SINGAPORE - The clothes you wear or the car you drive does not say anything about your status.
Even if a man wears an old or torn shirt, it does not mean he deserves less respect, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who urged Singaporeans to uphold an open and informal society where everyone gets an equal opportunity to do well and lead fulfilling lives.
"These are not essential to who you are, what you stand for, what people should think of you," PM Lee told the House yesterday, on the third day of debate on the President's Address.
Instead, Singapore has to be a society with no rigid hierarchies or class distinctions, in which people can interact comfortably without obsequious scraping and bowing, he said.
"You may be the prime minister, you may be a cleaner, you may be a teacher, you may be the student's parent, we are all Singaporeans... we treat each other with respect."
Noting that Britons in upper and working classes spoke differently in the old days, PM Lee said Singaporeans must not behave the same way.
"You must feel a certain comfort with one another. So neither should you be ostentatious if you are successful, neither should you look down on others because of their physical appearance."
But PM Lee noted that it is not possible for Singapore to be a classless society as there is a natural pyramid where people in positions of responsibility "have to have due regard" and "have a duty to the rest of society".
His call reinforced labour chief Lim Swee Say's May Day message earlier this month, in which he encouraged Singaporeans to show respect, particularly to those who serve them.
PM Lee reminded Singaporeans that when they are interacting with service staff, they "owe a responsibility to be respectful... to be courteous, to be reasonable".
An open society, said PM Lee, has to be one in which people can talk openly without feeling as if they are being "closed off by glass ceilings or magic circles or the sense that you are born wrong or you speak wrong or you dress wrong, and, ah, that one just doesn't fit".
This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.