world, the SRC has gained invaluable experience in its humanitarian work.


Consider this:

1) Person A donates to charity and volunteers on a regular basis. He believes in the power of giving and that individuals have the obligation to give something back to the society.
2) Person B only donates to charity whenever a big disaster strikes. He believes that those are the moments when "help" and "charity" are truly needed.
3) Person C only devotes his time to charitable work that directly relieves a particular beneficiary. He believes that such acts are more concrete and practical.

Which person best represents your stand on philanthropic and social work behaviour?


Many people might hold the idea that only billionaires like Lee Ka-Shing, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg are capable of engaging in philanthropy; only those who have time to spare might engage in volunteering and social work, while the vast majority of people in Singapore might occasionally donate through flag day or donation drives taking place at MRT stations or bus stops.

However, we should not forget that Singapore is a migrant society. In the earlier years, our forefathers who came here seeking for a better life often lacked extended family support. Therefore, many ethnic and religious organisations were established to engage in welfare provision. As the ethnic Chinese and Indian population continued to grow, they assimilated more fully into the mainstream society; more people started not only helping others within their own clan or ethnic groups, but also society at large.

“That which is derived from society should be returned to society.”

Chinese Proverb.

Some prominent philanthropists and organisations that have contributed tremendously to various fields and have impacted the lives of many in Singapore and beyond include: Tan Kah Kee (1874-1961), whose generosity and spirit of philanthropy had greatly influenced many other philanthropists such as Tan Lark Sye (1897-1972) – founder of Nanyang University; Lien Ying Chow (1906-2004) – founder of Overseas Chinese Union Bank (later known as Overseas Union Bank) and the Lien Foundation, and Lee Kong Chian (1893-1967) – founded the Lee Foundation in 1952, the earliest and the biggest foundation in Singapore; Tan Kim Seng (1805-1864) – improved the public waterworks in the 19th century Singapore, G Uttamram – donated land to build the Uttamram Clinic, V Pakirisamy Pillai (1894-1984) – an Indian pioneer, community leader and philanthropist; and Syed Ali Redha Alsagoff (1928-1998) – established the Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday Memorial Scholarship Fund Board in 1965.

Among the many clan associations, the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan[12]. fu jian hui guan) has established and funded numerous schools such as Tao Nan School, Ai Tong School, Nan Chiau Primary and High Schools. Then there is Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital,[13] a charitable organisation that provides medical care to people regardless of race and religion. This is only a partial list as space does not permit me to include all the names of the philanthropists and organisations.

At different periods of time, with different socio-cultural and political circumstances, Singapore faced different challenges and needs.

We cannot take for granted the comfort we enjoy living in a country with progressive economic development and stability. Singapore takes the approach of “many helping hands” by relying on community organisations and voluntary bodies to play a major role in caring for the needy and building a better society. There are many unsung heroes whose selfless contributions should not be forgotten.

“It is about producing change. If you call yourself a social worker, you immediately give your society a vote of confidence. You say, ‘My society is capable of helping people change.’”

Mrs Ann Wee

“Empathy – the ability to make human connection – is an important quality.”

Dr Myrna Blake


Far beyond the superstitious belief that the gates of Hell are opened for souls to wander the earth, the month-long celebration of the lunar seventh month (Hungry Ghost festival) in Singapore holds important values of charity. It is about charity and making offerings.[14]

For Muslims, Zakat provides a religiously-approved method of managing the community’s economy and finance, and makes it possible for the distribution of wealth among the poor.[15]


Consider this:

1) Parent A hands some money over to his young child. The child is then instructed to drop the money into a donation box. Parent A gives his child a smile of approval and acknowledgment for the good deed.
2) Parent B is walking towards the MRT station with his young child. A few students in uniform approach the pair asking for a donation for a charity organisation. Parent B coldly replies, "No, thank you.", and walks away with the child.

What kind of message does each parent send to the child with regards to charity and giving? How would that impact the child's attitude towards charity, giving or social work?


According to a survey carried out by the A C Nielsen in 2004,[16] fifty-two per cent of the grantmakers in Singapore give out grants on an on-going basis with the top programme areas supported being those that promote education, health and social services. For individuals above 15 years of age in Singapore,[17] only 15.2% were current volunteers in the same year. To see it in a positive light, there is room for improvement, in terms of philanthropic and social work behaviour and participation in Singapore. As Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam[18] said, “We still have a long way to go, just on sheer scale alone, to catch up with developed countries – where contributions to charity are between one and two percent of GDP. Volunteerism rates are over 40 per cent in places like the UK and almost 30 percent in the US.”

Charity starts at home, and it should start from a young age. Initiatives such as the Youth Volunteer Involvement Programme (YVIP), which targets young people aged 15-19, provides an avenue for them to be exposed to volunteering and the spirit of giving and caring for others who are less fortunate. However, for those pondering a career in social work, here are some words of advice from S R Nathan:[19] “In dealing with human problems, if you have a calling, take it (up) and pursue your work; if you have no calling, don’t. I go by the feel. To deal with human problems, you must feel for them, however detached you appear in seeking a solution.”


The Giving Pledge is a campaign to encourage the wealthiest people in the world to make a commitment to give most of their wealth to philanthropic causes. The campaign specifically focuses on billionaires and was made public in 2010 by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.

Basically, there are eight mechanisms[20] that serve as the most important forces that drive charitable giving: awareness of need, solicitation, costs and benefits, altruism, reputation, psychological benefits, values, and efficacy. In recent years, some philanthropists might have approached charity and philanthropy with a slightly different mindset such as corporate social responsibility and pursuing individualised charitable agenda on a global scale. “Aiding charities can be a valuable way for firms to improve their image.[21] ”

All charitable deeds are recognised in one way or another such as tax deduction, mass publicity, and quality accreditation as for corporations. In Singapore, the government has been striving to build a quality nation where one of the main concerns, among other fundamental elements, is to uphold a more caring society. Besides social welfare schemes, individuals and corporations are encouraged to do their part for the cause.

“If you have a glass of water, you may enjoy it alone; if you have a bucket of water, you may store it at home; but if you have a river, you should learn to share it with others.”

Chinese Philanthropist Mr Chen Guang Biao

No matter how it is approached, a first class nation should be a nation of generosity and compassion to one another and to humanity.


1. As individuals, how can one guarantee that his/her act of kindness is not exploited?
2. When we "donate", how do we know if we are handing our money over to a trusted individual / organisation for a legitimate cause?
3. As a corporate organisation, what charitable body or cause would you support? What are your selection criteria?
4. What happens if people were to adopt the "kiasuism" mentality with regards to philanthropic and social work behaviour?


1 Merriam Webster online dictionary.

2 International Federation of Social Workers.

3 Charities Act, revised, 31 October 2007.

4 Commissioner of Charities (2012). Annual Report for the Year Ended 31 December 2012.

5 The Charity Council. For more information, please see

6 See for more details.

7 Yahoo! News Singapore. (17 November 2013). Accessed 30 November 2013 from

8 The President’s Challenge. For more information, please see

9 President’s Challenge (2013).

10 The Community Chest. For more information, please see

11 Singapore Red Cross Society. (2003). Accessed 30 November 2013 from

12 See Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan at

13 See Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital at

14 CNA (September 2013). Spouses of foreign diplomats experience hungry ghost festivities. Accessed 28 November 2013 from

15 Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (2013). For more information, see

16 As stated in NVPC (2005). The state of giving: inaugural study of Singapore’s giving landscape. (p.95). National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre: Singapore.

17 Surveyed by Market Probe-Prevision Research in 2004, as stated in NVPC (2005). The state of giving: inaugural study of singapore’s giving landscape. (p.110). National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre: Singapore.

18 Nisha Ramchandani. (11 September 2012). Tools needed for Asian-style Philanthropy: DPM. The Business Times.

19 SASW. (2008). A world to change: inspiring lives in social work. Singapore Association of Social Workers: Singapore.

20 Bekkers, R., & Wiepking, P. (2011). A Literature Review of Empirical Studies of Philanthropy: Eight Mechanisms That Drive Charitable Giving. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 40(5), 924-973.

21 Slater, J. (2000). Philanthropy for Profit. Far Eastern Economic Review. Social Science Journals, 163(12), 48.


Wen has been with the English Language Preparatory Programme, JCU (Singapore campus) since 2007. She oversees and assists in the curriculum development, course coordination and delivery of lessons for the ELPP Level 2 course; and is honoured to be working with many efficient colleagues within ELPP and JCU. In her free time, she enjoys reading and occasionally jotting down ideas along the way. Some of her works have been seen in various magazines and newspapers.




We all know the story of the ant and the grasshopper, one of the Aesop’s best-known fables. The story concerns an indolent grasshopper who fiddles away the warm summer months while an industrious ant works hard to store food for the rainy season. When the rainy season arrives, the ant has the last laugh.

In the simplest form, saving can be defined as money set aside for future use. In this sense, we can save money to accomplish a short run consumption goal. For example, we can save over a period of one year and spend all that money on a New Year bash and then go to work on 1 January to find out that we have been laid off from our job. Our short-run goal is achieved, because we had a good time on New Year’s Eve, just as the grasshopper had a good time during the summer. Nevertheless, due to our lack of planning, we are left with no savings, and due to unexpected circumstances, we have no way of rebuilding our lost savings.

Savings are that part of our disposable income that is deferred from current consumption to be used for future consumption. After all, ants do not save to eat in the summer when the food supply is still abundant; they save to eat during the rainy season when the food supply is scarce.


Do you have savings? For what future consumption do you save?

This chapter argues that saving is an important element in first-class behaviour. When we save, we help not just ourselves, but also our families and our societies, by being responsible, independent first-class people. The chapter begins by looking at our possible motives for saving, followed by a quick look at different saving behaviours. The main part of the chapter presents four saving related problems and suggests first-class solutions to those problems.


