Monday 13 August 2012

Becoming a happy society, finally

by Laurence Lien, Published TODAY, 9 Aug 2012

In the year 2032, I am 62. 

Some people talk about retirement. But I don't, and neither do most of my friends. We are part of the ageless generation. We learn, work, live, play and give in parallel, not in sequence. And we are hoping to continue to do so till the very end of our lives. 

I love where I stay. My neighbourhood is truly unique and distinctive, reflecting the identity of its residents, who are creative, edgy and culturally adventurous. There are numerous wall murals and they are expressions of the community, not impositions of artists from outside. 

The quirky shops and cafes are run by long-time residents, many of whom are my friends. These "Third Places" are where residents frequent and renew connections. But it doesn't mean that the people here are homogeneous. There are mixed types of homes housing people with different demographics - reflecting the social and cultural richness of our nation. 

To its residents, there is an emotional value to their home well beyond the monetary value of their properties. Residents in my neighbourhood don't just depend on the Town Councils. We take care of the estate and of one another. We have been empowered to decide and set rules on how things like permissible noise levels and where community facilities are to be sited. 

There are few NIMBY issues because, over the years, we have learnt to make good decisions for the common good, even when sometimes they do not get their way. It is not always easy, of course. At the end of the day, the critical ingredient is the depth of the relations among residents, across diverse groups. 

Day to day, we have increasingly been able to count on our neighbours for all sorts of help. This may be to keep an eye on our grandchildren when we run out to run errands, or to clear the newspapers delivered while we are away overseas. 


Nationally, there are signs that Singapore has become an inclusive society. There is social growth, not recession. Our pledge is no longer aspirational; we are truly living it. 

Over time, Singaporeans have cared less and less about chasing paper qualifications and money, but more and more about building a more ideal type of society to live in. 

There is greater value attached to social justice, to compassion and to treating everyone with equal dignity, especially those disadvantaged in life. People are the ends, not the means. 

Singaporeans are beginning to understand what being a happy society means. 

The underlying philosophy is that each individual has some fullness. Every person we classify as poor and needy has something to contribute, and has a dignity we must respect. The potential of the less educated, ex-prisoners, disabled and elderly are not discounted. 

Instead, society has recognised their strengths, and they have steadily been mainstreamed into our society, particularly in the workforce, even if there is still some way to go before full integration is achieved.

Above all, Singapore is a giving society, where giving is truly a way of life. Giving is not an optional extra, only from one's excess. 

Singapore is now ranked in the top 10 of the World Giving Index. While the Government has continued to do a better job catering to material and economic needs of individuals, civil society is also thriving in developing the soul of the country, catering to social, emotional and spiritual needs of everyone. 

Citizens are not just complaining; they are taking on responsibility for action. Singaporeans are not just catalysts of change, they are a changed people. 

Laurence Lien
- Father of three boys; aged 42
- CEO, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre, and Acting CEO, the Community Foundation of Singapore
- Chairman, Lien Foundation 
- Nominated Member of Parliament

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