MM Lee was posed a question by Dr Quah who asked about Singapore’s progress in terms of social graces and environmental consciousness just as the country succeeds economically. "Not in my lifetime" was his answer. To this, I actually agree with him wholeheartedly.

Give me five, Kuan Yew! With all due respects of course, Sir.

I believed I’d have blogged about this some time or other, that it is very difficult for Singaporeans to be as matured socially as it is economically. An oft-used statement that I tell my friends is that while it is easy for Singaporeans to find ways to boost the economy and be entrepreneuring, habits are harder to cultivate. After all, humans are creatures of habit (and actually so were my cats).

From the complaints of people on seats not being given up to the elderly, pregnant and disabled to that of people not keeping to one side of the escalator to how people just condemn others with their "holier than thou" (thanks Dr Chua for the phrase) attitude when others did something wrong or something that is not accepted by the society, it is quite prevalent that it will remain this way for many years or generations (*gasp*!)to come.

Indeed, we recall about how the angmos are supposedly treated better while the locals experience more hostility less friendliness. This, after much thinking (not analysis, just thinking), could be due to:

  • the encounter of more friendly and appreciative angmos
  • the higher expectations of Singaporeans

Of course, there may be many other reasons, but since this is impromptu, these are the only 2 reasons that I can think of. Many a times, we may have encountered rude angmos but again, this is a statistical game. What I do think I know is that they have probably came a long way too.

Like MM Lee, I think think I’d see a gracious Singapore in my lifetime.

A gracious Singapore? Not in my lifetime: MM

He says cultivating social graces will take longer compared to environmental consciousness

By Li Xueying

ENVIRONMENTAL consciousness among Singaporeans will come about very quickly when they realise how they will be in trouble when changes in the climate take place.

But attaining a gracious society will take more time, said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew on Monday at a dialogue marking the 40th anniversary of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas).

In fact, he believes it will not happen in his lifetime.

‘I will not see it, maybe you will live long enough to see it; I wish you well,’ he told 48-year-old economics academic Euston Quah to laughter from the audience of diplomats, academics and government leaders.

Dr Quah had asked a question about Singapore’s progress in terms of social graces and environmental consciousness just as the country succeeds economically.

The issue he raised was among a host of subjects brought up by the audience, from the situation in Myanmar to the rise of China and India.

In his reply, Mr Lee said a gracious society will not happen so fast. ‘I think it will take more time to develop and mature culturally as a people.’

Even the British, he said, were ‘sitting at a very high level over an empire for nearly 150 years before they developed their culture and then being invaded by football hooligans and foreigners who are now joining them and coarsening their society’.

‘So it’s very difficult to get a rough society onto a cultivated plane and it’s very easy to bring it down,’ he concluded.

Environmental consciousness, on the other hand, will come very quickly ‘when something happens and they say, you do that, your whole environment changes and you are in trouble’.

On the other hand, the idea of a gracious society – ‘where people are considerate to one another, where you don’t make more noise to upset your neighbour than you need to, where you tell the other motorist, please have the right of way’ – was ‘harder to come by’, said Mr Lee.

‘It will take time, but I hope it will come with cultivated living over a long period of time.’

Mr Lee recalled how, 45 years ago, Singaporeans wanted to take their chickens with them when they were resettled from kampungs into high-rise flats.

‘So it took some time to get them adjusted. A more cultivated way of life takes a very long time,’ he said.

Article obtained from on 9th January 2008

Reader's Comments

  1. SS Lee | January 9th, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    With 1 mio Foreigners and PR’s amongst us.. Who is a Singaporean? I don’t defend ungracious based on nationality, colour or race and even religion of course. But how can we hack out a cultural identity nowadays with the actual ‘Singaporean’ dwinding in the make-up of the ‘new’ Singapore?
    What sort of examples have the leadership set about this term called ‘graciousness’?
    It starts with everyone but it has to come from them too.

  2. spyer | January 9th, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    Of course, MM Lee is always right. That is him talking, he likes to believe that he is right. But, I would take his words too literally. I would look beyond his answer and look for the causes of our current state of our society. Life is not that simple.

  3. spyer | January 9th, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Sorry – typo.

    But, I would NOT take his words too literally.

    PS: Do you have a preview button for this comment box?

  4. saintmoron | January 9th, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    Graciousness has never been shown to us by our leaders, this is my personal experience.

    Another indication comes from the ‘shove down your throat’ description of policy making by the Leadership used by the people at large.

  5. SS Lee | January 10th, 2008 at 11:03 am

    The act of not prioritising state funds for upgrade to opposition wards = gracious?
    Look at how they treated the Gomez case = gracious?
    How the public assistance for the poor which was ‘hotly’ debated and squabbling on how much to raise their monthly payout = gracious?
    Versus how they pay themselves Out of this world = gracious?
    I have heard of how some cases where people had to fight tooth and nail to get their own CPF funds released for their dialysis at NKF when they are jobless = gracious?
    Just wait for Means testing to be implemented at hospitals and we will see how gracious they will be.

  6. Daily SG: 10 Jan 2008 « The Singapore Daily | January 10th, 2008 at 11:32 am

    […] Discourse – Simply Jean: For once, I actually agreed with Lee Kuan Yew… wholeheartedly – Sam’s thoughts: You are what society puts in your […]

  7. boonlay peasant | January 10th, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    What a joke that a cold calculative leadership led by a vindictive despot who exhibits zero graciousness has the guile to comment about social grace! LOL

    I guess no one in the audience dared to point this out in his face.

  8. Kim Lian | January 10th, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    Did you read the last part if his speech? “IMF projection (of growth) for Malaysia is 5.6 percent for 2008, Economist Intelligence Unit says 5.7 percent, and ADB says 5.9 percent. I would say no difficulty in making that growth. I don’t see any economic hardship in Malaysia, but whether you have a happy people… happiness and economic growth are two different things.”
    Do you think it was gracious to claim that Malaysians are not a happy people? Can you spot the envy in the sentence? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

  9. S. Lim | January 10th, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Singapore is currently ran like a giant corporation, Singapore Inc. and in any business, it is top down and never bottom up. Graciousness come from the top as the people of Singapore learn from their bosses, ie. LKY and gang. Period. If your boss is cold and calculated, so will the staff. A country leaders sets the tone for its citizens. An arrogant leader will turn out similar citizens as will a cold and calculated leader.

  10. Zhanzhao | January 11th, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Regarding the Gomez issue, i think you kinda forgot how that guy was going on and on about how the whole setup was a conspiracy to set him up…. until the video footage that proved him wrong showed him up.

    Graciousness does not come from the top, it comes from within. Not unless we claim we’re all robots and cannot learn/think for ourselves to know what is right or not.

  11. John | March 19th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Graciousness cannot be bought or thought. Neither can it be mold like some of you put it. It comes with your exposure and experience through a life time and within your soul and mind. If you remain in a single environment throughout your whole life, you are probably only going so far as that environment offers. Go experience outside your protective haven. Go experience the difference in culture, people and living in other parts of the world. Who’s to judge by what others say? Don’t you believe in your inert self thought? Just remember this; each one of us in this world has our individualistic characteristic and view point. Rule number one in my opinion of a person be gracious: Accept personal value variance, for each one of us in this planet earth is unique. By the way, passing a comment in context without a full understanding of the history behind it – needs reflection. Reading definitely helps foster the understanding. This is an advice from this old man here who had live passed his 50s.

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