Sunday February 19, 2012
Heartened by kind souls reaching out to those in need
By Soo Ewe Jin
THE faces of the children surrounding the brand-new Peugeot 207 say it all.
For Grace Community Services, emerging the winner in The Star’s Bid and Win for Charity contest is testimony to how good work, done quietly and without fanfare, can still be noticed and appreciated by the public at large.
GCS runs several welfare centres in the country, including food banks, street feeding services, a centre for unwed mothers and homes for old folk, orphans and destitute women.
Our readers may have been initially motivated by the desire to win, for themselves, the many fantastic prizes under the Bid and Win series.
But when they did not get any, they put aside their disappointment and took the effort to mail the tokens to the charity of their choice from the list we had identified.
As GCS chairman Dr Henry Pillai puts it, “People sent in tokens from all over the country by mail. Some even called to ask for the address of our main office so that they could personally deliver their tokens.”
I am sure we are all familiar with what motivates people to do good things. In our everyday lives, we know of very ordinary people who always go the extra mile for someone else.
He could be the neighbour giving free tuition to a nearby community of squatters. Or the colleague who is always called upon to fix broken lights and plumbing at no charge.
And we are definitely cheering for Toh Chin Boon, the retired civil servant who will turn 90 this April, who has spent more than half his life helping people he has not even met face to face deal with their pension issues. (Star2, The Star, Feb 6)
Unless we have hearts of stone, we are naturally moved by stories like this. Some will be moved to support such good deeds with their money or their time. And some may even be moved to go out and do likewise.
So why is it that for so many of us, we still need some form of incentive to get going, not even in this area of social good, but even on basic civic responsibilities?
A column in The New York Times last week caught my attention as it was about how governments typically use two tools to encourage citizens to engage in proper civic behaviour like paying their taxes, driving safely or recycling their garbage: exhortation and fines.
Ironically, over here we even reward poor civic behaviour by giving discounts to those who do not want to settle their summonses on time.
According to Richard H. Thaler, “These efforts are often ineffective. So it might be a good time to expand the government’s repertory to include positive reinforcement. Rewarding good behaviour can work.”
Thaler then went on to list various examples but the one that stood out was about how officials in New Taipeh City initiated a lottery as an inducement for dog owners to clean up after their pets.
Under the plan, owners who deposited dog waste into a special depository were made eligible for a lottery to win gold ingots, thus literally turning dog waste into gold.
The top prize was worth about US$2,000 (RM6,000). The city reports that it halved the dog waste pollution in its streets during the initiative.
Interesting. I am sure our policy makers will have no shortage of ideas, and sponsors to provide such prizes, to experiment on how we can get the people to be civic-minded.
I am, however, more interested about the flip side. People who are irresponsible should not be given discounts. Instead, they should be punished by being required to do good.
For a start, they can be asked to volunteer at the many GCS homes nationwide. Paint the home, tutor a child or take an old lady around the neighbourhood in a wheelchair. It will surely change their lives.
Since December 2008, I have been blessed to write a regular weekly column in this newspaper.
Monday Starters appeared each Monday in the Business section. It reflected on everyday life situations, and looked at business issues from a different perspective.
It was my hope that I could inject a bit of heart and soul into Corporate Malaysia and kickstart the ordinary person’s working week with some meaningful reflections to drive away the blues.
I have been much touched by the response from readers who wrote to me and also shared my writings in various other platforms.
So how will this column be different from Monday Starters? It won’t be.
I shall continue to write the way I do, to remind myself and everyone who reads this column, that amidst the busyness of life, we need to pause and look at things with our heart, and not just our eyes.
I hope this column, now renamed Sunday Starters, will give you something to chew on as you await the main courses that come later in the week. — Ewe Jin