The moral of the story of the ant and the grasshopper is, “Save for a rainy day”. In terms of modern jargon, the same simple story is re-told as “manage good times to be prepared for the bad”. Therefore, the obvious reason for saving is the risk associated with future income. Ants save because they know in the rainy season i. may be difficult to find food. However, there are more reasons (motives) for saving. In 1936, Maynard Keynes,[1] the British economist, whose ideas and theories have had a marked influence on modern macroeconomic theory, identified eight motives for saving. Browning and Lusadi[2] gave sophisticated names to Keynes' eight motives, and added one more motive based on contemporary socio-economic structure. The nine motives are explained below.

1. Precautionary motive: to build a reserve against unforeseen contingencies.
As witnessed during the most recent recession, when unemployment in most countries climbed to double digits, unemployment becomes a common contingency. Other unforeseen contingencies include those related to health and natural disasters.
2. Life cycle motive: to provide for an anticipated future relationship between the income and the expenditure.
Getting old is a fact of life, and income may decline or disappear after a certain age. Retirement is a common life-cycle event that spurs a saving motive. Other anticipated life cycle events include marriage, child bearing and children’s education. Additionally, in some countries, many people save for funeral arrangements.
3. Inter-temporal substitution motive: the wish to earn interest and appreciation.
The basic idea behind this motive is that consumers defer consumption in expectation of higher interest rates in the future.
4. Improvement motive: to enjoy a gradually increasing standard of living.
With a higher standard of living, people have more choices in life, and can help others, for example, by donating to charity.
5. Independence motive: to enjoy a sense of independence and the power to do things on one’s own. Most people prefer not to depend on others and, if possible, to be able to help others.
6. Enterprise motive: to carry out business projects and invest money if and when favourable.
For instance, many people dream of having their own or a family business, whether it be for profit or a social enterprise.
7. Down-payment motive: to accumulate deposits to buy houses, cars and other major purchases that require a down payment.
8. Avarice motive: to satisfy pure miserliness.
Like King Midas, who loved counting his gold, for some people accumulating money becomes an end in itself.
9. Bequest motive: to bequeath wealth to society and younger generations.
It is interesting to note that, often people save mostly for the above other eight motives, and the excess is left to fulfil this motive. Additionally, sometimes people expect that their heirs will need long-term financial assistance. For example, parents with special needs children may want to leave a substantial bequest to support the children long after the parents have passed on.


Do you have one or more of the above saving motives? Are there any other saving motives you want to develop?


Saving behaviours help us to fulfil our saving motives. Three saving behaviours are: saving regularly, saving irregularly and not saving.

1. Saving regularly: Regular saving behaviour can result from: (a) contractual saving, where we make compulsory periodic payments towards asset purchases (such as mortgage or car payments) or pension plans; or (b) discretionary saving where we deliberately save on a regular basis. For example, if we make a decision (at our discretion, even though we are not required to) that we will put aside a certain dollar amount or a certain percentage of our earnings, then we are displaying a discretionary saving behaviour. Regular savers view borrowing (except for a major purchase such as a house) as a failure.
2. Saving irregularly: This is the behaviour exhibited, for example, when we save whatever is left at the end of the month.
3. Not saving: This is the behaviour of those of us who do not save. People who have this behaviour select borrowing as the alternative to saving and view debt as a way of life.


Which saving behaviour do you display? Which behaviour do you wish you had?


Here is a confession made by a person who has a stable monthly incom. :

“I had planned to make regular contributions to my retirement plan, but I decided to take golf lessons instead. You know how expensive the golf lessons are? Add to that, I had to buy new golf equipment. So, my monthly expenses are high, and, as a result, this year I am not contributing to my retirement plan.”

Does this story sound familiar? Have you ever been in this situation?

If the answer is yes, NOT HAVING REGULAR SAVING BEHAVIOUR is your problem. If it makes you feel better, this is a universal problem. As most of us know too well, saving intention does not always lead to actual saving. Moving from saving intention to actual saving is neither straightforward nor automatic. It requires planning, effort and self-control. Psychologists have linked age, wealth, income, income uncertainty, experience with unemployment, self-employment, home-ownership, household consumption, health status, risk tolerance and education, to saving.


The good news is that financial institutions and governments have used research on saving behaviours and patterns to create saving instruments that put us in the “auto-pilot mode” of saving. So, all you have to do is to discipline yourself to turn on the autopilot. There are a multitude of contractual saving instruments geared towards different saving motives, especially for precautionary and life cycle motives. For medical emergencies, there are flexible health saving plans (you can contribute to these even if you already have health insurance coverage). For retirement, there are retirement plans mandated by governments and sponsored by employers (with matching contributions).For children’s education, there are education saving plans. Not only do these contractual saving instruments force you to save, but they are also often associated with tax benefits as well.

If you want to save towards other motives, and there are no contractual saving instruments geared towards these, financial institutions have taken the burden of self-control off of you. All you have to do is to link your checking account to a savings account, and then set up automatic transfers from the checking account to the savings account. As long as you have the initial desire and a regular source of income, becoming a regular saver is almost effortless.

While regular saving behaviour is preferred, irregular saving behaviour is better than no saving. Some strategies that can help include consuming regular income and saving other income (for example, saving gratuities, bonuses and tax returns), or saving on special occasions (for example, birthdays and anniversaries).


At the beginning of a new year, a couple decided that they want to go on a cruise vacation in the near future. So, they started saving towards their dream vacation. However, after saving for the vacation for a couple of months, one spouse said to the other,

“Look, we are both 45 years old, and we have worked for almost 25 years, but we only have $15,000 in our retirement accounts. Our savings account balance right now is only about half of our monthly salary. That is our only saving besides retirement saving. This vacation will cost about twice our combined monthly salaries; even worse, we still have a monthly mortgage and car payments to make. Is saving for this vacation the right thing for us to do?”

Even if this is not your story, we are sure you have heard it before. The saving problem here is the WRONG PRIORITY OF SAVING MOTIVE.

People with different socio-economic characteristics may have different primary saving motives and different saving-related dispositions. For people closer to the bottom of the wealth pyramid, the primary motive for saving may be daily necessities (Why this is not included as a motive is beyond our discussion.) Some researchers have proposed a hierarchy of saving motives based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs.[3] According to them, with an increasing income, motive for saving is likely to expand from saving for daily necessities to saving as a precaution in case of a rainy day to saving for independence.

What most non-savers do not realize is that multiple saving motives can co-exist in a single person at any given time. Numerous empirical studies have been conducted across the world to study the motives for saving. In different countries and in different decades, precautionary and life cycle motives have emerged as the most common primary motives for saving. Of the life-cycle events that spur us to save, retirement is the most commonly cited event and children’s education is the next. We have so many possible saving motives. We need to choose our motives wisely, because the wrong saving priority may lead to financial problems.


Planning is often influenced by personal experiences or by observing other people’s experiences. For example, in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, families in hard hit countries were more cautious in 2009 than they had been two years earlier. Most families reported increased levels of desired buffer savings, because they had either experienced unemployment or witnessed so many people around them becoming unemployed. As long as there are uncertainties related to income, having a buffer against income loss should be a primary saving motive. Many experts suggest that we should at least have three month’s income in a savings account as a buffer against income loss. Since the size of the recommended buffer may vary from country to country, it is important to understand the economic conditions of your country and plan accordingly.

Saving buffer relates to saving horizon. Economists, psychologists and sociologists agree that saving horizon is one of the most important aspects of saving behaviour. Having a long-term financial planning horizon is positively related to saving. The couple in our story has a horizon is too short. They seem to have an improvement motive, as they think a cruise will improve their life by making it more fun. They are planning for the cruise, instead of working to build their buffer for the long term financial security. They should sit down with their family and a certified financial planner to identify the saving options for building their buffer. Savings should be undertaken as a family project, as all family members, regardless of age, will feel the impact.


Who in your family could you involve in your saving decisions? Furthermore, in which family member’s saving decisions should you be involved?


Here is a concern expressed by a person who is approaching the retirement age:

I only have two more years until the mandatory retirement age. Even if I cut down and live a very modest life during retirement, my retirement savings will only last for nine years. According to my doctor, unless something unexpected happens, I can expect to live another 17-20 years. Clearly I will run out of money during my old age. If I become ill during that time, my retirement savings will run-out even faster, as my medical emergency savings are so minute”.

The theme of this retirement savings story, “NOT ENOUGH”, is the common theme about savings, regardless of the purpose, in many countries. NOT SAVING ENOUGH becomes a problem, maybe even a crisis, when the saving motive is precautionary (in case of such misfortunes as loss of job and medical emergencies), or life-cycle (especially when it relates to a difficult to avoid life-cycle event, such as retirement). With other motives, such as enterprise motive, it is our choice and we can leisurely deal with it. However, in our story, the person is not saving enough for retirement and emergencies. Social security systems of many countries are under threat; medical costs are sky-rocketing. Therefore, never before has there been a better time than today to secure financial independence for old age and difficult times.

If we fear that we may not be saving enough for retirement and emergencies, we have one reasonable option. (Visiting the casino and trying to win the lottery are not reasonable options!) We can admit to the problem and find solutions to it. Please make the reasonable choice and continue to read.


Since you have continued reading and joined us for this section, our first step will be to prioritize the saving motives and set a target dollar amount for each motive. For example, let us say the motive is retirement. Depending on our age, current balance in the retirement account, expected growth rate of the retirement savings, annual retirement income needed and expected retirement date, we will be able to calculate the annual retirement saving necessary. In order to do this calculation, we can secure the services of a financial planner, or we can use an online calculator.[4] Then, it is up to us to decide if we can afford to save that amount. Even if we cannot save what is necessary to secure the desired retirement income, we should start saving the maximum affordable amount-better to save something than nothing.


