Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How to change the culture of a nation

Lee Kuan Yew is the 80 year old man who led Singapore to independence and served as its 1st Prime Minister. Whether you agree with all he did to achieve this or his politics is not a topic for discussion here. However, he was recently featured on the BBC, and this is what he said about transforming Singapore;

Lee Kuan Yew:

"The difficult part was getting the people to change their habits so that they behaved more like first-world citizens, not like third-world citizens, spitting and littering all over the place."

So Singapore embarked on what Mr. Lee called "campaigns to do this, campaigns to do that."

Do not chew gum. Do not throw garbage from rooftops. Speak good English. Smile. Perform spontaneous acts of kindness.

Paradoxically, he said, if Singapore had not been so poor it might never have transformed itself and prospered as it has. His warnings about vulnerability and collapse are a constant theme to persuade his people to accept limits on their freedoms.

"Supposing we had oil and gas, do you think I could get the people to do this?" Mr. Lee said. "No. If I had oil and gas, I'd have a different people, with different motivations and expectations."

Interesting eh? So maybe we can use these ideas to help in transforming the culture of our churches and communities. Campaigns to do this, campaigns to do that. Do not chew gum. Do not throw garbage from rooftops. Speak good English. Smile. Perform spontaneous acts of kindness. Pray for your neighbour. Give away one of your possessions every day. Speak an encouraging word to someone.

Any other ideas?

Thanks to David C for the quote.

This post is a part of Watercooler Wednesday over at Randy's blog, Ethos.


Scott said...


Thanks for posting this. That's a great way to affect change. Create a culture of expectancy and the change will come. Blessings in Egypt.

Mark Jaffrey said...

Hi Scott, thanks for stopping by and for the encouragement.

free said...

Hi Mark,

I'm a Singaporean and the campaigns only work because there's significant punishment involved. Lee Kuan Yew's iron fist is legendary.

e.g. No littering campaign - works because if you get caught, it's a $1000 fine and you have to do corrective-work-order (CWO), where you put on a bright luminous vest and clean up public places.

e.g. Courtesy campaign; Speak Good English Movement; - doesn't work because there's no huge stick.

Mark Jaffrey said...

Hi free, thanks for stopping by and commenting and for the enlightenment about how things work in Singapore.

I have a question - do the benefits of having litter-free streets outweigh the burden of living with the punishments for littering?

I'm interested to see where you think the line should be drawn so that the punishment is in proportion to the crime and yet the deterrent is effective enough.

Jean said...

-In Response to free's comment.

I think the whole proportional punishment comes down to education and openness to abuse. If the law assigns the same punishment regardless of social-economic status, and all people are made aware of the new law, and punishment involved, then it is acceptable. For example it is clear to everyone that chewing gum or spitting is illegal, because there are signs everywhere. If you spit or chew gum you are willfully breaking the law. Its not like either of those activities are considered polite or necessary for the enjoyment of life.

However if it oversteps basic rights then I think it is unacceptable.

I think there are a few other countries that could do with stricter laws and punishments especially relating to littering and general courtesy. Singapore is a great city. The cleanest and most efficient I've ever visited. The rest of the cities in the world could learn a thing or two from Singapore, not only about cleanliness but also public transportation and urban planning.