Confronting the Ugly Singaporean


THE RECENTLY CONCLUDED YOUTH OLYMPIC GAMES (YOG) was a marvellous example of how perhaps the best of the Singapore Spirit was showcased for the world to see – and marvel, especially as it was a pioneering effort which had all of two-and -a-half years to complete. Among the better examples was the success at attracting more than 20,000 volunteer helpers – duly and appreciatively noted by all concerned in organising the YOG.

Other examples of a healthy spirit can be seen in the way Singaporeans rally round emergency and charitable causes, regardless of religious or social orientation of those who need help. Some might, of course, argue that this is a function of a relatively affluent society, eager to demonstrate its EQ, but all the same, it is a plus, and we should by all means encourage and support this aspect of our culture.

And yet, few would argue that there are no blemishes on our escutcheon. Recent and recurring examples include the infamously poor behaviour in boarding or alighting from MRT trains and lifts; leaving the lunch or dinner tables at hawker and food centres a mess for the “cleaners” to clear; littering and leaving unwanted items for “others” to clear; not going to help persons in distress … and the list could go on. ere are also anecdotal accounts of how shoppers will pounce upon “sales” items, elbowing aside those who are in their way – and even fighting over what is on offer.

Then there is the sensitive question of how we treat the “workers”, foreign maids and those who provide us with various services. Too many households are insensitive to the simple needs of housemaids ranging from allowing enough rest and recreation, providing nourishing food, and generally exploiting their relatively helplessness. Not only is this true for foreign maids, but how some workers are treated, especially those engaged in rough or menial work, gives much food for thought.

Perhaps it comes from a false sense of labour as being “below” us, hence leaving little room for a proper appreciation of its social importance. Perhaps it also partly explains why manual occupations are in short supply: everyone wants to be served, but few are prepared to serve.

We need to look at ourselves more critically – to identify our faults and to see whether a healthy dose of consideration and care for others would not improve the quality of our society. Sometimes, wanting to “excel” can make us forget those less fortunate. And, what does it say to us Christians, who have a special duty of care and concern for our “neighbours”?