Aspire to do good for goodness' sake

Does it pay to do good? It sure does, judging by some suggestions to nudge us to return our trays after eating ("Finished eating? Here's coffee if you clear your own tray"; July 7).

There is no lack of ideas - be they financial penalties or rewards - but all share the same thread: There must be something in it for us to do right, never because it is the right thing to do.

We have become a utilitarian lot. Carrots and sticks need to be dished out to bring about a desirable social outcome. We act out of incentive or fear. We have become mercenary in just about every aspect of our lives. To give up something for nothing invites suspicion, if not scorn. We have thus become less kind and considerate.

Fifty years have passed but Singaporeans may be regressing in our civic-mindedness as a people. Why is there no evolution of a shared value system that guides our behaviour towards a kind and considerate society?

Why do we need legislation and the attendant enforcement, which may be costly, to keep us in line? Will it be another 50 years before we change for the better?

We have become dependent, believing that someone will pick up after us.

We feel entitled because of our wealth, never mind that menial workers, some foreign, slog hard to keep things in good order so that we, or our young, do not have to do the work. Someone will take care of it, but never us.

Perhaps, some of us, through our impertinence, harbour the thought that we are doing a great social service by creating employment for the less fortunate .

But do we all not have a part in shaping the Singaporean imagery? Beyond the world-class airport and punctuated skylines, do we not have more to show for in terms of civility as a people?

Cities become indistinguishable if not for their inhabitants. Would it not be better if visitors to this land, tourists and migrants alike, say good things of our kind and considerate ways?

But first, we must show them. We should not be embarrassed by giving or receiving kind acts. Courtesy begets courtesy. The antisocial should be dissuaded by social norms.

Consequently, we will rely less on the law to administer our social behaviour. We aspire to do good because we want to, not because we have to.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'Aspire to do good for goodness' sake'. Print Edition | Subscribe