10 January 2006

One-Man Campaigns

Since coming back to Singapore some 30 months ago, I have been embarking on a few one-man campaigns. My generally libertarian stance means that I don’t go around persuading people to join my campaigns, so my one-man campaigns has remained just that – one man. But perhaps with the power of blogging and the internet, I may be able to swing you over as well.

My oldest campaign is the I-Don’t-Need-a-Bag campaign. Now, those who know me will know that my mum is the queen of plastic / paper bags. From supermarket to mooncake to shopping mall bags, we have it all at home. Did you say you need different sizes as well? We have each design in XS, S, M, ML, L, XL, XXL. Please take your pick. And oh, please don’t tell my mum or else she will make it her personal crusade to replenish those you took…

As you may expect, growing up in a small apartment amidst this vicious cycle and pile of bags has given me a phobia of them. Coupled with the knowledge that many of these will take decades to decompose in the landfills and/or emit toxic fumes when incinerated, I began my I-Don’t-Need-a-Bag campaign while I was in Madison. It was in Madison that I first saw people take the trouble to bring their own cloth grocery bags to supermarkets. I never quite got to that stage since my shopping are often spur-of-the-moment affairs, but it did make me start a personal campaign to tell cashiers whenever possible, “I don’t need a bag.”

I was heartened to see that NTUC has recently started a similar campaign as mine, but it appeared that the corporate message has not quite filtered down to the ground level - plastic bags are still liberally given out. I guess there is little incentive for the cashiers here to do otherwise, in a culture that still considers plastic bags an entitlement the supermarket owes to shoppers.

To extend the impact of my campaign, I took a bigger step a couple of months ago. I decided to keep a nicely-folded plastic bag in my work handbag since I usually buy toiletries and odd-and-ends after work. For this purpose, I have found Watson’s bag to be a good size.

My next step in expanding this campaign would be to find a viable alternative to disposable take-out containers when I want to eat in during lunchtime. Tiffin carriers come up as the most natural answers, but there are issues such as portion size and cool factor. Akan datang on this point.

On to my second campaign – the Have-a-Good-Day campaign. Again, this has its roots in my US days where it was common to hear cashiers wish you this cheerfully when you are done with your purchase. In the hope of hearing it one day as the common greeting of Singaporean cashiers, I decided to take the initiative and proactively wish it to cashiers first.

The results of this campaign are quite interesting. Most are caught by surprise but manage to break into a smile and return a “Same to you”. A few don’t say anything (I try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t know what to reply), and even fewer manage to say “Have a good day” or similar before I say it. The latest one I remember was at Tao’s Cuisine at Paradiz Centre. Big kudos for that. I also have the impression that Robinson cashiers also have a greater knack of saying / responding to this greeting…

Finally, the third campaign - this one is not as feel-good as the other two and is going to be controversial. It is the I-Refuse-to-Support-Stunt-Based-Charity-Shows campaign.

I support charity work in my own small ways and I have absolutely nothing against fund-raising per se. But I do have opinions about how fund-raising should be done and I feel strongly that (1) making people risk life and limb and (2) using that to emotional blackmail the audience, is not the right way.

I know, supporters of such shows would say that no one can “make” anyone do anything, whether to risk life and limb or to donate. But we know that is not the case in reality. Peer / social pressure and externally imposed guilt trips are very much at play. Cf Foong Woei Wan’s article in ST Life today.

But my biggest problem with stunt-based charity shows is that it is a downward spiral. It is a method that encourages man’s weakness for the sensational, and worse, blatantly milks it, leading to ever wilder stunts in future charity shows.

The other ST reporter says that since man loves drama, loves the sensational anyway (his example was to why people slow down to look at car accidents), we should accept this as a fact of life, milk it and live with it.

Sure, man is prone to gawking. But does it mean that as a society, we should encourage it and cash in on it, especially when we know that it is a human weakness? Should we really be appealing to the dark undersides of human nature? Why not have Jerry Springer charity shows then?

I am all for creative methods of fund-raising. But sometimes, the means cannot justify its end, however noble the end is. If flag days, educating and more subtle means of fund-raising cannot raise enough funds (whatever enough means), then we just have to accept that this is the charitable limit of our society currently. To forcibly feed fodder to the unfortunate sensationalist side of society is not acceptable.

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