Dear fellow Singaporeans,
I love my country.
But some things about Singapore trouble me. We have achieved so much economically, but socially we leave so much to be desired. If you love your country, you will always desire to make it a better place.
Having seen the negativity generated by the video ‘Why I Am Not Proud to Be a Singaporean’, I decided to re-frame the issue in a more positive, constructive way. So here are 10 things we can do to make this country a place to be proud(er) of:
1. Don’t litter. Littering does not only include tossing rubbish on the ground. It also includes “conveniently” leaving an empty bottle on the footpath or used tissue paper on the bus seat. If we want a First World Parliament, we the people should also have First World behaviour.
I would be proud if Singapore could be a truly clean city, not a cleaned city.
2. Treat public toilets well. Aim properly. Guys, if you somehow misfire, wipe the rim of the toilet bowl. You may not see the next user of the cubicle, but he will appreciate it. What you do behind the closed door of a toilet cubicle reveals who you truly are as a person. How we behave behind closed doors of toilet cubicles reveals what we truly are as a country.
Oh, your country needs you to keep the floor dry, too.
I would be proud if our public toilets could become even 70 percent as clean as Japan’s and Taiwan’s.
3. Clear your tray at the food court/ hawker centre. Let’s have a little humility and serve ourselves once in a while. Let’s not expect people to clean up after us everywhere, forcing the country to hire an army of foreign cleaners, and then complain that there are too many foreigners in Singapore.
4. Treat service staff with respect. This is 2014, not 1814. They are not your slaves. If not for them, you would have to clear the restaurant table, stack the shelves and make watermelon-flavoured soya milk yourself. When they say “thank you”, thank them in return. Don’t respond with a stony face and a sense of entitlement.
5. Don’t be so emotionless (I’m afraid there was more than a grain of truth in that Gallup poll, however defensive we may be about it.) Emotion may not necessarily produce a higher income or better grades. But it is essential to a meaningful life and meaningful relationships. So, the next time someone asks you how school or work is, don’t answer with the emotionless “Like that, lor” or “Can, lah“. Express how you truly feel, and engage the other person. When the bus driver smiles at you, smile back and wish him good morning.
6. Don’t always be in too much of a hurry to stop and help out a less fortunate person. Don’t just give money – talk to them, too. It’s not just financially tough being a blind man. It’s lonely, too.
7. Stop being so absorbed in your smartphone or tablet, and look at the real world once in a while to see if anyone needs a little assistance, for instance to give up your seat on the train or bus. And don’t give up your seat only if it’s “reserved”.
I would be proud if my country didn’t even need to mark seats as ‘reserved’.
8. Over 90 percent of us live in high-rise housing. So don’t run or walk with heavy steps, drag furniture along the floor or drop things on the floor unnecessarily – or you will disturb the peace of your neighbour downstairs. Peace and quiet are precious things, especially in a densely populated island – and even more so at night.
9. When another driver signals his intention to filter into your lane, slow down and give way instead of speeding up to cut him off in a display of extreme kiasu-ism (“I refuse to cede one inch to my rivals on the road!”). Yes, the car or bus is a machine but there is a human being driving it. You can make his day or spoil it. It’s your choice.
I would be proud if people told me, “Singaporeans are really thoughtful drivers. I love driving in Singapore!”
10. Most of all, do these things not because there is a fine for not doing them or an NEA officer lurking. Do them because they are the decent thing to do. Do them because they build a better society.
Without a good society, we can never be happy. That is the simple truth. And what is the point of having the highest per-capita GDP, the best airport or the swankiest shopping malls if we are not happy?
Do these things because you love your country and you want it to be a home, not just an economy.
A Korean once told me that he would rather have people tell him how kind his daughter is than how smart. While I am undeniably proud of our airport, our public housing programme and our stunning Marina Bay, I would be even prouder if people were to tell me, “Singaporeans are the most gracious, kindest, most civilised people in the world.”
If you believe in what I am saying, please share this with your friends and family. Let’s start a movement.
Your fellow Singaporean,