It is certainly worthwhile to rekindle the gotong royong spirit in our communities, but its worthiness goes beyond protecting vulnerable segments of our society from domestic abuse (“Revive gotong royong spirit to help neighbours in need”; Aug 6).
The approximate meaning of the Indonesian phrase “gotong royong” is mutual help and the sharing of burdens. It goes hand in hand with the kampung spirit, the spirit of community and neighbourliness.
These two phrases describe a community that lives together and is deeply invested in one another’s well-being, sharing not only joys but also burdens.
A community with gotong royong would not content itself with keeping tabs on neighbours and reporting suspected domestic problems to the authorities. Doing that alone would create a vigilante community.
A gotong royong community would shoulder shared responsibility for one another, be involved in preventing conflicts and help find solutions when they arise — by intervening and rendering aid, comfort and counsel as and when the need arises.
It would engage in root-cause analysis and labour together to treat the ailments and not only the symptoms. Such a community would be able to do this because its members have intentionally reached out and transformed neighbours into friends.
In time, these friends treat one another like family, born not of blood ties but of mutual consideration and trust.
This deep understanding, cultivated over time, would allow them to be sensitive to the needs of others in the community, without being intrusive.
Bringing back this gotong royong spirit is an ambitious goal, but we can start with that first step to make friends of our neighbours.
We can do more for our community with a smile and a wave, a shared meal or a listening ear, than stomping around with a mobile phone camera.
Dr William Wan
Singapore Kindness Movement
First published in TODAY Online – August 14, 2015