If you started saving $400 per month when you were 25 years, and allowed your savings to grow at an annual rate of 5%, are the savings enough for you to be a millionaire by the time you are 70? Do you know how to find out?[5]


What if we modify the ending of the original ant and the grasshopper story? The grasshopper could have stolen ant’s food during the rainy season; rain could have washed away ant’s food; the rainy season could have been unusually long and even the prudent ant could have run out of food. That leads to our final saving problem: HOW DO WE SAVE OUR SAVINGS? We can even have a follow-up question; HOW DO WE GROW OUR SAVINGS?


We all know that gone are the days that we keep our savings under our mattress. So then, is keeping the money with a bank or other financial institutions where our savings are secured and guaranteed by the government) the answer? While experts advise that we keep some portion of our savings in a bank account, keeping excess money in a non-interest bearing (or even low-interest bearing) bank account leads to a loss due to inflation. Thus, if we have enough savings, we might want to pursue various investments. However, which investments to pursue goes beyond the scope of this humble chapter.


After reading this chapter, do you want to add anything to your “to do list?”


In conclusion, this chapter has considered first class behaviours relating to saving, and the chapter has looked at th. Why an. How of saving. Saving is important because we live in a world of both unprecedented risks and unprecedented opportunities. Saving empowers us, our families and society as a whole to protect ourselves from risks and to make the most of opportunities. Thus, our final advice is:

Be an ant; not a grasshopper!!!!


1 Keynes, J.M. (1936). The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. MacMillan, London.

2 Browning M. and Lusardi A. (1996). Household saving: micro theories and micro facts, Journal of Economic Literature, 34(4), 1797-1855.

3 Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from

4 or multitude of other retirement calculators available online

5 Use the calculator at


Dr Harshini P Siriwardane serves as an accounting lecturer at the University of Cincinnati (USA) and an academic consultant to the James Cook University (Singapore). She has taught accounting at several universities in the US as well as in Singapore. Her main research area is activity-based costing. She is also passionate about improving the quality of accounting education and has published several articles on the subject.

Dr George Jacobs is a learning advisor for students and a lecturer in education at James Cook University, Singapore. He has taught elsewhere in Asia, as well as in the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific. His favourite topic in education is cooperative learning. You can read more from George on this and other topics at


Deviances in leisure pursuits


Singapore is known to have invented the modular robotic undulating fins similar to a fish (Low 2006). The esteemed country is known for scientific advances and industry applicable technology which continues to be a focus at leading local research institutes. In pursuit of such innovations, there is one surprising element that can be found in public pools albeit not about the way people swim or oscillate, but how they fail to share the pool with other users in an equitable manner. Also found in public buses and trains, are litters of used tissues stuffed between seats and sometimes strewn on the floor. Though we can say that both inconsiderate acts in public pools and public transport are rare, they do happen and therefore deserves a highlight.

Singapore turned 50 years old in 2015. As a nation, we may ask ourselves as one of the most developed economies in Asia, how well nurtured and cultured are we in ways of civic consciousness and behaviour? Good social etiquettes are reflective of a first world nation in almost every aspect. While no country has a perfect society, a first world nation contains a population largely exercising propensities of civic consciousness and graceful in their behaviour especially towards others. This is evident in countries like Japan, USA and Germany, to name a few. There exist a perception that an educated population living in a developed economy would have greater sense of responsible behaviour in public compared to a society and developing country with lower literacy rates. Though no society is 100% perfect, the expectations of good behaviour or what we would term First Class Behaviour to be high in developed countries.

This does not mean that Third World Behaviours are not entirely better than First World’s. On the contrary, we can find many Third World Behaviours more desirable. The expectations of citizens in the context of this topic is that people using the public pool would be mindful of others and share the pool with kind consideration in terms of space, time and distance.

This following exposition is based on experience, observation and interviews with swimmers, and internet sources related to swimming etiquettes in public pools. Swimming is one of the most popular leisure sports in Singapore besides soccer, chess and badminton, among others. The neighbourhood public swimming pools are heavily used on weekends, and on weekday evenings. The lanes closest to the Life Guard’s observation post is usually allocated for slow (leisurely) or less skilled swimmers. This is to facilitate a quick response to any emergencies. The expert swimmers are expected to use the farther lanes of the pool away from the Life Guard Post. Swimmers are expected to share the pool in an amicable way. Why is it in such a leisure and fun place like a swimming pool could there be disputes, unhappy stares and purposeful or accidental collisions? This chapter examines some of these issues and relates to ways we can better reflect a first world behaviour while using public pools.


Our swimming styles may vary from breast stroke to free style, or just waddling the waters for a good relaxing time. While enjoying the public pools, we have to consider carefully other users. There is a need to be fully aware of our immediate surrounding particularly to other swimmers in close proximity. At traffic lanes, road users are expected to give way or signal while switching lanes. Other road users can process the moves and respond accordingly. But swimming is quite different. There are no light signals nor eyes wide and easily open even with goggles to avoid collisions on the lane.


Inappropriate swimming etiquettes in public swimming pools can affect leisure experiences.

Often, observations can be made about how two or more unrelated people using the same lane in a crowded pool relate to each other as a threat to their private space. Most people are genuinely considerate in creating space and time allowances to share the same lane. However, there are indeed those who are either ignorant or simply wish to stake a spatial claim and attempt to displace other swimmers, who may be a challenge to their own swimming style and lane sharing etiquette.

News reports may not carry petty disputes on a regular basis. On a full day particularly on the weekends and evenings, it is almost always possible to witness accidental collisions and unhappy stares. People have been kicked, scratched and touched accidentally in the pool. A happy swimming exercise could turn out to be stressful and less leisurely.


What ways can swimmers communicate and share the pool in an amicable way?

What can individuals do to contribute to a better swimming experience? First, upon arriving at the pool, go to the pool that has the least people, taking into account your swimming skills or intentions to do serious lap swimming. Taking these points into account, observe the lane with activities that fits your spatial and timing adjustment. If you noticed that people are swimming randomly on the lane or occupying the middle of the lane while swimming, it’s always polite to wait for them to stop swimming and approach them to come to an agreement that you intend to swim on the right to left circular movement, start to end or share the pool by splitting the lane.

In the Swimmers' Guide post (2014), one comment from a reviewer states, "No lap swim etiquette whatsoever", advising other swimmers to be mindful at public pools. A google search on similar comments demonstrate that in many countries, inconsiderate behaviours at swimming pools is a common phenomenon. The right thing to do is to swim on the right lane and allow faster swimmers to pass on the left, and allow on-coming swimmers to swim on the left with sufficient space in-between.

In the case of a crowded pool, its best to share in a circular movement so that swimmers can overtake from the left if they are fast. Essentially, communicating with one another on the method of sharing would help to avoid unwanted disputes or collisions later. Additionally, when resting by the pool ends, always be mindful of on-coming swimmers who would like to make a perfect turn without a stop. In such a case or in any case, when one is approaching the end point, those idling should move aside to allow another swimmer to either make a comfortable turn or a perfect ‘landing’.


Travelling on public transport is a novel way of getting around Singapore easily. The experience on these public locomotives may however be disturbing not because of the overcrowding or delays in travel service, but more importantly, it is the way in which some commuters dispose their used paper napkins. Disposing tissue papers by just leaving them on the seats, or dropping them on the floor of the bus, is an act that is unbecoming. One other act, commonly found on public transport, is the sticking of used tissue papers in air condition vents or between seats.


Disposing used tissue papers indiscriminately on public transport is both unhealthy and inconsiderate.

It appears that people lose patience of keeping the tissue till they find a trash can. There is little consideration how such blatant acts can have an impact not just on the aesthetics in the transport vehicle but more importantly, spreading whatever virus or bacteria to innocent passengers. Ultimately, there is a smug attitude that cleaners will eventually come around at the bus bay to clean.

In contrast, there are people who could hardly find an appropriate bin for their used tissue. So, they keep the tissue till they find a bin or place to dispose of it. The awareness of a clean environment, and public reactions towards spitting and littering, makes some people responsible to dispose things in right places.

Commuters are often ignorant of the availability of a mini trash can in Singapore’s public buses as well. It is just that they feel lazy to dispose their used tissues there. The laziness makes them irresponsible and ignorant of their action, thus they find it very easy to stick it between seats or litter.

People hold the perception in their minds that they are not committing a crime or affect others when they spit or litter in public spaces. Fortunately, there are responsible people who not only do right things by correct disposal, but are also usually considerate and concerned for the well-being of others. People have different habits, behaviours and ways of doing things in different situations. In developing countries, where most may act in similar deviant ways, littering may be ignored, though it does not mean that cleanliness is not appreciated. On the contrary, nurturing good habits of disposal of used tissues would be an example of a good public behaviour.


There are many ways we can be considerate to other commuters in public transport where litters are concerned.

A simple act of keeping the used tissues and finding a bin to throw when possible. Most public transport, such as buses and taxis, have a small bin by the exit. Using them would safe others from unwanted bacterial or viral infection. Those with bad intentions to spread their germs or simply ignore expected norms of behaviour, should realise that they could also be victim one day of others’ such bad behaviour. As a developed nation, people would have learned and possessed the value to dispose tissues in a trash can or keep them till they find a bin.


First World Nation is both about understanding the rules and following them, as well as giving in a little, and being the first to give way or offer to yield. It is such trivialities in life that contribute to a more gracious living and shared happiness. As the Buddhist's teachings say, “radiate goodness, and goodness will return.” Therefore, in a swimming pool, it is always good to be considerate and communicate with the lane users of your intention on the split or circular movement in the pool. Or if you are just soaking in the water, be mindful to those who are lap swimming, to give way when they touch down at the end of the pool to make a turn.

Swimmers have to embrace positive sporting etiquettes in order to experience happy leisure pursuits. I wonder if the fish in the sea would collide into one another, or if they are able to avoid accidents with an extra sense about their immediate environment that we humans do not possess. Of course in the fish world, it is a learned and naturally acquired behaviour, and we certainly cannot compare ourselves with the underwater world. However, as a highly sophisticated species ourselves, we can surely take extra sensory caution and habitualize our swimming trajectories. Thus it would make sense that swimmers communicate about lane movements and recognize the norm of swimming on the correct lane side.


