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ST20150315 l The Importance of Social Norms (cropped)

The Straits Times on 13 March 2015 published an article entitled “The importance of social norms”, which was written by David Brooks, an Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times who has been described as relatively irreligious.

It is a commentary on American society today with a perspective useful for Singapore. Allow me to quote extracts:

  • We now have multiple generations of people caught in recurring feedback loops of economic stress and family breakdown, often leading to something approaching anarchy of the intimate life. It’s not only money and better policy that are missing in these circles; it’s norms.” 
  • “The health of society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens. In many parts of America there are no minimally agreed-upon standards for what it means to be a father. There are no basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically.”
  • Reintroducing norms will require, first, a moral vocabulary. These norms weren’t destroyed because of people with bad values. They were destroyed by a plague of non-judgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another. People got out of the habit of setting standards or understanding how they were set.”
  • Next it will require holding people responsible. People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions, ‘Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good?  Are you living for yourself or for your childrenDo you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires? 
  • Next it will require holding everybody responsible. America is obviously not a country in which the less educated are behaving irresponsibly and the more educated are beacons of virtue. America is a country in which privileged people suffer from their own characteristic forms of self-indulgence: the tendency to self-segregate, the comprehensive failures of leadership in government and industry.   Social norms need repair up and down the scale, universally, together and all at once.
  • “People sometimes wonder why I’ve taken this column in a spiritual and moral direction of late. It’s in part because we won’t have social repair unless we are more morally articulate, unless we have clearer definitions of how we should be behaving at all levels. Every parent loves his or her children.  Everybody struggles.  But we need ideals and standards to guide the way.”

Enough said. Reflection and action is what we have to get into. Leadership and an internal drive for excellence is what we need.

Important food for thought for Singaporeans as we reflect about our nation’s future in our 50th year of existence.

You can read the full article here:

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