Monday, July 04, 2005

Post No. 21: Changing Times, Eroding Values...?

There is something very wrong happening in our society. This was the impression I got after reading in The Straits Times on June 13 that there is an increasing number of cases in Singapore where children abandon their aged parents in nursing homes (“Nursing homes chalk up more bad debts”). Reading the article, what really angered me were some of the remarks made by some the parents-abandoning children when they were pressed for payments by the homes. These remarks included: “I will throw my mother out on the streets if you discharge her.” and “Don’t treat my father if he falls sick because he won’t get better anyway.” How can anyone be able to make such callous remarks, especially about their own aged parents? What happened to the value of filial responsibility? Have they forgotten about it?

To me, being brought up in what may be called as a traditional/conservative Chinese family and being a believer in Confucian ethics, being filial to parents is a responsibility which all of us should be expected to undertake. It should be something that comes naturally. Why? For many reasons, one of which would be, though it may sound a bit too quid pro quo, that our parents have provided for and taken care of us when we were young & growing up and now that they have aged and perhaps unable to provide for themselves, it is our duty & responsibility to repay them. If this doesn’t convince you all, then think about these 2 questions: “If you, being their own child, wouldn’t take care of your own parents, who will?” and “Will your conscience allow you to abandon your aged parents to the vagaries of their own fates?”. Lest anyone be mistaken, filial responsibility goes beyond mere providing for our parents, it means also that we show respect, care & love for them. If not, similar to what Confucius have argued so many centuries ago, we will be treating our parents as nothing more than the pets that we keep. Of course, in cases where parents have abused their authority & position as parents and/or failed to fulfil their responsibility as parents, it may be possible to excuse the children for not being filial to such parents. However, in my opinion, such cases are somewhat rare, and thus, all of us children remain duty-bound to be filial towards our parents.

Looking at all this from a larger perspective, this lack of sense of filial responsibility in some is perhaps just a symptom of a greater malady that is affecting our society. Although I lack concrete evidence to support my viewpoint, it is my observation that as our society becomes more globalised and undergo greater infusing of ideas & concepts from other parts of the world, our sense of traditional values seem to be somewhat weakening, if not eroding. In addition to the anecdotal evidence of more children in Singapore abandoning their aged parents in nursing homes, the very need for the Government to launch a campaign recently to encourage family bonding and to implement the Maintenance of Parents Act, which allows abandoned or neglected elderly persons to claim maintenance from their children, would suggest that there is indeed a eroding of traditional values in our society. Perhaps this is inevitable and maybe this is the price to pay for progress. However, the question would be whether this is too high a price to pay? Don’t be mistaken; I am all for progress and I understand that sometimes, progress requires sacrifices. But if the sacrifice to be laid at the altar of progress is to be our sense of traditional values, I suppose I would not approve of it and I guess many others would also object. Some things are just too dear to be sacrificed, even for the sake of progress. Although I am no conservative (in fact, I am quite a relativist), it remains my opinion that values, being the pillars of our society, should not be compromised. However, it is possible to modify and adapt them to suit the times, thereby retaining the essential core of our society while still being able to progress forward. To me, this is one way in which we can both have our cake and eat it at the same time and not swing to the extremes of being a value-less society or being a closed-door & isolated society.

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