Move aside. Make way for the wealthy. In land scarce Singapore, there is only space for the wealthy. That is what a letter to the ST Forum seem to suggest. The letter tried to explain why the Government will find it difficult to make Singapore car-lite. The writer of the letter asserted:
“The idea that we can own something as if it were a part of ourselves begins at childhood.
With ownership comes envy, once we discover that certain toys belonging to other children appear more attractive than ours.
Through adolescence, we begin to view possessions as reflecting how we would like to see ourselves.
For a young adult who has just embarked on his career, car ownership often becomes the ultimate symbol of his emerging identity.
Our first cars are not merely possessions. They are an extension of our sense of self, which reflects both who we are and where we aspire to be.
This explains some of the behaviour we often associate with a mid-life crisis, such as ditching the family’s multi-purpose vehicle for a new sports car.
Conspicuous consumption boosts our sense of identity and also conveys status and importance.”
I had to stop myself from blogging immediately after reading this letter. If I hadn’t stopped myself, this post would be filled with truckloads of expletives.
How in the world did the writer of this letter come to believe that the idea that the “idea that we can own something as if it were a part of ourselves begins at childhood”? On what basis? What evidence? Is this guy a child psychologist? And how did he reach the conclusion that “conspicuous consumption boosts our sense of identity and also conveys status and importance”? Is it true?
There may be some truth that conspicuous consumption is an important yardstick by which Singaporeans measure status, success and importance of a person. There was an event earlier this year where children from disadvantaged families were taken for a ride in flashy cars. Some people who defended the event said that kids would be inspired to work hard to be able to own flashy cars in the future. So it does seem that Singaporeans do believe that your success, status, and importance in society depends on how much money you have and material possessions you can be seen to own.
How sad is it if such value is indeed prevalent amongst Singaporeans? And if it is indeed the case, then how did we get to such a sad state? I would put it down to parenting. According to recent research, found that three parenting strategies led to greater materialism: (1) rewarding children with gifts when they have accomplished something, such as making the soccer team or getting straight As; (2) giving gifts as a way to show affection; and (3) punishing children by taking away their possessions, such as a favorite toy or video game. Sounds familiar?
I think most of our parents would have done all three in our childhood. And it’s understandable. With both parents working (sometimes very ridiculous hours), I can understand why some parents feel that the only way they can compensate for the time away from their children is with material gifts. And without spending time with the children and understanding how they tick, I can understand why the only lever parents feel they have to make their children do (or not d0) certain things is by giving them material gifts. So perhaps that is why Singaporeans have indeed become increasingly materialistic.
And that is not good. Research has linked increased materialism during childhood to decreased life satisfaction in adulthood. Indeed, studies of adults have associated increased materialism with decreased life satisfaction, happiness, vitality, social cooperation and environmentally sustainable behaviors, as well as increased depression, anxiety, racism and antisocial behavior. In other words, Singapore should strive to become a less materialistic society.
We really need to stop seeing conspicuous consumption as something to be proud of. In fact, I hope to see a Singapore where conspicuous consumption is looked down upon and vehemently rejected. I hope to see a Singapore where, instead of big houses, fancy cars and expensive bags, the amount of good a person does for society, and the amount of time and effort a person gives to help the last, the lost and the least are the yardsticks to measure success and determine his status in society.
I don’t know exactly how we can do it. But I think we need to start from home, from parenting. Unfortunately, Singaporean parents today are already quite materialistic. It would be difficult to break the downward spiral into more materialism. But I think this is something that we really need to do. And fast.
[Featured image: from dannyconner.me]