Enhancing Singapore's identity vital for cohesion

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's call for greater reinforcement of the quality of our multiracial and multicultural identity is timely, coming at a time when countries around the globe are displaying fissures among their people on the basis of race and religion ("Tharman: Reinforce multicultural identity"; last Thursday).

With large numbers of immigrants in our midst, the need to foster a closer community spirit between our local communities and immigrant groups - by learning to understand and appreciate one another's lifestyles, festivals, cultural and religious practices, languages and social norms - has never been greater.

This vital ingredient of our survival is something that cannot be done overnight, but carefully inculcated in the young in the home environment and through the school system.

In homes and in classrooms, we should help young people learn to appreciate conflicting viewpoints in a way that opens them to a larger world view.

In addition, the settings of public and community life, where foreigners and locals can meet and feel comfortable in each other's presence, should be expanded.

When people with dissimilar backgrounds and viewpoints meet in such a conducive environment, they achieve greater cohesion, integration and racial harmony.

Social cohesion and tolerance are the edifices on which our survival and progress are built.

To render this possible, we have to get into the kampung spirit and work towards greater integration, compassion, graciousness and consideration between our fellow Singaporeans and immigrants in our midst.

A joyous mix among multiracial groups that embrace and celebrate diversity is the surest way to create unity.

Real interaction cannot come about by chance. It has to be carefully nurtured and cultivated by the state and its citizens working in concert, so that mutual understanding and trust become second nature to our residents.

It is, therefore, imperative that avenues, opportunities and resources be created to wipe out the ignorant fixed notions and perceptions many people still cling to.

While we proudly identify ourselves as Singaporeans and, at the same time, understandably hold a strong sense of identity to our own racial, cultural and religious groups, we should also open ourselves to new understandings of ourselves and the world, thereby enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others.

As a nation of so many races, cultures and creeds, we are in this together, so let us work together for a brighter future for us and for generations to come.

V. Subramaniam (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 16, 2016, with the headline 'Enhancing Singapore's identity vital for cohesion'. Print Edition | Subscribe