17 Nov 2013

Tolerate? Appreciate.

Singapore. Proudly self-proclaiming herself as the multi-racial, multi-cultural island nation. Always preaching the values of racial and religious harmony.

Yet the words that are often used in this context are "tolerance" and "respect". 

Not saying that it isn't fine, but it seems limiting. I mean, you can tolerate and respect your boss or teacher, but that doesn't mean you have any good relations with him/her, right? And that isn't quite in line with the idea of harmony. You can tolerate and respect other races and religions by just not talking about them at all, by simply ignoring them. Everyone in Singapore can confine themselves to their own bubbles of cultures and sub-cultures, while being respectful and tolerant. But it'll be kinda boring. It won't be harmonious, just – well – not in a state of conflict.

Why not take it a step further to appreciation?

No, it does not mean that you have to subscribe to a religion if you don't want to. Or become Indian when you're Chinese. Appreciation just simply means knowing more about cultural norms, and seeing the beauty in each culture. Or at least understanding the rationale behind the practices. Like why Indians use their right hands to bring food to their mouths, and how they do it. Or why some Muslim women wear the hijab. Or why that Chinese neighbour of yours hangs a tiny octagonal mirror above his door with a yin-yang symbol and seemingly random lines on it.

It's not merely about being a busybody. If you're less ignorant about other cultures, you'd develop less bias against them. That's already helping out in tolerance and respect there. But it also fosters more integration within society. I'm sure there are many people who'd be happy to enlighten outsiders of their own cultures. I see it happen when visitors from Europe or Australia or USA pop over during festivals. Or when neighbours of different ethnicities come to celebrate other festive occasions together. This is closer to the idea of harmony.

I could think of it as like visiting an arts exhibition featuring works from various different artists, each with their own unique style. The works may not be to your personal tastes, but you shouldn't completely dismiss them as ugly. And more often than not, understanding the state of the artist during the creation of this work aids in the appreciation of the piece. You don't have to fall in love to the point that you want to imitate a certain style you picked up from the exhibition. Similarly, you don't have to dive in and engage in the new cultural practises you've seen. Though sometimes it is a nice little bonus.

Not saying that this country isn't doing anything to foster such activities, especially the Chingay Parade. Just that the next step would be to encourage Singaporeans to mix around with other cultures of their own accord, not simply because there's a free celebratory public event with goodies to grab home.

Be curious. Learn and interact. And have fun while doing it.