Convert neighbours by chance to friends by choice

Dr Adrian Kwek raises a good point when he questions the sufficiency of tolerance in achieving social harmony and integration in Singapore ("Encourage civic friendship for social harmony"; last Sunday).

Tolerance is an admirable value but, on its own, is not sustainable. Tolerating others who are different does not lead to forging lasting friendships.

Civic friendship, where we recognise one another's intrinsic worth, in mutual respect, is certainly a more sustainable idea. It encourages us not only to recognise and appreciate our differences, but also proactively seeks to find and embrace our unifying similarities within the differences.

Recently, a group of social enterprises called The Thought Collective, supported by the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), ran a series of dinners where diners from different walks of life could speak openly about difficult social issues. One topic discussed was whether it was still necessary to organise ourselves into different groups based on race, as indicated on our identity cards.

Some argued that we should be colour-blind and see one another as Singaporeans, and not individual races. Some noted that racial identity was still important, and eliminating it would make some integration efforts - like ensuring a healthy mix of racial groups in public housing - impossible.

Though no final conclusion was made, the participants left as friends to discourse another day.

That we were able to have a civil discourse on such sensitive issues indicates a maturing level of civic friendship being forged among people of differing opinions.

We cannot achieve unity by ignoring or simply tolerating our differences. Talking openly about these differences lays the foundation for understanding, acceptance and a genuine appreciation of the richness of our varied cultural roots.

A successful integration depends on our civic friendship. Mutual acceptance cannot be compelled by programmes or proclamations. It is a personal choice that each of us needs to make. This is why at SKM, we are promoting greater kinship through outreach to workplaces, and encouraging neighbours to make time to share meals.

Though we are thrown together as neighbours by the chances and changes of life, we can choose to encourage civic friendship for a more gracious Singapore.

All it takes is for us to open our hearts and minds to one another, to convert neighbours by chance to be friends by choice.

William Wan (Dr)

General Secretary

Singapore Kindness Movement

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'Convert neighbours by chance to friends by choice'. Print Edition | Subscribe