Bring fresh meaning to 'independence' post-SG50

Mobile-based light installation, named SonicSG, on the Singapore River.
Mobile-based light installation, named SonicSG, on the Singapore River.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

With Singapore having crossed the 50-year milestone of independence and the start of a new year, it is time for Singaporeans to reflect anew and bring fresh meaning to the word "independence".

We should aim to be an action-oriented people rather than a people who often rely on state-initiated campaigns or paternalistic prodding or nudging from our leaders before making a change.

The nation's No. 1 position in many areas in the international arena is, after all, largely due to strong government institutions, capable leaders and administrative excellence.

But at home, the public can do more.

It is said that a person is the sum of his actions, and this makes for a strong guiding principle on how we can move forward.

For a start, wishing for society to become more gracious is not going to get us anywhere.

We should just make it so by putting kindness into action.

Highlighting commuters' bad behaviour just for the sake of it is a waste of time and energy, and achieves nothing.

Preaching online about how one should act, mixed with ugly vitriol against those who act "ungraciously", adds up to zero on the graciousness index.

At the recent climate change conference in Paris, world governments agreed on ambitious targets in a bid to mitigate the effects of climate change ("Historic deal may signal end of fossil fuel era"; Dec 14, 2015).

But on the ground, we must translate this into action right now, independent of what new local green campaigns might kick in.

Declining a plastic bag when we shop is not going to be very helpful if we continue to support products with excessive packaging.

If the issue is not well understood and we are misguided in our actions, good intentions can result in a deficit in terms of benefit to the environment we want to save.

Last but not least, let us banish forever the notion that there is such a thing as a season for giving.

Do volunteer work in a humble way. Give generously to charity or donate blood regularly.

But do so without any condition of gain or rewarding yourself with a treat deemed of similar value.

Getting a "reward" for doing good makes a charitable act insincere, even disdainful, to the spirit that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

The sum of these contrasting acts only serves to tilt the charity balance towards selfishness.

Ooi Mun Kong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2016, with the headline 'Bring fresh meaning to 'independence' post-SG50'. Print Edition | Subscribe