Civic-mindedness won't happen if people focus only on themselves

A lunch crowd at Singapore's central business district, on March 19, 2018.
A lunch crowd at Singapore's central business district, on March 19, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

I could not agree more with the recent editorial on civic-mindedness (More civic-minded behaviour needed, May 15).

The feeding of pigeons persisting despite hundreds of notices discouraging the act and the random use of mobility devices at void decks point to the lack of civic-mindedness among people in Singapore.

These are in addition to people not clearing their rubbish from tables at void decks, despite the fact that there are rubbish bins nearby, and having a blatant disregard for notices instructing cyclists to dismount when crossing bridges and some road junctions. The list goes on.

While the editorial pointed out the role of town councils in implementing and effecting rules in such areas, the problem goes deeper than the setting and abiding of rules and laws to correct inconsiderate behaviour.

The paradox of Singaporeans behaving only when the rule of law is imposed is well known, but this does not speak well of civic-mindedness here.

The editorial rightly pointed out that one should not impinge on the rights of others in order to have the freedom to do what one desires.

This speaks of the unhealthy development of individualism and the lack of concern for the well-being of the rest of society.

The demand for one's rights at the expense of the rights of others and society at large is the root of the problem of the lack of civic-mindedness here.

It explains the angst among many when their rights are threatened by changes of policy or curtailed by the rule of law - it does not matter if such changes benefit society in general and augur well for the progress and survival of family values and the time-tested values of the nation. What matters is that only the individual's rights have been violated and he will not take it lying down.

For example, I have seen senior citizens demanding their rights by blatantly jumping queue or admonishing younger people for not giving up their seats on the MRT. This is not to say that this problem affects only young people but, rather, it is an issue affecting all strata of society.

People in Singapore are concerned about themselves, their individual "rights" and their happiness, rather than the well-being of others. As long as people do not cultivate and nurture concern for others and society as a whole and choose to focus only on themselves, civic-mindedness will never blossom.

Quek Koh Choon (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2019, with the headline 'Civic-mindedness won't happen if people focus only on themselves'. Print Edition | Subscribe