Think less of self, more of others for a better S'pore

A man passes a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles next to the skyline of Singapore on May 24.
A man passes a statue of Sir Stamford Raffles next to the skyline of Singapore on May 24.PHOTO: REUTERS

Editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang's book, Singapore In Transition: Hope, Anxiety And Question Marks, is truly an introspection of us as a people and country ("Retired ST editor's book holds up mirror to Singapore society"; last Friday).

While it is evident that we have progressed economically, we still lack a shared social consciousness that makes us a civil society.

Perhaps we have been too obsessed with catching up.

We start the marathon early - getting into elite schools, and competing for scholarships and jobs.

In the workplace, it is about promotions and job titles. Society seems to judge us by what we own - condominiums, cars and credit cards. The cycle continues with our children on what schools they attend and how they fare in national exams.

Thus, we have been conditioned to be self-centred. Life is about self-preservation. Someone's gain is another's loss. Competition is keen, if not cut-throat.

Consequently, we have become a stratified society.

We are huddled into standardised labels for quick identification, whether it be age, income, profession or dwelling.

Meritocracy has been substituted with parentocracy. The "haves" become more entrenched with their material superiority. Ironically, while we call for inclusivity, we live more exclusively.

Is there hope? Can we make Singapore a kind and considerate place?

It begins with each and every one of us. There is always room for divergent views. Ideas should be considered based on their merits, not how quickly we stick labels on them. We should seize this disruptive era to rethink new ways to address old problems.

Surely, there is more than one definition of success.

Adults should be exemplary in our treatment of people less like ourselves. Children will then learn to accept others.

Social graciousness should be recognised. No one should be discounted or be made to feel less worthy because of who he is.

While we pursue excellence, we should think about issues larger than ourselves. While we celebrate our blessings, we should be considerate of the less fortunate.

We should live to enlarge the collective good so that more people can draw from it.

If every one of us thinks less of "self" and more of "them", Singapore will certainly be a First World society.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Think less of self, more of others for a better S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe