Singaporeans see virtues like compassion in themselves but view society as materialistic

People walk past an exhibit of Singa the Courtesy Lion, the mascot of the Singapore Kindness Movement, in Changi Airport on July 15, 2015.
People walk past an exhibit of Singa the Courtesy Lion, the mascot of the Singapore Kindness Movement, in Changi Airport on July 15, 2015.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Singaporeans see themselves as being more gracious and less self-centred now than they were three years ago, according to a new survey.

This finding is based on an attribute many say they have: compassion. But in the first National Values Assessment survey done in 2012, it did not make it to the Top 10 list of personal attributes.

Another newcomer on the list is positive attitude.

The findings, unveiled at an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) seminar on Thursday (July 23), bode well for the country if Singaporeans act on their values, said former head of the civil service Lim Siong Guan at the event.

But when placed against how they see their fellow Singapore residents, the survey results show a major disconnect between the Singaporeans' view of their own personal values and those of Singapore society.

  • Survey results

  • Here are the top 10 values and behaviours in the eyes of Singapore citizens and permanent residents, according to a survey of 2,000 people this year.

    The list, from a survey done between March and June, is based on the number of responses each item received. Their old position, from the 2012 survey, is in brackets.


    1 (1) Family

    2 (7) Responsibility

    3 (2) Friendship

    4 (4) Happiness

    5 (3) Health

    6 (5) Caring

    7 (6) Honesty

    8 (*) Compassion

    9 (*) Positive Attitude

    10 (9) Respect

    • The new items replace "well-being" (8) and "work-life balance" (10) from the 2012 list.


    1 (1) Kiasu (afraid to lose)

    2 (2) Competitive

    3 (4) Materialistic

    4 (3) Self-centred

    5 (5) Kiasi (afraid to die)

    6 (8) Blame

    7 (10) Security

    8 (*) Education opportunities

    9 (*) Effective healthcare

    10 (*) Peace

    • The new items replace

    "deteriorating values" (6), "elitism" (7) and "uncertainty about the future" (9) from the 2012 list.


    1 (1) Affordable housing

    2 (2) Caring for the elderly

    3 (3) Effective healthcare

    4 (5) Compassion

    5 (7) Quality of life

    6 (4) Caring for disadvantaged

    7 (*) Peace

    8 (10) Employment chances

    9 (*) Caring for environment

    10 (6) Concern for future generations

    • The new items replace "equal opportunities" (8) and "social responsibility" (9) from the 2012 list.

The Top 10 personal values are all virtues, such as compassion, respect and happiness.

But, alas, the society is largely seen as being competitive, materialistic and kiasu (Hokkien for afraid to lose) by the 2,000 Singapore residents surveyed between March and June this year. The poll was done by local business consultancy aAdvantage and the Britain-based Barrett Values Centre.

The disconnect puzzles Mr Lim, who heads Honour (Singapore), an organisation that promotes the value of honouring one's word and each other.

He said: "Practically everything appears to be others' fault. This leaves us in the confused state of how the two reckonings of the individual describing oneself, and the individual describing others, can be so different."

However, Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary William Wan, who was also at the seminar, told The Straits Times: "The results show people believe they are kind, but they don't see society as kind. But we can see that Singaporeans are becoming more compassionate. Perhaps people are not sensitive enough, or too busy, to see it."

He cited several spontaneous acts of kindness recently, like the Boon Keng Road accident on Wednesday when numerous passers-by dashed to lift a heavy cargo truck to free a man pinned under it.

IPS senior research fellow Gillian Koh said the overall results show a shift towards a more positive society.

Present in the 2012 list of how Singaporeans see society were such items as "deteoriating values", "elitism" and "uncertainty about the future". They are not on the new list.

Newcomers taking their place include "education opportunities", "effective healthcare" and "peace" - all these "potentially indicate people are acknowledging improvement in these areas", said Barrett Values Centre chief executive Phil Clothier.

Dr Koh said they suggest government policies in healthcare and education between 2012 and 2015 have resonated with the people.

She cited the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas), which gives less well-off Singaporeans subsidised care at participating GPs and dental clinics, and the SkillsFuture scheme that encourages people to acquire relevant skills throughout their working life.

But effective healthcare still remains a priority Singaporeans want to see in society today, alongside affordable housing and care for the elderly and disadvantaged.

Said Mr Clothier, who did similar assessments in about 20 countries: "Perhaps it is instructive to find out how recent changes in policies and implementation surrounding these areas have resulted in positive outcomes and what remains challenging."