This weekday morning I am immensely thankful for this half-day leave from work to slow down and celebrate multiple milestones – applying for my Provisional Driving License (after multiple nights at theory lessons so I can begin practical lessons) and taking my first half-day off work (after 5 weeks thereabout as a Patient Service Assistant). The canteen at Bukit Batok Driving Centre has neatly-spaced bright orange tables and yellow rectangular seats; unsurprisingly, most in my vicinity are driving instructors proudly donned in their uniforms, many of whom I admire for being advocates of safe driving on roads. An entire row of tables to myself, this Wednesday morning I am on a reserved seat: this one’s about the privilege we so unknowingly enjoy, that I would liken to being on a “Reserved Seat” in public transport.
In the past month of joining newfound familiar faces which never fail to accompany me at the Clementi Station platform 740AM, we head to the city every morning with familiar shoving and pushing towards the centre of the carriage. On these journeys that have become habit, I have been especially observant of the “Reserved Seat” – in particular, the hesitation that comes before its occupancy. I recall from the most recent Hoodie Hangout with the Hidden Good at National Museum of Singapore’s Food for Thought Restaurant, a conversation pumped with passion with respect to these forbidden seats meant for you if, and only if, you bore resemblance to one of the four iconic symbols accompanying the “Reserved Seat” sign. The discussion was centered on the stigma against people who appeared ‘well and healthy’ occupying these seats. The stigma that came as a result of public shaming on STOMP was one we concluded to be unnecessary (if not, unhelpful). Thanks to silly reports that big up instances of these “Reserved Seat”s being sat on, we now pause in our footsteps before being the “inconsiderate” occupant of the “Reserved Seat”.
At this point, I draw parallels between the “Reserved Seat” and being in a privileged position in our lives – some feel a sense of entitlement while others fear to even consider it. Just as how there is some truth in the seat being meant for select few, the preconceived notion of its exclusivity unnecessarily hinders those who do not fulfill the “necessary” conditions from even imagining being in a privileged position. We paint pictures of ideal qualities required for success and privilege (like paper chase, the perfect portfolio), then big them up to the point where we can barely imagine ourselves even trying for it. In that same way, we’d rather leave the “Reserved Seat” empty than sit our tired selves down. Rather, we focus on convincing ourselves we are not that tired, that we are undeserving. It is understandable, we are what society makes us: being the occupant of the “Reserved Seat” invites judgment all around. In a situation where an elderly comes on board, you’re the first who’s expected to give up your seat as if it were a duty that occupants of all other seats are incapable for accomplishing. Similarly, we constantly judge those in a privileged position and expect them to give generously. Noblesse oblige not il est mon obligé.
Last year, somewhere in July, I was given the opportunity to be on the panel of the Drama Box Forum Discussion titled “Inaction // In Action”. An hour was dedicated to engaging the audience in thoughts on the role of young people in social engagement, along with inspiring local project champions in their own fields. My greatest takeaway was the idea that we made our own choices, later reinforced by one my favourite reads during the A-level period titled Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal freedom by William Glasser. There are conscious choices we can make to evolve social construct from the way it is and to be better people, so that everyone may dream to be sitting in a better position from where they are today. We can slowly, but surely erase the complex stigma attached to privilege and the silly one attached to that “special” seat on train rides. Everyone has a right to a seat, there’s enough to go around if we all share (I mean, can you imagine if everyone sat for half their journey and stood for the other half?).
Inaction or in action? Let’s make better choices.