Broken Windows

In 1982, social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling introduced a theory on criminology called The Broken Windows Theory. They said that a broken window left untended and unrepaired will lead to more windows being broken, then to widespread vandalism in a community, and later on, to more violent crimes and urban disorder.

When there’s a broken window in a house, people will begin thinking that the owners don’t care, the neighbors don’t care, and, essentially, no one cares. Thus, people begin to think that they can do (and get away) with absolutely anything.

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell shared the story of how the crime rate in New York City suddenly took a nosedive in the early 1990s. It wasn’t because of better laws and enforcement policies. It wasn’t because of a better economy. It wasn’t because of progress against injustice, discrimination, or racism. It was simply because New York City (especially the police) cleaned up graffiti on the streets and on the subway, cleaned up the train cars, and did other little things from the late 1980s to the early 1990s.

Little by little, people began to think that other people cared. Thus, they began to behave more properly and those who were thinking to do even a petty crime started thinking otherwise.

This blog post doesn’t do justice to the Broken Windows Theory and to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. I suggest you read them here and here.

But, whenever I think of our country’s transport system (especially the MRT) and our crime problems, maybe we can apply the same theory.

Maybe we don’t really need more jobs. Maybe we don’t need more passenger cars for our train system (although I think we really do). Maybe we don’t need more economic and social reforms. Maybe we don’t even need a remarkable, ideal, and honest president in the upcoming election.

Maybe we, as individuals, just have to care. Maybe we have to care just enough to take action. Not to do big acts, but just small ones. We don’t even have to wait for the government to initiate these small steps. We, ourselves, can take action. Maybe we can start by cleaning up a graffiti next door or simply picking up a candy wrapper on the street.

Maybe what we desperately need as a nation is for the little things to be done by ordinary people and not for the great things to be done by our leaders. Maybe the ordinary people have to begin to care. And that includes you and me.

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." — Edmund Burke

We just cannot tip the scales by standing here and doing nothing. We have to do something. And we can start by doing the little things.