When I was a young boy, I saw a common sight along the corridors of HDB flats which no longer exists today – neighbours standing outside their homes talking to each other. This happened between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m every day. From our flat, we could see people standing in the corridors of the other flats. We didn’t know it then, but these were the dying moments of the kampong spirit in Singapore. By 1980, it was gone. The TV had been purchased by most residents and like a powerful magnet, it pulled family members into the apartment, discouraging them from communicating with their neighbours in the corridor. The TV succeeded and we lost.
Today, our HDB corridors are empty, devoid of life, sterile. It is just a passageway to walk from our apartments to the lift and vice-versa. What we have lost is more than our kampong spirit . We have lost our humanity. Our young (and many young adults) do not realise what we have lost. We have lost that connection with humanity, our neighbours.
It is written in the New Testament – “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12: 31). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said, “A man is not a believer who fills his stomach while his neighbour is hungry.” Do these words mean anything to the HDB apartment dweller? How can we, materialistic Singaporeans who hide ourselves in our strong concrete homes, understand the ties of humanity beyond the immediate family? What we do today would be considered blasphemous in past times – like sending our aged parents to special homes to live out their last days. Intelligent as we are, we produce convincing excuses to explain away our so-called modern behaviour. It is actually a symptom of a disease in our heart. We are losing our humanity.
Yet there is hope. There are still, outside the national boundaries of Singapore, hundreds of thousands of villages in the world. Though attacked by modern technology, these villages still possess that strong bond that binds humanity, that intangible warmth that unites our hearts. But you should not visit the villages as a tourist. To feel the bond, one needs to be a part of their community, marinated by their stories, hopes, fears and love. Wealthy and safe Singapore appears pale when placed beside a village. My social work in the region, teaching village teachers how to teach, gives me plenty of opportunities to connect and re-connect with humanity whenever I want to. I feel blessed to have this.