Flaunting riches adds to resentment in society

There is a psychological dimension in the fight against inequality that must not be ignored: how our rich, especially the nouveau riche, behave themselves (Fighting inequality a national priority, says Ong Ye Kung; May 16).

Wealth is not a new phenomenon in Singapore, and wealthy Singaporeans used to behave with utmost decency and sensitivity towards those around them.

In the 1980s, I had a colleague who dressed humbly, ate simply and interacted with everyone with warmth and friendliness. I later learnt that he was a third-generation member of a very wealthy and prominent family in Singapore.

One of my wife's closest friends in secondary school is from the same family. This friend travelled to school by public bus, gave tuition to earn money between junior college and university and lived in a small room in a walk-up flat when she studied in London.

My childhood friends and I, who lived in a Singapore Improvement Trust estate, used to admire in awe the magnificent bungalows in Katong but we were never resentful.

It was a Singapore in which the rich, as a rule, did not flaunt their wealth.

Our "old rich", including those who did not have the opportunity to be formally educated, understood what it meant to "lose face" in public and took pains to ensure that they and their families would not.

They did not beat the red lights or block public roads with flashy sports cars.

Their children did not pass insensitive remarks, nor did their wives display violent or jealous behaviour in public.

Our less-inhibited nouveau riche should take a leaf from the old rich and have a keener appreciation of the social context of their existence.

The lifestyle sections of our mainstream media must be equally sensitive and, from time to time, resist the temptation to compete with Tatler in ostentatious display of the wealth of the nouveau riche.

Cheng Shoong Tat

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2018, with the headline 'Flaunting riches adds to resentment in society'. Print Edition | Subscribe