1 Low, Kin Huat (2006). Locomotion and Depth Control of Robotic Fish with Modular Undulating Fins. International Journal of Automation and Computing, 4 : 348-357.

2 Swimmers Guide. (2014). Facility Reviews. Retrieved on 13 Feb 2014,


K Thirumaran is a Senior Lecturer specializing in tourism and hospitality management at James Cook University Singapore. He has worked in the USA and Singapore tourism industries for over 11 years and has research interests in destination marketing and cultural tourism.

Mohit Raghav is an entrepreneur and CEO of World Lifestyle Pte Ltd. (India). A graduate of James Cook University Singapore, he currently manages a professional membership platform:, which promotes accessibility to lifestyle resources and networks.





Singapore’s society is one that has been said by many to be an exemplary first world society. However, in many cases, there are less desirable aspects of it which can surface in various aspects of Singaporean life. For the most part, undesirable behaviour in Singaporean society goes largely unnoticed. However, when it comes to public transport, this behaviour is pretty much on display for all to see. It is not much of a surprise then that Singapore’s government has undertaken countless campaigns to get commuters to do things that the rest of the world would consider decent. This is especially the case for the younger generations, though the elderly are hardly exempt from displaying rather distasteful habits.

There are multiple modes of public transport in Singapore: the bus, train called MRT, and taxi. However, since in the taxi one hardly ever meets another member of the public, one is not likely to offend another, thus precluding its inclusion in this chapter. In addition, since one is effectively promised a seat in a cab, it is unlikely that Singaporean unpleasantness rears its head in this context.

In this chapter, we shall highlight some of the inconsiderate or unreasonable display of public transport behaviours as demonstrated by Singaporeans, and conclude by proposing practical solutions to curb such acts.

For reasons unknown, the “ugly Singaporean” is especially attracted to occupied seats on MRTs and buses, often appearing in places where one party does not wish to relinquish his or her seat to another. The problem is so bad that the Singaporean government has decided to legislate kindness and thoughtfulness by labelling seats specifically meant to be given up to those who need them more.

Naturally, there are other means for Singaporeans to annoy and offend one another on public transport. Problems such as not moving in from the entrance, talking loudly and incessantly on the phone, placing bulky items inconveniently, emitting terrible body odours, and sneezing/coughing with the mouth uncovered are much too commonly seen on public transport. All of which will be given due consideration in this chapter.

However, one needs to adhere to the premise that human beings are complex by nature. People conduct themselves differently in different situations and contexts. Hence, it’s difficult to understand or comprehend certain behaviours or their motivations behind them.

Hence, before we examine the different facets of unbecoming behaviour displayed on public transport, we need to understand the reasons behind these behaviours.


This problem could partially stem from the values dissonance between the generations.[1] The older generations subscribe mainly to what can be termed “Asian values”--a set of values predominant in many South East Asian countries. These values tend to put the needs of the community ahead of that of the individual; in addition, they ascribe great respect to elders in a community. The younger Singaporeans, after having been exposed to popular culture, tend to have more contemporary values. They value freedom of individual expression and view the more traditional values in society as something that is dated and archaic.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1. Ah Lian versus Predator... Retrieved May 16th, 2014 from:

This leads to a problem where the older generation feels entitled to certain privileges that the younger generation does not want to relinquish because of the more individualistic mind-set that they possess. This lack of understanding and unwillingness to compromise only serve to exacerbate the problem. So many elderly are seen glaring or sighing at youngsters who refuse to give up their seats for them.

This has clouded the mind-set of the elderly who believe that the youngsters are very badly brought up, uncultured, lack social skills, and more importantly have no respect for deference. To curtail this problem, the government has placed sign boards at designated places on both buses and MRT to request that seats be given to the pregnant, elderly, handicapped and those who need them.

Bus captains or MRT inspectors can also be deployed and given the authority to reprimand commuters who refuse to abide by these rules.

But these are not the only factors that cause problems in public transport which we shall find out as we examine each behaviour individually.[2],[3]


The majority of unpleasant behaviour observed on public transport seems to be focussed on the availability of seats, and the plethora of embarking and disembarking behavioural patterns that the public finds intolerable. We have briefly covered how the Singaporean government has attempted to legislate politeness and decency by setting up campaigns for people to give up their seats to those who need it more. However, judging from the picture below, some Singaporeans need to be reminded to occupy a single seat; indeed, be informed that their belongings should go on the floor of the bus or MRT. It would be more convenient if passengers would limit themselves to a seat and were gracious enough to give up seats to those they deem less able.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 2. Uncle thinks he's 'king' of the bus. Retrieved May 16th, 2014 from:

Refusing to move in to a bus or train upon embarkation is something that is all too commonly seen in many parts of Singapore. Commuters seem to compete with one another on who can stand closest to the doors and impede incoming passengers the most. It is a common sight especially on the MRT to see the middle of the cabins completely unoccupied with large numbers of people packed like sardines towards the doors. When the train doors open, there is a lot of shoving and pushing and this may lead to unnecessary fights or quarrels because of the lack of personal space. Hence, commuting by public transport can be an unpleasant experience.

The government, aware of this issue, has launched a campaign with the catchphrase “97% of people say they will move in for others, are you one of them?” Though its intention is praiseworthy, logically, it is hard to guilt-trip a crowd of people into becoming community-minded. With crowd mentality comes the idea that one’s actions are of little significance because one is but a single entity amongst many. However, once everyone starts thinking in the same way, everyone becomes selfish and unwilling to inconvenience himself or herself slightly for the greater good of all.

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Figure 3. No lack of social grace here. Retrieved May 16th, 2014 from:

A far more effective way of getting people to cooperate could be to make moving into the middle of the train and buses a law not unlike those which do not permit eating or drinking on public transport. Ideally, this would not be necessary, but given the current sad state of affairs, our present measures seem quite inadequate. However, this selfish mind-set that is currently being displayed might be dispelled if inculcation of civic values took place at a younger age.

Another problem often encountered on buses and the MRT in Singapore is where people avoid sitting next to persons of another race because they feel uncomfortable. It’s quite a common sight to notice that many Singaporeans shy away from sitting next to a foreign worker. They complain about their looks, lack of hygiene, demeanour or behaviour. This is a blatant example of discrimination and prejudice.

Given Singapore’s status as a multi-cultural society, this is perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of less desirable behaviour encountered in public transport.

People should learn to be more open-minded and more willing to get out of their comfort zones. These public spaces should be seen as providing opportunities for inter-ethnic interaction and exchanges of friendly greetings verbally or by simple gestures. We need to be more tolerant, respectful and grateful to these migrant workers, and for their contributions to Singapore.


Though regrettable, it seems as though personal hygiene is another sphere of behaviour that some Singaporeans take offence towards. Generally, these fall into three main categories: sneezing/coughing without covering one’s mouth and nose, emitting body odour, and generally appearing dishevelled.

Coughing/sneezing, while leaving the nose and mouth uncovered, is something that commuters in Singapore have a very real right to be wary of. While inherently disgusting, this behaviour also aids the spread of pathogens. With the experience of the very real terror of SARS and bird flu outbreaks behind them, Singaporeans definitely do not want a recurrence of such nightmares, and these may have caused them to view this behaviour much less favourably.

In this case, Singaporeans are definitely justified in their disdain for the behaviour, and it mainly falls upon the perpetrator to remedy the situation. Wearing a mask or merely carrying along a packet or two of tissues would suffice, and the used tissue should be disposed of appropriately.

For the second scenario, who we can shift the blame to, is more of a grey area. Body odour is most definitely something that no one finds attractive. This is undoubtedly exacerbated by the close proximity most people on public transport find themselves in, being unable to simply move away from the olfactory assault. However, public transport is after all public transport–this means that it’s available for all to make use of, and as such, one cannot be selective as to who one shares the cabin with. Body odour that results from a lack of hygienic practices, such as not having regular showers is something that must be avoided. However, cases where the offender has finished a sporting event and is merely making his or her way home is somewhat justifiable. Perhaps, the lack of washing up facilities could have led to this. On a positive note, the offender could at least have a change of shirt to respect the feelings of others!

People should be aware of basic hygiene practices and be considerate enough to realise that it may cause discomfort to others. But there is also the issue of people taking offence at the shabby or dishevelled dressing of someone else on the train or bus. This is possibly the hardest of the behaviours listed in this section to take offence at, as in many cases, it is beyond the offenders’ control. Lacking financial or other means to afford good clothes is hardly a reason to be discriminated against. Once more, it is important that the public be aware that the transport they are taking is meant for everyone and that it is not fair to discriminate merely because of the clothes that one may wear. Tolerance and understanding are probably the only remedy for this situation.

Some commuters may also take public transport when they are unwell. Due to their physical condition, they may ‘throw up’ or feel faint. In cases like these, one can act responsibly by bringing along plastic bags to contain their vomit, and the public needs to show graciousness by giving up their seat, and being more receptive or sympathetic when such incidents occur. Most often the unwell person may not have anticipated this predicament.

However, some of the other behaviours described by Singaporean commuters as unpleasant do not fall neatly into any specific category, and will hence be addressed in this section. Listening to loud music or talking loudly and incessantly, carrying bulky items and invading the personal space of another, all seem to be problems faced by many Singaporeans on public transport.

People who talk loudly or listen to obscenely loud music on the MRT or buses are the bane of many commuters. Often, travellers wish for a quiet journey to their destinations without unpleasant distractions. It is because of the lack of consideration for others that people are so comfortable making a nuisance of themselves on public transport. Ideally, as Singaporean society progresses, it becomes more socially aware and self-correcting with regards to these behaviours. It is also relatively easy for commuters to fix the problem themselves by merely, albeit politely, informing the offender that he or she is inconveniencing people; in most cases, it should solve the problem.

