Social change must come from the ground

Mr Jonas Kor's statements regarding NTUC FairPrice's initiatives for the benefit of Pioneer Generation customers hint at a far larger, systemic issue that pervades Singapore society ("Efforts to promote graciousness towards seniors"; Forum Online, May 26).

Many have long complained about the lack of concern and graciousness displayed towards senior citizens.

Disregard for the elderly has underpinned debates on social behaviours, such as that over reserved seating on MRT trains, as well as the declining kampung spirit in housing estates.

Subsequent responses by state institutions and major private corporations can, for the most part, be categorised into two main approaches.

The first is the implementation of convoluted systems that nominally provide for preferential treatment of the elderly, such as MRT reserved seating or FairPrice's priority queue system.

These suffer from poor enforceability, and have limited impact on a broader culture of apathy, effectively reducing them to little more than lip service.

The second is pervasive, top-down multimedia campaigns meant to induce broad-based changes in culture and personal behaviour.

Given the constantly evolving nature of social constructs and perceptions, these posters, advertisements and slogans have lost much of their clout, and many Singaporeans have become accustomed to ignoring them.

Indeed, this pitfall applies not only to the issue of how to treat senior citizens, but also to any attempt at curbing activities deemed socially undesirable.

As a consequence, ungracious and narcissistic cultural practices have become more prevalent in our society, and are spreading unchecked. The usual arsenal to combat social ills will no longer suffice.

History informs us that sea changes in culture are most often spread from the ground up, and usually require a timescale of decades to fully manifest.

If we, Singaporeans, are determined to cultivate a lasting culture of respecting elders, as well as foster communitarian spirit and civic-mindedness, special systems and multi-platform lectures cannot tell us what to do.

Each and every one of us must commit to the change that we want to see, and then push those around us - particularly our children - to do so as well.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi