In good times or bad, S'poreans can be gracious

The idea that Singaporeans are rating their own values more favourably than those of society at large because we aspire to a kinder and more gracious society is an interesting one ("Sifting for gold in national values"; July 31).

This apparent bias in the way we rate our own values and behaviour against society is not new.

For the past few years, the Singapore Kindness Movement's Graciousness Index has found that we consistently consider ourselves to be kinder and more gracious than what we perceive others to be.

That this result is replicated year after year suggests this disparity is significant and noteworthy.  

There are no definitive reasons given for the gap in self and societal ratings, but the gap itself has one unmistakable implication - that by and large, there is an unfaltering belief within ourselves that our society can and should do better. 

I wholeheartedly agree that aspirational values must start with the individual. But I am less convinced that the normative bar represented by altruistic values such as compassion, kindness and respect has been raised only because we have arrived economically.

The idea that we can only be a "decent people" if our economy is in order and our material needs are met suggests that, in difficult times, we will become more selfish and less compassionate.

This does not match up with what we know of other societies that may be materially poorer, but no worse off in camaraderie and heart.

We may even look into our not-so-distant past when we had much less, but with the kampung spirit serving almost as a catalyst, were able to forge ourselves into the nation we are today.

Quite to the contrary, it is when we rise above our own trying personal circumstances to do right by others that our character and integrity as a people are defined.

We learnt to give not because we have much, but because we know exactly how it feels to have little.

Economic success merely gives us better means to do good, but it is our ability to empathise - to make neighbours of strangers - that makes us decent people.

William Wan (Dr)
General Secretary
Singapore Kindness Movement

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'In good times or bad, S'poreans can be gracious'. Subscribe