Problems involving bulky items on board trains and buses are something that are unavoidable. Strollers and prams that mothers bring their young children around in are a necessity and they should not be discriminated for it. Most people find lugging around bulky objects to be fairly tiresome, and are hardly likely to subject others to the same indignity, unless it was absolutely necessary. In cases like these, it is necessary for the public in general to be more understanding and forgiving; a good dose of empathy would also be helpful in making everyone’s trip a lot more enjoyable.

There is also the issue of the invasion of personal space on public transport. This is, again, one of the unavoidable eventualities of travelling in a high density city. There are times when the buses and trains and packed full of commuters, and scarcely are there space to move. Though the concept of personal space is valid,[4] public transport requires one to forgo this privilege for a period of time. Alternatively, if one is especially particular about his or her personal space, one could travel only on off-peak periods and beat the crowds. Though depending on the person’s lifestyle, this may not be entirely practical.[5]

Lastly, we come to the issue of public displays of affection on board public transport in Singapore. As evidenced by the picture below, public displays of affection often result in space saving due to couples being in extremely close proximity to each other. Despite this, many Singaporeans, especially those with more conservative values take offence at what they deem inappropriate behaviour. As expected, it is usually the younger generation that is guilty of such behaviour.[6] Though they may argue that this form of behaviour hurts no one and that others should mind their own business, they need to remember that the prevailing morality of the region frowns upon the public displays of affection, and as such, need to reign in their passion.

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Figure 4. Touchy-feely couple gets told off by mother when they moan on train. Retrieved May 16th, 2014 from:

In Singapore, such display of affection is categorised as ‘indecent acts’ and is classified under the ‘miscellaneous offences acts’. Children should be inculcated and imbibed with socially acceptable behaviours from young. These moral values should be reinforced in schools in their ‘moral education’ classes, so students are better informed and project acceptable standards of public behaviour.


Parents should teach and instil or inculcate socially desirable behaviours in children from young. Children need to learn to be gracious and civic minded.

Parents also need to ‘walk the talk’--display such behaviours so that such habits become intuitive in their children.

Children and Singaporeans as a whole should be taught to be more accepting of other races and cultures.

Schools should reinforce such values and practices in the ‘moral education’ or ‘pastoral care’ classes.

The government, besides using sign boards, displaying posters on public transport and billboards to remind Singaporeans to be civic minded and gracious, should at pertinent times (quarterly or when such inconsiderate behaviours are rampant) organise campaigns to bring this message across of ‘being a gracious and a civic-minded society’.

Bus captains and MRT inspectors can be deployed to make sure commuters abide by the rules and regulations when using public transport.

Singaporeans should learn to respect people from diverse cultures, be humane and show empathy.

More community or social activities can be organised to make Singaporeans and other nationalities as part of an inclusive society.


From the above discussion, we note that Singaporeans seem to have many grievances regarding the behaviour of others on public transport. Although in many cases, their concern is genuine, they do seem to lack tolerance for many things that they deem to be beyond their comfort zone. There seems to be also, a sense of conflict regarding the morality of the younger and older generations. This is most likely due to the variations in the moral system both subscribe to--the elder generations still hold true to the quintessential, conservative “Asian values”, whereas the younger generations generally follow the more contemporary set of Western values imparted by popular culture. This lack of tolerance and understanding to ungraciousness behaviour that Singaporeans display in public transport only serve to exacerbate many of the same problems they attempt to pinpoint and prevent[7].

However, we can take comfort and be optimistic for inconsiderate behaviours to change if we are inclined to believe with what the Singapore Kindness Movement chief, Mr William Wan (p. D4), says, “Kindness and graciousness are things that people resonate with. Sometimes they forget, but a little nudge and a little reminder will help.”[8]


1 Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural Representation and Signifying Practices. Open University, p. 15 – 37.

2 Mees, P. (2000). A Very Public Solution: Transport in the Dispersed City. Carlton South, Vic: Melbourne University Press.

3 Friman, M., & Garling, T. (2001) Frequency of negative critical incidents and satisfaction with public transport services. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, 8(2), p. 105 – 114.

4 Bourdieu, P. (1989). Social space and symbolic power. Sociological Theory, 7(1), 14 – 25.

5 Velastin, S. A., Boghossian, B. A., Lo, B. P. L., Jie Sun, Vicencio-Silva, M. A., PRISMATICA: toward ambient intelligence in public transport environments. Systems, Man and Cybernetics. 35(1), p. 164 – 182.

6 Calafat, A., Blay, N., Juan, M., Adrover, D., Bellis, M. A., Hughes, K., Stocco, P., Siamou, I., Mendes, F., & Bohrn, K. (2009). Traffic risk behaviours at nightlife: Drinking, taking drugs, driving, and use of public transport by young people, Traffic Injury Prevention, 10(2), p. 162 – 169.

7 Berthelsen, P., (2005). Free will, consciousness and self. Oxford, New York: Berghahn Books.

8 Wan, W. (May 2nd, 2015). Motive doesn’t matter, so long as people do good. The Straits Times.







Mr Kris Koh has had a wealth of experience in a variety of fields both locally and overseas. He has taught English for a number of years in Japan and subsequently returned to Singapore and worked as a tourist guide for almost 20 years, conducting tours in Australia, Europe, Japan and Singapore.

However, his innate love for children and a great passion for teaching saw him embark on a full time teaching career. He has taught in a number of local institutions and initially joined JCU Singapore as a part time lecturer teaching into the ELPP program. However, he made a switch to teaching into the Foundation program in 2013.With his colourful portfolio, Kris is able to inject and translate his myriad experiences to real life and practical examples while teaching into the Foundation courses. He has created a conducive learning environment and has instilled in his students a love for knowledge.

Ms Gandhi has been actively working in the education field for more than 30 years. In conjunction with teaching and holding senior positions in both the government and private institutions in Singapore, she had been employed as a lecturer in the International Schools in Dubai.

Prior to Ms Gandhi’s appointment as a Business lecturer at JCU Singapore, she held the position as Head of the Academic and English Departments at Informatics.

Ms Gandhi has also extensive experience working with external academic bodies including the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate and the University of Wales. These appointments have further broadened her skills and competencies in learning, teaching, assessment and curriculum development.

Besides, her wealth of experience and knowledge, Ms Gandhi is a strong advocate of education. Presently, she’s the Academic Manager for both the Foundation and Diploma programs at JCU Singapore. She is fully committed to helping students benefit from and enjoy their undergraduate study experience at JCU Singapore




‘Let’s go shopping!’ Who doesn’t get excited upon hearing that phrase? That simple process of browsing and ultimately purchasing an item in exchange for money makes hearts go racing[1].

In Singapore especially, shopping stands on par with another favourite pastime, eating. Singapore is a shopping haven that attracts both locals and visitors. From small neighbourhood shops to the glitzy department stores in Orchard Road, crowds can often be seen browsing and jostling with one another.

However, that act which is supposed to be fun and pleasurable can become a nightmare at times, especially during sales seasons. ‘Hey, I saw that first!” “No, I did!" Doesn’t that sound familiar somehow? Shoppers descend on stores in droves every time a sale is announced. The scenes are chaotic as people rush for ‘bargains’, which are more often than not, old stocks that stores are trying to clear out.

Even in developed countries, the ‘ugly shopper’ has emerged. In a national survey conducted by in the United States, it was found that more people are indulging in unruly shopping behaviours, such as fighting for parking spaces or cutting in line. People even park illegally in handicapped spots, and people have admitted to taking items out of other peoples’ shopping carts![2]

Shopping today is more than just a functional act. It is seen more as a social event, where shoppers get together not only to buy goods and services, but also, more importantly, to just catch up, eat out or just people-watch. However, this seemingly simple act can be marred by bad behaviours from other shoppers.

So what constitutes bad shopping behaviours? Many terms are used to define acts of bad customer behaviour. These include 'deviant consumer behavior'[3] and 'aberrant consumer behavior'.[4] Christopher Lovelock[5] coined the term ‘jaycustomers’ to refer to dysfunctional customers who deliberately or unintentionally disrupt service in a manner that negatively affects the organization or other customers.

This chapter, while not exhaustive, presents some examples of undesirable shopping behaviour, the reasons for it, consequences and some preventive measures.


One of the common misbehaviours is that of cutting queues. This can happen when standing in line to buy goods, collecting free gifts or paying at the counter. It is increasingly common to see people who are supposed to be at the back of the queue handing their purchases to friends in the front of the queue to pay on their behalf. Of course this irritates and angers those who have been standing patiently in the queue for their turn, and now have to wait longer.

Such inconsiderate behaviour can have more serious consequences. Many Singaporeans will remember the famous ‘Hello Kitty’ promotions conducted by McDonalds over the past years. One of the most famous (infamous) examples of anti-social shopping behaviours occurred, in the year 2000, when the launch of the plush toys saw fans getting injured in fist fights as tempers flared when people tried to jostle and cut queues to get their hands on the toys.[6] Glass doors at one outlet were shattered, injuring 7 people and 6 were arrested for making a nuisance of themselves. There were related instances of fainting, traffic congestion, molest and scuffles.

Worse still, customers who got hold of the toys then tried to sell them on e-bay for big profits! On 28 April 2014, McDonalds launched a similar promotion, the ‘Hello Kitty Bubbly World Collectors’ Set’. Almost immediately, black market offers popped up online and taken up.[7] The famous Singaporean “kiasu” attitude at work!

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Figure 1. Kitty kitsch turns Singaporeans into Pavlov's dogs.

Retrieved from

During shopping trips to department stores, I have personally observed how shoppers rummage through items displayed in boxes and then scatter things around. They fail to pick up clothes they have dropped on the floor and just walk away. Items get taken from the shelves, and instead of being placed back in their proper place, they are carried in the basket or trolley, and then left elsewhere when the shopper changes his/her mind about buying it. Customers are known to switch clothing set sizes so that the top is one size and the bottom another, or even switch price tags so that items are marked as cheaper than they should be.

