SINGAPORE: Singaporeans are under significant environmental and psychological pressure, say sociologists.
Stress from competitive workplaces and dense living conditions is just one reason people are showing more signs of intolerance and ungraciousness towards one another.
As the population gets older and more diverse, Singapore will continue to grapple with its social consciousness in the year ahead.
Over the course of 2012, in Woodlands, Bishan, Toh Yi Drive, and Jalan Batu, residents have spoken up strongly against new nursing homes, day care centres, and even studio apartments for the elderly in their neighbourhoods.
The concerns cited included fear of lower property prices, or the belief that old people are "unlucky".
"There is a gap between what we aspire to be and what we really are. We aspire to be a compassionate, a considerate society, we want to make sure people who are disadvantaged or need a leg up are included, like the elderly, the disabled, and the poor," commented Denise Phua, deputy chair of the government parliamentary committee for family and social development.
"But at the same time when it comes to difficult decisions as to whether I should locate that elderly centre right in my block or near my block or near where I live, that is another story altogether."
"We’ve seen the population of Singapore increase quite dramatically over the last five to eight years. We are also in the middle of very rapid population ageing," explained Asst Prof Angelique Chan from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
"Therefore people are feeling the population density. Singapore is the second densest population as a country in the world, so people are worried about their space and they’re also trying to get used to having more older people in the environment."
Anti—foreigner sentiments also took a more strident tone on the Internet, in the wake of a horrific car crash where a Chinese national slammed his Ferrari into a taxi, killing himself and two others.
Online forums and websites were swamped with posts attacking the Chinese driver.
Other foreigners living and working in Singapore were also blamed for adding to the competition for jobs and space.
"This is something society has to find ways to avoid. Which means the Singaporean dream has to be kept alive," said Dr Reuben Wong, associate professor of political science at NUS.
"There must be this sense that if I work hard in my society, meritocracy still works so that I can get a better life than my parents. And if I can’t find a better life in Singapore, then I have opportunities to go abroad to work, to get my degree, to get my job, and possibly even to raise my family, and then there will always be a Singapore I can come home to later on.
"This is something which, not just Singaporeans but the government has to get used to, that in an increasingly inter—connected world, Singaporeans will move and may even have to move in, some cases."
Observers say louder voices from the ground, even negative ones against foreigners or the elderly, are part of the country’s political liberalisation.
"What tends to happen, if you look at the US for example, the baby boomers moved a lot of the major policy changes that occurred for employment of older adults, for placement of long term care services," said Asst Prof Chan.
"And in Singapore I think baby boomers will actually be a real changing force. Because they will form 30 per cent of the population, they will be the ones who’ll be vocal, more vocal than the current generation of elderly, they may actually induce significant changes in how we view our work lives, retirement, and health care."
"People are more comfortable with writing online, writing to newspapers, writing to MPs or ministers directly, criticising them, giving feedback, telling them what they’re doing that’s wrong," said Dr Wong.
"This is a good thing because it means we have a system where people don’t just get up and leave."
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