Jewish World Review Feb. 6, 2003 / 4 Adar I, 5763

David Grimes

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Voluntary kindness? Not likely | The government of Singapore is urging drivers to wave at one another.

The idea is part of the Singapore Kindness Movement and is one of many ways that the government encourages the 4 million residents of this island city-state to get along.

Previous campaigns have encouraged citizens to smile, flush public toilets after use and turn off their cell phones in theaters, though presumably not all three at the same time.

The Reuters story about this did not mention what, if any, punishment will be handed out to those who fail or refuse to treat others kindly, but I'm personally thinking that 20 lashes with a wet rattan cane would not be excessive for someone who cannot complete a transaction at a convenience store without making a call on his cell phone.

"Hey, Bob! It's me, Joe! You'll never guess where I am! No … No … No … Give up? I'm at a convenience store! And you'll never guess what I'm doing! No … No … No … Give up? I'm buying a lottery ticket and a six-pack of Diet Coke! Yeah, I'm standing in front of the cashier now! She's ringing me up! I gave her a twenty and now she's giving me change! Oh, wait! The guy behind me, he's coming toward me with his arms outstretched. Maybe he wants to talk to you on the phone. I'll just … GAACK!!!"

I'm all in favor of the Kindness Movement, though I doubt it would get very far in this country if it counts on voluntary compliance. Take cigarette smoking in restaurants, for example. It does not take a genius to figure out that if you light up a cigarette in a restaurant, the smoke is going to travel to other parts of the restaurant via a colorless gas called "air." It is possible -- no, make that likely -- no, make that inevitable -- that the smoke will waft in the direction of someone who not only does not smoke but hates the smell of smoke to the point that he can stand in New York and detect, even while suffering from a head cold, someone smoking in California. It does not help that this person is sitting in the "no smoking" section because as far as he's concerned, the air is no more breathable than if the smoker were blowing the smoke directly up his nostrils.

So you would think the smoker would recognize the fact that he is making the air in the restaurant unbreathable for everyone but himself and refrain from smoking because that is The Kind Thing To Do. Yes, you might think that, just as you might think that drivers would interpret a red light to mean "STOP" rather than "Speed Up."

But, alas, you would be thinking incorrectly on both counts. In fact, Florida nonsmokers finally realized that the only way they would be able to dine out and not have their broiled grouper taste like Marlboros was to amend the state Constitution so that it would be illegal for people to smoke in restaurants.

(It turned out we also made it illegal for people to smoke in bowling alleys, which may not turn out to be such a good idea, as we will now have a clearer view of the dιcor.)

So, I wish the government of Singapore "good luck" in its campaign to get drivers to wave at one another, even if the driver has just cut you off or has been tailgating so closely that you have been able to count his nostril hairs.

A wave in which only one finger is extended is probably worse than no wave at all.

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JWR contributor David Grimes is a columnist for The Sarasota Herald Tribune. Comment by clicking here.


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