At times, I am not sure whether to be angry or amused by the antics of some shoppers—sniffing at containers of bathroom deodorizers, perfume and even food. Of course, the items sniffed at are not purchased but left on the shelves, and another set of the item is placed in the basket or trolley!

Among the grouses from service staff in Singapore is that shoppers lack basic manners and courtesy, are rude, show no appreciation of the service staff and are often unreasonable. Failure to say ‘Hello’ or ‘Thank you’ are some of the bad habits of Singapore shoppers. Commented a retail service staff, “A customer walked in with a bag she bought from our overseas store. The strap had worn out, and she wanted an exchange or refund. We couldn’t because she had already used it for one year.” However, the customer refused to accept that, and wanted a replacement or a refund.[8]

Try navigating your way through the narrow aisles of supermarkets and it is an exercise in dodging missiles! Shoppers with bulky bags, baskets and trolleys laden with stuff abound pretend not to see that you need space to move about. They stand their ground as if the store belongs to them, and any polite request for them to stand aside is often rewarded with a dirty look or blatant disregard.

Is there anyone in Singapore who has not witnessed shoppers at buffets piling their plates as high as Mount Everest, and can’t finish what they have taken? This gluttony just goes to show the inconsiderate behaviour that eventually results in unnecessary expense and wastage. And how about parents who allow kids to misbehave in restaurants or other shopping facilities? Scenes of kids screaming, banging utensils on the table, running around, playing hide and seek among the clothes on racks, touching food that is on display and other similar acts, are not that uncommon in Singapore.

Another 'uniquely Singaporean' trait is that of placing packets of tissue paper on tables in hawker centres. Is someone handing out free tissue packets? No such luck! These are placed there to reserve or 'chope'[9] seats while the shoppers are ordering and getting their food. Oh, and not to forget taking up one more seat for their bags, oblivious to the people standing around looking for seats!

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Figure 2. Chope, This Seat Mine: The Immutable Laws of Singapore's Hawker Centers. Retrieved from

Another socially unacceptable trait of Singapore shoppers is the pilfering of supermarket trolleys. The sight of supermarket trolleys, outside peoples’ homes or at roadsides, has become more common as shoppers simply push them home after shopping. After all, where else can you ‘buy’ a trolley for $1? It is too good an offer for people to pass up.

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Figure 3. NTUC FairPrice and Singapore Kindness Movement jointly appeal to shoppers to return trolley after use. Retrieved from

Fairprice Supermarket sees 200 trolleys taken out of its stores each month, a statistic which translates to greater inconvenience to shoppers, and to monetary loss. The chain absorbs a loss of about $150,000 a year for the replacement, retrieval and maintenance of its trolleys.[10]

Apart from these socially deviant shopping behaviours, there are the more serious cases of criminal acts. Top of this list is shoplifting. According to the Singapore Police Force, there were 4,751 cases of shoplifting in 2011.[11] A recent study in the United States[12] found that customer theft cost retailers $37.5 billion annually.


There are various reasons to explain shoppers’ bad behaviour[13]. These include:

- psychological characteristics--personality traits, attitudes, the extent of moral development, aspiration fulfilment, the desire for thrill seeking, and aberrant psychological dispositions
- demographic characteristics--age, sex, education, and economic status
- social influences—socialization, norm formation, and peer pressure
- contextual factors—physical environment, types of products/services offered, level of deterrence, public image of the firm
- perceptions of a store's relative power
- customer dissatisfaction—consumer retaliation due to customer perceptions of inequalities and the need to restore equity


Undesirable customer behaviour can have many adverse effects on the employees, other shoppers and society in general. The key effects are expounded below.[13]


- psychological feelings of humiliation and worthlessness long after the event
- stress disorders caused by extreme dysfunctional customer behaviour that results in anxiety and flashbacks
- 93% of employees indicated that dysfunctional customer behaviour negatively affected their emotional state and caused fear, frustration, anger and irritation
- employees experience emotional labour
- motivation and morale of employees suffer
- increased desire of customer-contact employees to retaliate, to take revenge, or to sabotage the efforts of dysfunctional customers
- productivity and work quality suffer


- customers who experience dysfunctional behaviour have collective expression of sympathy toward the frontline employees
- the shopping experience of customers is spoilt as a result of bad behaviour of other shoppers
- some customers may even terminate their relationship with the organisation as a result of other customers’ bad behaviour
- some customers may even emulate such bad behaviours if they find that these shoppers can get away with it


- increased workloads for members of staff who are required to deal with dysfunctional customer behaviour, thus reducing employee time to serve functional customers effectively
- negative financial implications for personnel in terms of staff retention, recruitment, induction, and training
- 46% of abused employees have no intention to continue working in the hospitality industry
- higher costs in terms of expenses incurred in restoring damaged property, costs incurred in in recompensing customers, and the costs accrued through "illegitimate" claims by dysfunctional customers
- demotivated employees may work less effectively


There is no reason why employees, other customers, the organization and the society at large should endure the bad behaviours of some shoppers. Management should try not to let such behaviour happen in the first place. This could be achieved through proper recruitment and training of staff and also by having clear operating standards and policies.

At the same time, education of customers in general is also required. In his May Day message in Singapore, Mr. Lim Swee Say, the Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), called for a nation of better customers[14]. He reminded citizens, that as Singapore becomes a more advanced economy, it should also strive to be “a nation of better customers and better people.”

Teaching children good social behaviours at home and in schools is also crucial in minimizing bad adult behaviours. Another way to prevent dysfunctional consumer behaviour is to have proper facilities within the shopping area. For instance, a café might have a separate area for mothers with young and (crying!) children.

Procedures on how to deal with recalcitrant shoppers have to be developed and implemented. Organisations can choose to ‘blacklist’ bad shoppers though this might be difficult due to obvious reasons. However, bad shoppers can be barred from the premises, especially if their behaviour have been especially abusive, physically or verbally.


The notion of consumer sovereignty has created a shopper who thinks nothing of doing whatever it takes to exert his/her ‘rights’. Not only are customers "not always right," in fact, they can frequently lie, cheat, act abusively, and even physically or psychologically harm customer-contact employees.

The emphasis placed on improving service standards in the 1990s, and the earlier stress on customer focus in the 1980s have overemphasized the view of customer sovereignty and underplayed the dysfunctional, the deviant, and the dark side of service.

Dysfunctional shopper behaviours are a sign that the society has not yet achieved civil and moral human behaviours, and can lead to less than favourable outcomes for all involved in the service and retail industry if not checked and corrected.

Bettencourt[15] defines customer voluntary performance as “helpful, discretionary behaviours of customers that support the ability of the firm to deliver service quality.” Better-behaved shoppers and customers will certainly go a long way in creating a first-class living environment.


1 Business Dictionary. Retrieved from

2 Castelan, A. (2011). Shoppers Behaving Badly. Black Friday can bring out the worst in some aggressive shoppers. Retrieved from

3 Moschis, G. P& Cox, D. (1989),"Deviant Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 732-737. Retrieved from

4 Ronald A. Fullerton and GirishPunj (1993) ,"Choosing to Misbehave: a Structural Model of Aberrant Consumer Behavior", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 570-574. Retrieved from

5 Lovelock, C. H. (1994), Product Plus: How Product and Service Equals Competitive Advantage. New York: McGraw-Hill.

6 Wong, W. (2013). McDonald’s Singapore Sees Backlash over Hello Kitty Promotion. Retrieved from

7 Seneviratne, K. (2000 Feb 12). Kitty kitsch turns Singaporeans into Pavlov's dogs. Retrieved from

8 Chang, N. &Chua, T. (2014 May 5). Singapore’s Bad Customers. Retrieved from

9 Seetoh, K. F. (2012). Chope, This Seat Mine: The Immutable Laws of Singapore's Hawker Centers. Retrieved from

10 NTUC FairPrice and Singapore Kindness Movement jointly appeal to shoppers to return trolley after use. Retrieved from
[11] Straits Times (2011 March 29). Majority of kleptomaniacs are women. Retrieved from

12 F. Ray, G. Stephen, H. Lloyd, K. Dominique A., D. Kate, R. B. Rebekah, & W. Jochen (2010). Customers behaving badly: a state of the art review, research agenda and implications for practitioners. Journal of Services Marketing, 24 (6), pp. 417-429. Retrieved from

13 Harris, L. C., & Reynolds, K. L. (2003). The consequences of dysfunctional customer behavior. Journal of Service Research: JSR, 6(2), 144-161. Retrieved from

14 Straits Times (2014 May 14).Labour chief calls for nation of better customers. Retrieved from

15 Bettencourt, L. A. (1997), "Customer Voluntary Performance: Customers as Partners in ServiceDelivery," Journal of Retailing, 73 (Fall), 383-406.




Mr Stomachache sat at the hawker centre with his classmates, enjoying a bowl of spicy laksa noodles. Halfway through, his stomach began to churn uncomfortably. Making a dash to the washroom, he confronted his worst fears. ‘Nooooo….’ groaned Mr Stomachache as he popped into one cubicle after another. The next one seemed worse than the one before! ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me, here in Singapore!’ he muttered in disgust. ‘Aren’t we supposed to be a first world nation?’

The floor was slippery with what he hoped was water, toilet paper lay everywhere except where it should have been and the toilet seats were stained with God knew what! Not to mention the stench that hung heavily in the air.

He clutched his stomach as he tore out and around the hawker centre, desperately looking for another toilet he could use. Spotting a nearby fast food restaurant, he barged in and made a beeline to the back where the washrooms were located. He could have wept upon seeing what to him was like a five-star toilet! ‘Thank God’, he offered a prayer as he did the needful.

