You get off the bus. Looking around, you see the corner where you agreed to meet your friend. You take another sip of your coffee, grabbed from your favourite coffee shop on the way over. You’re a bit early, so you text while waiting. After a few moments, your coffee is done.
Now. What to do with the empty cup? Well, there’s a ledge behind you, and already there are a few empty coffee cups. What’s one more? Besides, you’ll remember to take it with you when you leave. Down it goes. Now you can text with both hands.
Your friend arrives. Signs of affection and pleasantries are exchanged, and you head towards your favourite place to eat. The cup stands abandoned and forgotten, watching in silence, as you walk away.
Does this sound familiar?
All too often we can see signs of forgotten pieces here and there. It’s not just outdoors where this is evident. Some ledges must have “garbage bin” written in invisible ink; the sheer amount of garbage on them is gobsmacking. Why does this happen? One of the greatest problems seems to be the idea of exceptions. For some reason, everyone seems to believe that their situation calls for an exception. “One more cup on this garbage heap won’t make a difference.” But, it’s not just about garbage.
There are other issues such as waiting in line. Every country and culture has its queue jumpers, but some here wander past the throng of people as if they were graffiti on a dirty street, and butt in near the front. Then, when people protest, they “suddenly see” the queue and head back. Even then, some still try to cut in somewhere in the middle. Seriously?
What about parking? One of the most frustrating and infuriating spectacles that occur on a daily basis is people stopping or parking on a busy road. Even if it’s a single lane road, they pull up, throw on their hazard lights, and run into a building “just for a moment.” Cars then have to cross the yellow unbroken line to get past it (which is illegal), or wait until the car is moved.
To be clear, the issue is not 100 percent about the people. When these things happen, it’s clear why some of them happen. There are not enough garbage bins. Processing the queue is taking too long. There are no (and I mean none at all; I’ve never seen one anywhere in Seoul) Loading Zones. There are things the management or government could do that could pre-empt the breaking of rules.
Ultimately, though, it’s on us. If you choose to litter, know that you are contributing to the seemingly unsolvable issue of waste disposal. If you choose to cut in line, understand that dozens, or possibly hundreds of people are now delayed because you didn’t want to wait it out. If you choose to stop your car just anywhere, don’t be so shocked when you get angry beeps (or worse) from passing drivers.
It’s our responsibility to wake up and realise that we are not special. We are not an exception. We can’t “just” do things. Rules are made to keep order. Every time someone breaks a rule, they are potentially causing one or many people some sort of difficulty, even if it’s something as simple as costing more money to pay for cleaning up the streets.
People here are not inherently “evil” or “selfish.” I know that in my heart. The problem is that society has become such a mefocused culture, that we simply forget to think about how our actions affect others.
Time to get that back, don’t you think?
Professor Daniel Elijah Lim received his M.A. degree in Creative Writing from University of Canberra. He is currently working for HOKMA College of General Education as an assistant professor.