The final Big Idea: Love Singapore

The final Big Idea: Love Singapore

NOW that I have reached the final column of my Big Idea series for 2014, I am happy to summarise the core idea underlying all the Big Ideas columns I have written this year. It can be captured in two words: "Love Singapore". If we can practise this with total commitment and conviction, Singapore will survive another 50 years.

So, can we love Singapore?

The simple answer is that love is not shown with words only but with deeds also. If our deeds do not match our words, we do not really love Singapore. This is why I am suggesting three practical deeds we can do to demonstrate our love. All three deeds begin with the letter "L": "litter not, laugh a lot, and live the pledge".

Litter is a key indicator of love. If we consider Singapore our own home, we would keep it clean. Sadly, Singaporeans do not keep Singapore clean. Mr George Yeo, our former foreign minister, once wisely said to me, "Kishore, Singapore is not a clean city; it is the most cleaned city". We currently need an army of foreign workers to clean up after Singaporeans.

Many years ago, when our Public Service Division (PSD) was trying to replicate the Shell scenario planning exercise to assess the future of Singapore, it wrote two alternative scenarios for Singapore: "Hotel Singapore" or "A Home Divided". When we check into a hotel room, we do not clean it. We expect the cleaning/housekeeping service to do so. Yet, when we come home, we pick up the trash and keep our rooms clean.

These two alternative scenarios were brilliant. Singapore will survive if Singaporeans treat it as their home, not as their hotel. Yet, when you go jogging in East Coast Park on Monday mornings (as I do) or walk around HDB estates in the morning with soiled diapers and tampons occasionally being thrown out of windows, you find plenty of evidence to suggest that Singaporeans regard Singapore as their hotel, not their home.

Our level of social responsibility is also very low. We are struggling to persuade Singaporeans to divide their trash into two categories: waste and recyclable materials. By contrast, each Yokohama household habitually divides its trash into 15 (yes, 15!) categories before the rubbish collector comes.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Japanese love Japan and cherish their homeland. Can Singaporeans learn to cherish their homeland and keep it as clean as the Japanese do? If we can, Singapore will survive. So, in 2015, can each of us make a simple commitment to keep Singapore as clean as possible?

Let me deal quickly with one counter-argument. Some argue that the Japanese are unique. Their level of social responsibility is one of the highest in the world. Those who say this should visit Taipei and Hong Kong. They have Chinese inhabitants, not Japanese inhabitants. But they keep their cities much cleaner than Singapore citizens do. What explains this higher level of social responsibility of the Hong Kongers and Taiwanese? Can we reflect on this in 2015?

Last month, there was a rock concert at National Taiwan University. When the concert began, the first two bands reminded the young audience to place their garbage on the side of the venue. They did so. Before the third rock group, LTK Commune, arrived, the audience was told to bring the garbage up front.

They did this because it is a tradition to throw garbage at this band. The audience threw the garbage incessantly. When the performance ended, another band leader came to the stage and said, "Okay, let's clean up". The audience complied. The place was spotless when the audience left.

Would a Singapore rock concert audience be capable of leaving a venue equally spotless on a voluntary basis after a raucous rock concert? Or would they expect an army of foreign workers to clean up after them?

Another way to demonstrate our love for our fellow Singaporeans is to learn to laugh with each other. Over the years, we have seen several surveys demonstrating that Singapore is not one of the happiest societies on our planet. Indeed, the surveys seem to show that even though Singaporeans have clearly been more successful than Indonesians in economic development, Indonesians are far happier than Singaporeans. Indeed, many of the ASEAN countries are happier than Singapore.

In a 2011 Gallup poll, Singapore famously ranked as experiencing the fewest positive emotions in the world. The percentage of Singaporeans who reported experiencing positive emotions the day before the poll was only 46 per cent, in contrast to Thailand, which ranked No. 5 at 83 per cent; the Philippines, No. 7 at 82 per cent; and Indonesia, No. 16 at 79 per cent.

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