Character development begins at home

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat ("Treasure the Singapore Character"; Aug 7) and Professor David Chan ("Putting Singapore above self"; last Saturday) have raised the importance of character and other traits in nation building.

Some of the positive traits mentioned include integrity, honesty, humility, empathy, selflessness and caring for others - even if it means not benefiting oneself - and the willingness to do right, even if it is costly.

It needs to be pointed out that such values are built inwardly and cannot be implemented by organising activities and projects, or by projecting what is regarded as politically correct or what pleases the majority.

These positive values are contrary to elitism and selfishness.

As we ponder over the history of nations, one major factor leading to the downfall of nations is moral decay and a decadent lifestyle that promotes indulgence, materialism and selfish endeavours.

Character development must start within families, be strengthened by schools, and then nurtured further by society.

It does not help when parents do not demonstrate a positive example; when schools exalt only those with good academic results; when society closes an eye to unethical practices in business; when those in authority do not demonstrate humility and an openness to be corrected and given honest feedback.

It is true that we all tend to be self-serving and selfish in our outlook and endeavours, but if

we are afraid to speak up for the sake of others, for fear of being ostracised or put in a disadvantaged position - especially when the issues involve possible negative effects on society - then, we are a long way from character development.

I trust that as we celebrate our jubilee and consider the next 50 years, we will not make the mistake of choosing the softer options and the path to self-centredness, by opting for only that which will benefit the self at the expense of the society and community at large.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline 'Character development begins at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe