Don’t blame lack of courtesy on stress

Dear Straits Times,

I refer to the letter by Dr Oh Jen Jen dated 24 Sept 2010.

Dr Oh explains the World Giving Index entirely in terms of her own personal experiences of the helpfulness of the people she met on her trips to other countries. Dr Oh should realise that ‘helping strangers’ is just one of three categories in the World Giving Index and that the chief culprit for Singapore’s low ranking in the World Giving Index is not ‘helping strangers’ but ‘volunteering time’. Singapore scored a dismal 10% for ‘volunteering time’ compared to 35% for ‘helping strangers’. Therefore contrary to Dr Oh’s assertions, stress can be a reasonable explanation for Singapore’s low World Giving Index ranking since it directly impacts ‘volunteering time’. The explanation is also supported by an International Labour Organisation report in January this year which said that Singapore workers clocked the most number of working hours per week amongst twelve nations. So even though Manhattan, Tokyo and Paris are just as densely populated and busy as Singapore, their people work less hours per week and so have more time for volunteering compared to us.

Also, the World Giving Index 2010 reports a relatively high correlation between happiness and giving. Some people interpret that as: the more money you give, the happier you will be. However, correlation doesn’t tell cause from effect. It may well be the other way round: that people who are happier tend to give more money. It is also not difficult to understand why there is a higher correlation between happiness and giving as compared to between a nation’s wealth and giving. We must first of all understand that a wealthy nation doesn’t imply a wealthy people. A wealthy nation of poor people will neither be as happy nor be able to give as much. Only a truly wealthy nation of wealthy citizens can experience both the happiness and the abundance with which to give.

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