Why It Matters

Importance of neighbourliness

Having better neighbourly ties does not matter to many people here, according to the latest Graciousness Survey by the Singapore Kindness Movement.

Just 26 per cent of respondents wanted greater neighbourliness. The figure was down from 29 per cent last year.

To be sure, it is not that there are many neighbours from hell. Most respondents (57 per cent) were satisfied with the status quo, and said they thought "the current situation is good enough now", while 2 per cent said it was "not necessary for me to socialise with my neighbours".

But it is worth noting that 15 per cent - up from 11 per cent last year - attributed their lack of interest for more neighbourliness to their preference to maintain their privacy. This "could lead to greater social distance", said the Kindness Movement.

The poll findings released on Tuesday also showed that people were mingling with their neighbours less often, even for brief interactions such as exchanging greetings and casual conversations.

People gave various possible reasons for this, such as the lack of time and fewer common spaces to interact, as void decks in newer housing blocks became smaller.

But if people prefer maintaining their privacy over having more neighbourliness, then having more community events, time or space to interact is not going to help.

Perhaps some people would find the Kindness Movement's suggestion to "convert neighbours by chance to be friends by choice", as mentioned in a video two years ago, a tall order. Why befriend neighbours, especially if some like to gossip? Wouldn't mutual respect and courtesy suffice?

But with more elderly living alone and the rising incidence of family violence, as well as the threat of self-radicalised individuals, the role of the neighbour as eyes and ears on the ground is more vital today.

Taking small simple actions to interact with neighbours does not pose much inconvenience; the cost of inaction may be greater.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Importance of neighbourliness'. Print Edition | Subscribe