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Figure 1: A scene that many have encountered in public toilets. Trash littering the cubicle, ‘water’ flooding the floor! Should we have to face this situation in a first class nation?[1]


Has this happened to you before? What did you do? What can be done to ensure better standards and habits in public toilets?

The community generally regards toilets in shopping centres, cafes and fast food outlets as ‘public’.[2] Public toilets are found conveniently all over Singapore in places ranging from neighbourhood hawker centres to the up-market shopping malls of Orchard Road. However, public toilets are not always the best places to visit. They can range from spectacular ones such as those found at the Singapore Zoo which are deemed as five-star toilets (seen below) to downright horrible ones at neighbourhood hawker centres.

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Figure 2: Couldn’t you spend hours in this toilet? The beautiful toilets at the Singapore Zoo sure make the mundane chores seem almost pleasurable[3] but such toilets are rare indeed!

Here, we will examine the undesirable behaviours of people when using public toilets. Further, we will look at what constitutes desirable toileting behaviour, and how to promote it.


1. Dirty and wet toilets
2. Toilet paper strewn around
3. Sanitary pads not disposed properly
4. Footprints on toilet seat
5. Toilets not flushed
6. Undesirable behaviours in public toilets

There is a slew of undesirable toilet habits that often leads to the negative image most people have of public toilets. These include:

- Making toilets wet and filthy with water and urine
- Making toilets messy with toilet paper over the floor
- Leaving footprints on the toilet seat by squatting on them
- Ladies not disposing their sanitary pads properly, even if sanitary bins are provided. There are cases when sanitary pads are left sticking to the lid cover
- Sinks that are left very wet by excessive splashing of water. This irritates users who need a space to put their bags
- Not flushing toilets after use
- Leaving large amounts of toilet paper in the toilet bowl, leading to clogged toilets
- Not washing the hands after using the toilet. Only 5% of people wash their hands properly after going to the toilet[4].
- Smoking in toilets even though it is banned. Aside from the smell, smokers stub out their cigarettes on the seats or toilet roll dispensers, leaving them with burn marks
- Urinating all over the toilet seat and on the floor
- Obscene scribbles, writings and drawings on toilet walls and doors. Such toilet graffiti has been given the term ‘‘latrinalia’ by the late Alan Dundes,[5] a folklorist at Berkeley University
- Faeces on toilet seats and on the floor! When visiting a toilet once at a carpark in Orchard I took a wrong step and stepped on someone’s faeces. It was in Orchard for god’s sake!!
- Mothers washing their babies’ bottoms in the bathroom sink. I was at an airport in a neighbouring country recently and experienced this first-hand. It happened right next to a tourist, who commented about it to her friend upon exiting the toilet. It certainly wasn’t a pretty picture!


So what makes people behave so disgustingly when using public toilets? Is it simply a case of ‘it’s not mine’ so it doesn’t matter, or is there more to it? One cause could be the lack of accountability and the dispersion or diffusion of responsibility.

Another could be that undesirable behaviour promotes further such behaviour! When people see others commit undesirable behaviour, they are more likely to repeat similar behaviour. If a user steps into a dirty toilet, he or she would just either walk away or relieve him or herself as quickly as possible and move out of the toilet immediately.

Further, poor upbringing and not imparting the right values to children can contribute to undesirable social behaviours in later life. Research by the National Academy for Parenting Research, commissioned by the Department of Health, UK, found that children who had parents who did not set rules or examples of good behaviour, were twice as likely to exhibit anti-social behaviour themselves.[6]


Undesirable toilet habits portray the general population in a negative light. It indicates that people are unconcerned about general hygiene and are socially irresponsible. This propagates an undesirable image of Singapore in the eyes of tourists and to ourselves. Undesirable toilet behaviours point to a third class society in a first world country!

Society faces a burden as more cleaners have to be hired. Singapore is so clean because we have a lot of cleaners not because people do not litter! The economic costs of keeping public toilets clean and hygienic increase with more socially irresponsible behaviour.

Physical harm could result due to wet and slippery bathroom floors. Water on the floor also causes formation of footmarks when users step on the floor, and this leaves unsightly marks. Wet bathroom conditions also promote the growth of bacteria.

Unhygienic toilets lead to health problems and spread of diseases. People have been infected with hepatitis A, E and diarrhoeal diseases across the country for using such toilets.[7]

In Brunei, Hjh Jamilah Hj Mohd Ali,[8] from the Ministry of Education, reported that the poor state of toilets in many schools, increased the health risks such as chronic kidney damage, constipation, outbreak of E coli, and negative psychological effects, among others.

Undesirable toilet habits are such a bane that Jack Neo, a famous producer in Singapore, launched a new movie ‘Everyone’s Business’ on 5 Dec 2013. Watch the trailer at


1. Minimising litter and mess
2. Reducing water spillage
3. Not squatting on toilet seats
4. Flushing after use

Desirable Toilet Behaviours - The following is a short list of desirable toilet behaviours:

- Be a sweetie….Close the seatie!
- Wipe off any residue on toilet seat
- Do use the water hose appropriately
- Do not splash water all over the place after washing the hands
- Flush the toilet after use
- Do not stuff toilet paper into the toilet bowl
- Dispose of any toilet paper used appropriately
- Aim properly! ‘Gentlemen, your aim will help. Stand closer. It’s shorter than you think!’ and ‘Ladies, please remain seated for the entire performance!’ This will prevent unnecessary wet floors.


The World Toilet Organisation, founded on 19 November, 2001, provides an international platform for exchanging knowledge, and promoting clean sanitation and public health policies.

In Singapore, this agenda has been pushed forward by Jack Sim, the founder of the Restroom Association of Singapore and the World Toilet Organisation. For instance, he has lobbied for building codes to be changed to allow for more cubicles in women’s restrooms.

The Table below chronicles the key milestones of the Restroom Association of Singapore since its founding, as a demonstration of its activities to promote better public restroom culture.

Table 1: Milestones of Restroom Association of Singapore

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In addition, the National Environment Agency (NEA) also promotes public toilet hygiene. It sees clean and well-maintained public toilets as an integral part of public health. NEA provides operators of public toilets with information on requirements, and toilet regulation and maintenance. Design guidelines for toilets are also provided. Educational posters (shown below) can be downloaded from its website.[10]

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Figure 3: A set of educational posters created by the National Environment Agency to inculcate good behaviour in public toilets. An example of the many campaigns that Singapore is well-known for!

Other countries face similar problems in public toilet habits. For instance, Malaysia has introduced college courses in lavatory management as part of a continuing ‘toilet revolution’ in the country.[11]

Regular inspections should be conducted and errant operators of public toilets be punished. Without such recourse, public sanitation problems will continue.[12]

A well-designed toilet is also essential in promoting good toilet habits. Hand-drying equipment should be nearby so as to minimize wet floors. Such equipment should be in good serviceable order and amenities such as soap should be readily available. Self-cleaning toilets that don’t need manual flushing can promote a cleaner environment.

However, government actions only go so far if individuals themselves do not take responsibility for public toilets. The following are some tips that individuals can use:

- Upon entering a toilet stall, wipe off the toilet seat if dirty or use a toilet seat cover
- Avoid toilets that have wet or dirty surfaces
- Do not sit on the seat but hover slightly over it
- Dispose of sanitary wear appropriately
- Close the toilet seat lid
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap
- Dry hands with paper napkins provided


Using a public toilet is often a necessity for many people as they move around performing their daily chores. Desirable toilet habits need to be inculcated for the convenience of all users and to improve the general public hygiene. Continued action, vigilance, legislation and education will go a long way, and eventually pay off in better toilet habits.


1 Messy Public Bathrooms. Retrieved from

2 City of Port Phillip. Draft Public Toilet Plan 2013 – 2023. Retrieved from

3 5-Star Toilet - Garden Pavilion at the Singapore Zoo. Retrieved from

4 Nordqvist, C. "Only 5% Wash Their Hands Properly After Going to the Toilet." +Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 12 Jun. 2013. Retrieved from

5 Dundes, A. (1965). Here I Sit — A Study of American Latrinalia. University of California, Berkeley: Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers, 34, 91-105.

6 Scott, S., Sylva, K., Doolan, M., Price, J., Jacobs, B., Crook, C. and Landau, S. (2010) Randomized controlled trial of parent groups for child antisocial behaviour targeting multiple risk factors: the SPOKES project. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 51, 48-57.

7 Daily Sun (2012, 29 Nov). Unhygienic toilets take a toll. Retrieved from

8 The Brunei Times. (Apr 2010). Dirty toilets putting students' health at risk. Retrieved from‎

9 Restroom Association of Singapore. Retrieved from

10 National Environment Agency. Retrieved from

11 The Borneo Post Online (Oct 2013). For now, suffice to keep public loos clean. Retrieved from


Kanwaljit has almost 30 years of work experience in a variety of appointments, out of which 20 of these have been in the education sector. She has held the position of Senior Lecturer and Head of Department at Thames Business School. As part of her academic career to date, she has worked with external academic bodies, in particular, UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate), LCCI and University of Wales.
Ms Kaur commenced her career with James Cook University in Feb 2008, teaching in the undergraduate business program. She then moved on to a management position, overseeing the pool of sessional lecturers. In 2011, she moved back to academic duties and has been teaching into the Foundation Program.




Imagine a group of excited tourists visiting one the most renowned zoos in the world, the Singapore Zoo. They are visually eager to see the wide range of animals including the much talked about 'Inuka', the Polar Bear, and the loveable Pandas, 'Kai Kai' and 'Jia Jia' in their “constructed” natural environment.

The tourists are also looking forward to immersing themselves, and basking in the glories of the well-manicured gardens and boundless flora within the zoo premises. As they meander through the various paths and exhibits of the facility, they revel in the aesthetic beauty of nature which has been further enhanced and crafted by the skilful hands of the environmentalists. However, their revelry is short-lived by the impregnating stench and vile smell of stale food and presence of litter scattered across the exhibit viewing galleries.


Vandalism is a continuing threat to sustainable tourism.

- Damage to historic and heritage property
- Repair and maintenance cost to the community
- Loss in tourist value of the attractions
- Against the social norms and practices of the local community

The trees along the paths are plagued with carvings on tree trunks. 'Is this graffiti or a work of art?' Alas! in a pensive mood the group stops for lunch, only to find the sitting gallery and eating areas with broken chairs and benches. The table tops are 'beautifully' designed with explicit drawings in various languages. The visit to the toilet is equally unpleasant, with broken toilet seats, missing toilet roll casing and graffiti behind the toilet doors. The envisioned “delighting” visitor experience at the zoo turns out to be an unpleasant trip to the attraction. The profoundly disheartened visitors share their unpleasant experiences with several other prospective tourists, who are now contemplating to 'skip' or 'give it a miss' to one of the world's most renowned zoos in the world.

The scenario illustrates the serious effects resulting from vandalism by visitors. Vandalism or property damage by visitors while visiting attractions is a continuing threat to sustainable tourism. Damaged historic and heritage properties which draw the interest of many, can leave a community with a large bill and a bad attitude towards tourists. The experience of the next cohort of tourist is tarnished. There are increases in the repair and maintenance budget for the site administration. Some acts of vandalism like grafitti may be a motivated action and an act of expression. On the other hand, litter on the beach may not be premeditated but is a response to lack of opportunity to exhibit desired behaviour (the absence of a litter bin). While the damage to wall paintings due to constant touching by scores of visitors is not the original intention of the visitor. The common outcome of these acts is damage to property. Another common feature of the above actions and all other acts of vandalism is that these are against the social norms and practices of the local community and wider social setting. It should be noted that while these behaviours are “anti-social”, they may not be criminal in nature.

Vandalism is neither a recent phenomenon nor a passing, temporary fad. It is a historic and ongoing problem. This is evident from the work of Strang,[1] wherein an Egyptian Priest from that civilization observed: “Youth is disintegrating. The youngsters of the land have disrespect for their elders and contempt for authority in every form. Vandalism is rife, and crime of all kinds is rampant among our young people”. The 4,000-year-old quotation suggests that vandalism is an age-old phenomenon. In spite of a long history there is neither a single definition of vandalism nor a model solution. Society has been bearing the direct and indirect costs of vandalism, ranging from financial cost to public and private owners to inconvenience and discomfort. Fearing actual danger to the society, and loss of future tourist streams are among the consequences of vandalism.[2] Offler, Thompson, Hirsch, Thomas, and Dawson[3] support the preceding view by maintaining that “the costs of vandalism should be considered in the physical, psychological, social and economic contexts”.


Tourism can have negative implications for the host economy and the environment. Some tourists do not consider the long-term implications of their behaviour. These acts of vandalism are detrimental to the sustainability of tourism sector.

Popular media and academic literature provide several illustrations of vandalism by tourists. The New York Times[4] reported that a tourist cut a 17th century painting out of its frame, and tore it into pieces, demonstrating his disagreement with the commercialization of art. Every year in summer, the city of New York becomes home to hundreds of graffiti artists from around the world, prompting a view that the city is a ‘graffiti Mecca’.[5] These self-proclaimed artists consider New York as the final stop on a ‘Graffiti World Tour’, thriving on the excitement of damaging property, and the risk of being captured. Another example of tourism linked vandalism is at the site of national heritage treasures, such as the Great Wall of China and Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia. Visitors to the world heritage site of Angkor Wat have used chainsaws and motorcycle brake wires to slice through the rock and hack off statues of gods, demons and half-animal half-human figures. These figures once revered by the Angkor civilization are presumably taken as personal souvenirs or “harvested” to sell the figures for profit.[6] Additionally, souvenir collectors have pilfered bricks and stones out of the Great Wall of China, contributing to the disappearance of roughly half of the estimated 6000 kilometres of the wall built during the Ming Dynasty.[7] Some doubts must, however, be cast over these broad claims, as much of the wall was also recycled by local communities over the centuries; so, it is difficult to be precise about the role of tourists and visitors versus local communities in this change process.

Other insensitive actions of visitors are damaging the natural environment. According to American Forests,[8] “chainsaw wielding vandals attacked one of the world’s tallest sugar pines, stripping away a band of bark and several layers of the base of this 265-foot tall, 400 years old tree”. Several Redwood trees have been attacked by vandals, and left with huge chainsaw gashes threatening their long term survival. Weaver[9] discussed damage to coral and reef diversity attributed to mass tourism and scuba diving expeditions around the Great Barrier Reef. Drawing parallels in damage to natural elements due to abuse by visitors, the ‘Eye of the Needle’ a sandstone arch on the Upper Missouri River in Montana formed by thousands of years of weathering – the gradual breakdown and erosion of rocks – fell to vandals excessive behaviours seeking hedonistic pleasures.[10]

The instances cited illustrate unsolicited tourist behaviours. The work of Weaver[9] regards tourism in general as a “….Trojan horse capable of undermining the environmental, economic, and socio-cultural integrity of destinations”. Current literature support the above statement, arguing that such impacts contribute to tourism being unsustainable.[11],[12],[13] These kinds of impacts also suggest that growth in tourism activity leading to mass tourism exerts the kind of pressure on the environment, the community, and the local infrastructure, which leads to destination stagnation and degradation.[14] Thus, without control and management, unchecked tourism is unsustainable.

These concerns are set in the wider context of the global growth of tourism. International tourists bring in valuable foreign exchange, create business and job opportunities in the host economy, and may result in better standard of living of host communities. Yet, as portrayed above, the advent of tourism and thousands of visitors can have negative implications for the host economy and the environment.[15] Some tourists having little stake in the host environment and appear not to consider the long-term implications of their behaviour. Clearly, acts of vandalism in the tourism context are now being revealed as detrimental to long-term interest of host economies and the sustainability of tourism sector.[16]


Careful treatment to vandalism is essential to achieve sustainable practices

- Better understanding of vandalism at tourist properties and strategies to prevent such behaviours
- Develop a typology and effectiveness of the intervention strategies
- Involve multiple stakeholders in intervention strategy
- Identify root causes and effective elimination of these causes of vandalism

Since the growth of the tourism sector is an important aspect of the development strategies of these communities, management of tourist behaviours is crucial to develop sustainable tourism practice.[17] Vandalism is an aspect of tourist behaviour that could impede development; careful analysis of the phenomenon is essential to achieve sustainable practices. There is a need to have a better understanding of vandalism at tourist properties, and strategies to control and prevent such behaviours. Vandalism by visitors is widely acknowledged but academic studies need to move beyond quibbles about definitions.[18] In particular, the attempted interventions adopted to curb vandalism need research attention. There is an absence of a comprehensive analysis of the typology and effectiveness of the intervention strategies. The plot thickens with the presence of multiple stakeholders such as the local community, tourist attraction administration (site management), local government and the tourists themselves. Each stakeholder is guided by a set of priorities and preferences, thus making it difficult to arrive at a unified approach to address vandalism at tourist sites. It is important to consider a full overview of vandalism, incorporating identification of root causes and effective elimination of these causes, to address the full complexity of the problem.

When all elements of the work are fully completed, and by promoting responsible tourism practices worldwide, future visits to attractions such as the Singapore zoo should be more promising, and a more enriching experience for the tourists.


1 Strang, H. (1999). Crimes against schools: the potential for a restorative justice approach. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from ANU-Centre for Restorative Justice

2 Barker, M., & Bridgeman, C. (Eds.). (1994). Preventing vandalism: what works? . London Home Office Police Research Group.

3 Offler, N., Thompson, K., Hirsch, L., Thomas, M., & Dawson, D. (2009). A review of the literature on social, non technical deterrents for vandalism in the rail industry. Brisbane: CRC for Rail Innovation.

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Abhishek Singh Bhati is responsible for overseeing academic governance, administration and introducing strategies to enhance student experience for the College of Business, Law and Governance programs offered in the Singapore Campus. He has worked in the education industry with leading providers for more than 14 years. He is particularly interested in impact of tourism on the economy as well as social sustainability. His PhD thesis studies tourist vandalism, motivation factors of a vandal’s behaviour and effectiveness of stakeholder responses. His other projects include incorporating ‘work integrate learning’ (WIL) based learning strategies in tertiary education. His recent project involved implementing WIL in university curriculum.

Behaviours govern the everyday interactions between people in a society. Gracious behaviours encourage harmonious living especially in crowded cities where resources are often shared. As cities grow increasingly crowded in limited space and resources, the need to adhere to graciousness and social norms in sharing the resources becomes increasingly important.

Addressing different specific situations, and the rationale behind certain behaviours, authors associated with James Cook University have come together to write chapters that discuss the everyday behaviours and necessary changes towards a more gracious and harmonious living. The chapters discuss examples of behaviours ranging from eating in communal areas to underlying psychological and sociological theories and understanding.

James Cook University (JCU) is a public university and is the second oldest university in Queensland, Australia. JCU is a teaching and research institution. The University's main campuses are located in the tropical cities of Cairns, Singapore and Townsville. JCU also has study centres in Mount Isa, Mackay and Thursday Island. A Brisbane campus, operated by Russo Higher Education, delivers undergraduate and postgraduate courses to international students. The University’s main fields of research include marine sciences, biodiversity, sustainable management of tropical ecosystems, genetics and genomics, tropical health care and tourism.

This book is distributed freely as an E-book, and can be obtained in softcopy free of charge from:

© Various Authors, 2018

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First Class Behaviours for First World Nations. Public behaviour in Singapore
James Cook University Singapore
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first, class, behaviours, world, nations, public, singapore
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K. Thirumaran (Author)Foo Koong Hean (Author), 2018, First Class Behaviours for First World Nations. Public behaviour in Singapore, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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