“The results could be useful for educators when they debate the form and structure that the character development curriculum should take in schools” (Examine Values Of Our Youth, Madam Geraldine Cheong).
Madam Geraldine Cheong’s proposition – in her letter “Examine Values Of Our Youth” (October 28, 2011) – that youths’ obsession over materialism and pragmatism per se is unhealthy may not be necessarily inaccurate. Besides the assertion that focused pursuits in these areas can beneficially drive holistic excellence, observers should be aware that motivations shift with age and changing life experiences. To generalise Singaporeans based on their generations or age groups is too convenient, and probably unconstructive.
Money Not The Sole Motivator
There should be little alarm that young people aged between eighteen and twenty-nine linked material success to happiness; after all youths – within academic institutions or corporate firms – face stiff competition within and without to distinguish themselves from their counterparts. Monetary rewards – in the form of salaries, investment returns, year-end bonuses et cetera – are viewed upon as indicators of their accomplishments, and empower them to scale the socio-economic ladder progressively.
Nonetheless, we should be cognisant of two observations: first, Singaporean youths within these ages are just starting to negotiate around their newfound independence, and financial security is imperative for individuals to be less-reliant on the household; second, priorities evolve through the years, and money would no longer remain the sole motivator for many. Madam Cheong’s postulation that such concentration upon fiscal concerns reflects negatively on how values have been taught and imparted is exaggerated.
Youths Are All-Rounded Contributors
Comparisons across generations are unfair because the responsibilities are so dissimilar; youths cannot trace “their closeness with their families and their spirituality” that vividly because taking charge of a family involves a greater deal of ownership than simply being part of it. With heightened maturity, and after fighting their battles at work, youths will eventually recognise the emotional attachment to their families and communities. While such commitment may not rank as high in terms of personal importance, already – through platforms such as volunteerism, grassroots activities, and service projects – youths have been dedicating their time and effort through assorted approaches.
What is for certain is that youths have not been relishing in the comforts of civil apathy or lethargy; there is a distinct sense of compassion and awareness that is present.
Furthermore, fears on the overwhelming emphasis upon monetary incentives are unwarranted; a presentation by international author Daniel Pink expounded on how – beyond a certain financial threshold, as tasks or jobs required more conceptual or creative thinking – people were genuinely motivated by the factors of autonomy, mastery and purpose. Clearly, if we all had a little more faith and confidence, we would recognise that after this transition phase, our youths have the potential to excel in every dimension.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.