By Shirley Tay
Cultivating a heart for others is necessary for the progress of the nation, said Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin in a two-hour dialogue session held at the Humanities and Social Sciences Auditorium on 2 Mar.
In looking out for fellow Singaporeans, whether disadvantaged or not, Mr Tan stressed that “values of compassion and love cannot be mandated by the government”, and must be nurtured by Singaporeans themselves.
“What anchors you here? Because you were born here? History about what happened in the independence years? It’s relationships, which are always about others, never about yourself.”
Mr Tan was the guest speaker at the inaugural CoHASS Graduate Public Lecture Series, and shared on the topic “The Challenges and Opportunities in Cultivating Singapore’s Heartware”.
Dean of CoHASS Prof Alan Chan delivered the opening address on behalf of NTU President Subra Suresh, in which he defined “heartware” as the sense of belonging and love for Singapore and its people.
He contrasted it to “hardware”, such as infrastructure and technology, which Singaporeans often focus more on.
Speaking to some 300 students, Mr Tan outlined the various constraints Singapore faces — such as its lack of natural resources and small geographical size — and reminded students that Singapore’s only resource is its people.
“As long as we have the right people in place, the rest will follow,” he said.
The former Singapore Armed Forces Brigadier-General cited examples of his experience in the military to illustrate his point.
“When I train a battalion, I can equip soldiers with all the relevant trainings and drills. I can provide all the equipment needed — but the one thing I cannot buy is the will to fight, the belief that this country is worth fighting and dying for,” said Mr Tan.
In laying out the ways that Singaporeans can develop empathy for others, Mr Tan reminded the audience that volunteering is not just about helping the poor or disadvantaged. Volunteering gives people an opportunity to love, and also teaches them to count their blessings, said Mr Tan.
“When you help out in the hospice and work with the dying, perhaps you learn how to live. Something helps you realise what really matters — it’s not the material things that we chase, but the process of giving and caring that does, ” Mr Tan said.
“Like what Saint Francis said, it is in giving that we receive.”
Students who attended the talk agreed that developing Singapore’s “heartware” will bring the nation forward.
Teo Ming You, a second-year student from the Nanyang Business School believes that leadership is key in making Singapore a more caring society.
“Many people with the right intentions might not necessarily lead to the desired outcomes. Some people might want to contribute to the society, but do not know of platforms to do so. This is where leadership comes in, where leaders have to raise awareness of the available opportunities to volunteer,” said the 22-year-old.
Chen Shijia, 27, a final-year student from the School of Humanities, agrees that it is important to raise awareness about social responsibility among Singaporeans.
“Singapore will be able to move from an economic-centred society to one with a culture and increased social welfare for its citizens,” said Chen.
He said that a sense of belonging to Singapore will come as the country builds its identity over the years.
“Being a young nation, Singapore needs time and history to build a strong culture and identity. While the definition of ‘sense of belonging’ may differ from person to person, it will come naturally as a by-product of a strong culture,” added Chen.