Rejection of the Old – A Crying Shame

~ By: Dr Wong Wee Nam ~

Two recent incidents that made some headlines in the media sadden me. The first is the objection by some residents to the proposed elder day-care centre to be built in Woodlands. Following closely is the furore over the proposal to build studio apartments and elder-friendly facilities in the affluent Toh Yi area.

The reasons given were morally ridiculous. These people complained that the facilities would cause the value of their properties to drop and many people will be dying in the area. Such objections only show the selfishness and a lack of humanity on the part of these people and let us pray the majority of Singaporeans are not like that.
Such display of community spirit or rather, the lack of it, may not be limited to only the residents of these two areas. Years of selfish competition in school, the blind pursuit of wealth, chasing after all the Cs society together with elitism, political apathy and the disparity in income gap have made us a selfish society lacking in compassion. The reactions to the elderly are symptoms of a greater malaise. The rot of materialism has set in and if we allow it to fester, we will end up with a fragmented society and a loss of community.
We often hear people complaining about government not taking care of its people. Why then are these people reacting angrily when something is being done for a group that had contributed to Singapore’s economic growth and its prosperity? They forget that though such problems of aging may not concern them now, they themselves will inevitably be part of the problem in future. So it is best we learn to deal with this problem now so that we can adjust ourselves along the way and learn to live with the growing number of elderly in our country.
It is really short-sightedness to try and shrug off the problem instead of facing it like a good community should. If we do not accept and address the reality of this problem now, the day will come when the people who are complaining at the moment will found themselves living in a country where the frail, sick and elderly will habitually be abandoned and consigned to some remote corner and maybe across the Straits of Johor.
In the past, when Singapore had a young population, we built a lot of crèche and childcare centres for our children. Some of these protestors or their children could have been the beneficiaries of such facilities. What then is it so wrong to provide for a
graying population as an obligation of the same societal duties?
It is sensible to provide facilities that are suitable to old folks in their twilight years so that they can continue to live their lives as part of the community. All these facilities are customized with safety features so that the elderly can be independent without the danger of injuring themselves. With such places, the elderly can then be parked there to give car-givers a respite from their arduous duties or when their children go to work.
What is a community? It is this subconscious compulsion to protect and improve each other’s life in society. How can we see ourselves as fellow travelers in our life’s journey if we isolate the elderly and run away from the dying?
If we can no longer tolerate having people who need our compassion and understanding most near us, then the caring ethos in inherent in any civilized society must disappear. These values that are the glue that binds a community must slowly be dissolved.
One of the basic humanitarian functions of a civilized society is the help the poor, the sick, the suffering and the elderly and not to abandon them as other people’s problem, or worse, to protest and deny them a right to a physical, psychological and social space. To do the latter is to dehumanize society even more than the blind pursuit of money would.
If the financially well-off and the better-educated start rejecting those who can no longer contribute economically to society and treat them as hideous beings, then the humane values of society must be undermined.
There is a price to be paid when the community rejects members of its community who are terminally-ill or aging. Lives will then become a commodity to be disposed of when they become too much of an economic or psychological burden to maintain or bear. For those who are protesting now, just remember that everyone, without exception, will become old and terminally ill one day.
In future, when the families become small and the proportion of elderly becomes greater, the care within the community will help the families concerned to cope. This is a problem that will affect everyone and every family. Similarly, everyone and every family will benefit by any solution we put in place now.
Thus, we must learn to accept the aged, the sick and the dying in our society because such acceptance teaches us the virtues of humility, courage and patience. This may not enhance the value of properties but it will certainly enrich the soul.