Make neighbours our friends

I read with delight Dr Mathew Mathews' commentary on the findings of the 2013 Survey on Social Attitudes of Singaporeans ("Why friends matter"; Monday).

Though I grew up in a family that is not nearly as whole, I grew in my appreciation for the traditional cultural emphasis on filial piety and family relationships.

Many of my friends in the neighbourhood had large family networks and I saw how they were supportive of one another.

But with decreasing family sizes, it may be a good idea to look at a wider social support network to complement the family. One group that immediately comes to mind would be next-door neighbours.

Singapore has been modernising at an exponential rate, and in that hustle and bustle, it is understandable that many of us see our flats as private enclaves to rest and recharge.

This also means that, in times of need, we choose to reach out to our relatives rather than our immediate neighbours. But there are fewer relatives to reach out to today, and the ones we have are not necessarily close enough to give us support.

There is another way. Our neighbours can become friends.

The fact is, our immediate neighbours are right next to us. They are our best chance of survival in an unfortunate incident.

We read of lone older residents dying alone without the neighbours being aware. Every such case is one too many. There are 146,000 residents living alone. Of these, 41,200 are aged 65 and older. This number will only grow. And more are likely to die alone.

As researchers have noted, "poor social support networks that result in social isolation are as consequential to individual well-being as the burden of diabetes".

Neighbours are friends in waiting. It does not take much to initiate a casual chat as we meet along the hallways. Once we are connected, inviting them over for coffee or some food could be the next step.

In the family next door, we may just find a new friend indeed.

William Wan (Dr)

General Secretary

Singapore Kindness Movement

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2016, with the headline 'Make neighbours our friends'. Print Edition | Subscribe