Pop up kindness cafe sending wrong message

From ‘Kindness cafe sends wrong message’, 13 June 2014, ST Forum

(Jeffrey Law Lee Beng): WE SHOULD not create the notion that one can only enjoy discounts or freebies by being friendly, kind and polite (“Say please and thanks for discount”; Tuesday).

I am supportive of the various initiatives of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) in encouraging Singaporeans to make a positive commitment to gracious living through simple acts of kindness. Events such as the I Love My Mum campaign, Heroes Run and photo contest organised by the SKM are commendable as they have impacted and reminded us of the importance of being filial, courteous and kind.

However, the movement’s pop-up cafe where customers are given a discount on a cup of coffee or a free loaf of bread by saying “please” and “thank you” is not the appropriate way to further inspire graciousness and friendliness, which should come from the heart.

(Lim Lih Mei): Being polite is basic manners for all. Striving hard to perform better in their studies is what all students should do. Do we really need money to incentivise such attitude and mindset? We may be nurturing a population that will perform certain acts only when the carrot is cash.

Will that be with a smile or no smile, sir?

Will that be with a smile or no smile, sir?

Here’s what you should do if you want to get a FREE coffee at the Kindness Cafe. Tip your hat, smile, bow and say ‘Good afternoon, how are you doing today, my good sir. Can I trouble you with one coffee, pretty please with sugar on top. Thank you very much!God bless you!’

There’s much more to kindness than saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ of course. You can put on the most nerve-cringing display of politeness at the counter just for a $2 cuppa but come back later and complain that it tastes like bloody ‘longkang’ water after that. There is also nothing in the Kindness Cafe rulebook that says you can’t recite the $2 line with a grumpy, monotonous tone, or shout it out with your finger pointing all over the place not even looking the poor fella in the eye. You may also try to test the gimmick by seeing how the staff would react if you just say ‘Oi!Give me THAT one’. If you have $5 or more to spare, that is. What about people with speech impairments then, do they have a sign language version for discounted coffee? If I were a staff of the Kindness Cafe I’d feel pretty unimpressed throughout, knowing that people are being nice to me only because they’re following a template on the board next to them, and not that they’re actually out to make my day. In fact I’d feel pretty good if I can charge the rare $5 customer for being a total asshole whose parents never taught to say ‘please’ like a decent human being.

The last time someone ran a promo for discounted drinks was not based on how polite you are, but how physically well-endowed you are. The bigger your cup size, the less you had to pay for drinks at Overeasy bar back in 2010. Totally unrelated of course, except that it’s not just the customers alone who got to see how ‘HAPPY things can get’.  By linking ‘happy’ material discounts to politeness, the SKM is saying ‘happiness’ is about getting things cheap, when we’ve always been told that the reward of a good deed is to have done it, that, well, courtesy is FOR FREE. Courtesy has taken on a ‘GSS mentality’, and before you know it, someone will be patrolling MRT trains dishing out free transport vouchers to people who give up their seats to those who need it. So that’s where all the money for former courtesy mascot Singa’s salary goes to.

The Kindness cafe is not going to train people into becoming angels to those poor souls in the service industry. At best, it’s just a harmless reminder that baristas are humans with feelings too and it would be ‘nice’ to give compliments once in a while. I, for one, wouldn’t line up for a Kindness coffee. Not that I’m the kind who points at menus and grunts, but because I’d have to wait for people to memorise and recite their $2 lines before getting served. Anyway, it’s also time for a new courtesy song. Something like this perhaps?

Courtesy is for kopi
Courtesy is for you and me
It makes for happy sipping and harmony
Happiness you can buy
With discounted kopi-o-siew dai
Make courtesy our way of life
(Adapted from the Courtesy is for Free song, original lyrics here)

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