Ethics must guide all aspects of humanity

Pedestrians crossing a road in Orchard amid a view obscured by haze on Sept 24, 2015.
Pedestrians crossing a road in Orchard amid a view obscured by haze on Sept 24, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

It is indeed a challenging time for both the young and old living in this age ("Kids need moral compass for brave new world" by Dr Quek Koh Choon; Forum Online, last Friday).

We are all tugged between being idealists and realists when it comes to morals.

In an age where we are judged by what we own, it is hard for a young and impressionable person not to be envious when he compares himself with his peers who are materially better off.

He may even resent his own parents for being inadequate in providing for him. In an age of instant gratification, he may justify all means so as to arrive at his desired ends.

For us, as adults, we face a moral dilemma of what morals to pass on to our young.

We have internalised the virtues of hard work and humility. It is difficult to preach these values to our young without questioning whether we are helping or hurting them in the real world, where competition can be fierce and unforgiving.

We all began wanting to change the world, but get changed by it eventually. We may even wonder if the principled are destined to die paupers.

I often wonder: Why do we stop moral education once we reach tertiary level? Do we earn a pass to being moral by mere admission to a university? It used to be that a learned man was also a pious and moral person. Has this changed?

Amid an increasingly commercialised world brought about by frenetic technological changes, a revisit of fundamental values is even more relevant, if not urgent.

Thus, we should incorporate the study of ethics in our universities, either through course work or practicum, to imbue in the future leaders of this land the need to hold themselves to the highest code of conduct in all their dealings.

Human society cannot be immoral. We should draw lessons from the financial fallout of recent times and not be misled by proponents of the belief that "the market is amoral".

We are morally frail by nature. We should develop a collective conscience or norm that guards one against moral decay brought about by greed, selfishness and the grandeur of wealth and elitism.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2015, with the headline 'Ethics must guide all aspects of humanity'. Print Edition | Subscribe