In July, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong launched Forward Singapore, an initiative to renew the social compact in Singapore.
This will be a complex exercise covering topics like our future workforce, politics, and collective identity. It is an initiative in which no stone should be left unturned.
Through my conversations with friends on our social compact, one point constantly emerged: engendering respect to foster a more diverse and inclusive Singapore.
Respect is easy to detect, but hard to define. At its core, it is emotional: When you are respected, it feels good. When you lose respect or are disrespected, it feels unpleasant, even depressing.
While many Singaporeans wish to see a more respectful society, despite much effort, instances of disrespect remain commonplace. Stories of road rage, cyber bullying and sexism fill the news and social media. One wonders: could any attempt to foster respect be doomed to fail?
Not quite. While respect should be mutual, this is perhaps hard to expect even in the best of times. We may be stressed, or too caught up in our lives to appreciate others around us.
Hence, instead of pushing for mutual respect, we could consider fostering a charity of respect instead. This connotes two things. First, being charitable in demonstrating respect to others, without the expectation that it needs to be returned. Second, being charitable in interpreting how others act towards us, and appreciate that different people, in different states and times, show respect differently.
This does not mean that we take blatant acts of disrespect lying down. Use them as teachable moments if we must. But it does mean that we can be proactive in showing respect, even if such acts do not appear commonplace among us.
One way to implement this might be to teach this in character and citizenship education in schools. Children should be taught to respect others charitably, just because of its intrinsic value. Another way might be to share this value through social media influencers and celebrities, to show this as a lived reality beyond the gates of school.
In pragmatic Singapore, where change is both taken as measurable and measured, an intangible shift like this may seem strange. But if we really are to leave no stone unturned, this is one area where our social compact can - and should - be changed.
Josh Lee Kok Thong