DR ANDY Ho's commentary ("Giving courtesy a shot in the arm"; last Thursday) was thought-provoking. It provided an interesting take on the perennial issue of maintaining civility in the face of changing social norms.
Dr Ho validly argued that simply passing a "law of respect" may not yield a greater level of civility in Singapore. This is because our society is still very much rooted in conventional Asian belief systems.
Indeed, legislating civility may not be necessary, given that Confucian ethics are subconsciously influencing our everyday interactions.
One might even argue that the upholding of personal image has incidentally spawned a self-policing system where most people think twice before behaving in a manner out of step with social norms.
Essentially, people do not want to act in a manner that would cause them to "lose face".
Such self-awareness is perhaps exercised more frequently today, where viral media platforms allow misdeeds to be spread rapidly, to the detriment of one's reputation.
Furthermore, any piece of legislation can achieve its intended purpose only if it is backed by an effective enforcement regime. It is difficult to foresee how enforcement of such a law can be carried out effectively and reliably without running the risk of violating one's private space and liberty.
While such a law is understandably well-intentioned, it is anathema to the concepts of self-restraint and mutual respect. It effectively renders self-discipline moot as it compels a certain code of conduct.
Thus, instead of adopting punitive measures to achieve a more civil society, initiatives should be adopted to incentivise civil behaviour in a bid to foster a more harmonious and liveable place that we can proudly call home.
Lin Weizhong, Reader
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