Forum: Good social behaviour must be taught early in life

Primary school students at a school in Tampines.
Primary school students at a school in Tampines.PHOTO: ST FILE

Veteran diplomats Kishore Mahbubani and Tommy Koh have had their say on the topic of Singaporeans in our First World country behaving like Third World people (Why are Singaporeans a Third World people?, Oct 6).

Some possible reasons were offered and few people in Singapore would disagree with the observations.

Human behaviour essentially depends on three factors: the instincts a person was born with, his upbringing and education, and imposition of the law.

Some of the obvious biological instincts we have inherited through evolution are self-preservation, parent-child bonding, herd instinct, and compulsion to propagate.

They are the foundation of the formation of families, tribes and nations, and, indirectly, of racism.

But all our biological instincts are subject to modification, suppression or enhancement by the process of conditioning.

This is the process by which our childhood upbringing and school education shape our minds.

Our moral and ethical values, religious and political beliefs, social behaviour, sibling and child-parent relationships come as a result of this conditioning and they largely decide our behaviour in adulthood.

Once a form of conditioning has taken hold of our mind, it is extremely difficult to change.

The third factor in human behaviour is imposition of the law. We observe laws not because we are truly benevolent but because breaking the law can have harmful consequences.

Law imposition is the final line of defence against bad social behaviour.

To improve the social behaviour of people in Singapore, and in all other countries, early conditioning is the answer.

Ong Siew Chey (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2019, with the headline 'Good social behaviour must be taught early in life'. Print Edition | Subscribe