Covid-19 : Symbolic gestures matter too

By Sean Lim


I was skeptical whether Singaporeans would stand by their windows on Monday night (March 30) and clap together. British expatriate Martin Verga had called on the people in Singapore to Clap For #SGUnited. Inspired by a similar campaign in Britain, he wanted to show appreciation for front-line workers in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

That night, I was having my dinner, not expecting my neighbours to actually take part in it. We are a nation of passive people, seldom rallying together for such activities. There have been exceptions, of course, like the national outpouring of grief when founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew passed on in 2015. 

So when I heard loud applause at 8pm, it took me by surprise. I scrambled to get my phone to capture the insta-worthy scene of the whole estate roaring with their applause. 

I was touched by this show of solidarity but a friend of mine thought otherwise. He felt it was a publicity stunt and we should show our appreciation in more concrete ways, such as offering healthcare workers free food and drinks — which some did. Or the #SGUnited campaign where one can, for instance, donate to the Sayang Sayang Fund established by The Community Foundation of Singapore to provide transport vouchers to staff in the healthcare sector. 

Clapping is too easy to do, my friend said, so it diminishes the gratitude and appreciation we ought to give for their sacrifices. Besides, unlike in London, Singapore is not in lockdown and we can do more than clap from our homes. 

He had a point, but I believe symbolic gestures are also important during a crisis like this. There are numerous examples of that, such as memes, an amusing rap by construction contractor Phua Chu Kang — played by funnyman Gurmit Singh — and Singaporeans remaking national day songs with lyrics related to the crisis. 

The crisis has been depressing enough, seeing the number of infected cases climb exponentially and the introduction of social distancing measures by the Government, which include the closure of entertainment venues, suspension of religious services and gatherings outside of work and school to be limited to 10 people. 

We are living in unprecedented times. The way of life as we know it has been disrupted. I am worried whether I can find a job in this gloomy job market when I graduate in a few weeks. It’s a concern shared by my friend Val in a recent column.  

So if actions like this can cheer us up and help us tide through a crisis, why not? Take Monday’s mass-clapping as an example. I agree with my friend that we should show appreciation through more practical ways. But it does not have to exist in a binary. We can do both, can’t we? 

As neuropsychologist Catherine Loveday writes in The Conversation, “being grateful has repeatedly been shown to boost wellbeing and promote prosocial behaviour”.

These uplifting feelings are further boosted by the brain’s unconscious memory system because we tend to associate clapping and cheering with positive moments such as appreciation, added the professor at London’s University of Westminster. 

Given such distressing circumstances, would it hurt to participate in these symbolic gestures to make our wretched lives a little happier?

Let us also not forget that symbolic gestures can spread important messages too. I’m quite sure most would have seen Phua Chu Kang rap. No lah, not the SAR-vivor one. The coronavirus version

“First don’t kan cheong, don’t be confused

Check the source then share the news.”

The rap may not be a tangible means to contain the spread of the virus, but it is definitely effective. Just play those two stanzas on loop to relatives who spread dubious messages on Whatsapp, saying that her “grassroots leader friend” heard “insider news from a minister” that the Government is going to lockdown the city. 

Or if you have stubborn friends who refuse to adhere to social distancing measures, make sure they hear Mr Brown’s parody on the national day classic One People, One Nation, One Singapore. Certainly less offensive than reprimanding your friend. 

“Ten people, one metre, one Singapore

That’s the way that we should be, Covid no more

Every creed and every race

Every store and every place

Ten people, one metre, one Singapore”

And who says symbolism cannot create positive social pressure? The latest “Stay Home” sticker on Instagram encourages users to practise social distancing and share stories of them going about life in their homes. So now if you want to be fashionable, join the herd and stay home as much as possible. 

But what warmed the cockles of my heart was when I heard 22-year-old student Jaz Loh’s, aka “Violin Girl”, rendition of National Day classic Home. She played it on her violin from the balcony of her hotel room at the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa, where she was serving her stay-home notice since returning from England. 

It’s a song I’m sure resonates with many Singaporeans, more so for those serving SHN at the hotel as people who have returned to Singapore and are waiting to go home. And perhaps also a reminder that this Government takes care of its people, getting Singaporeans back home from overseas by whatever means possible — there is comfort in the knowledge, that home is about its people too.

So if someone asks you to Clap For #SGUnited again, bear in mind this is not pointless tokenism or purely feel-good theatrics. The gesture goes a long way. So go ahead, clap and bang on your saucepans. 

But please remember to wash your hands after that. 

Here are 10 videos — some hilarious, some heartwarming — which you can click on and enjoy while cooped at home:

  1. Lee Jing Wei’s The Life of a Kiasu Hoarder (and The Battle of Corona) short film parody

  2. SGAG’s Stay At Home  (Parody of Home)

  3. Mothership and Gurmit Singh’s Wash Yo Hands

  4. Benjamin Gerard Jose Byrne’s Stay Home For Singapore (Parody of Stand Up For Singapore)

  5. Juniper Thang’s Home on piano 

  6. Dick Lee’s Everyday Heroes

  7. Together, We Can

  8. Mediacorp’s The Light

  9. Faris Samri’s The Mask - A Coronavirus Rap (Parody of The Box)

  10. Edward Choy and Jo Tan’s Covid-19 parody of Come On Eileen

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