So, here we go again. Toh Yi Drive, Woodlands, and now Bishan. Residents in these areas object to the setting up of nursing homes and studio apartments for the elderly in their neighbourhood.
Everyone would agree that the old and sick should be cared for. No one in his right mind would say otherwise. In any case, if anyone should say we shouldn’t care for the elderly, the person himself would deserve to be in a home himself – a mental home.
So, we all agree that as a society we must – not should (which connotes a choice), but must – care for the elderly. We all want to seem to be doing the right thing, the sensible and rational thing.
However, some people say: “Yes, we must care for the elderly – but please do not care for them in my backyard.”
And that, to put it bluntly, is hypocrisy.
I agree that in some cases, the Government should also take more care in the land it selects for these homes. But by and large, the problem is a deeper one, rather than just a case of simple property values, as some of these residents claim.
The problem is manifold:
1. The lack of ability to empathise with the elderly.
2. The disconnect between the head and the heart. “Caring for the elderly is important (heart) but you know what, I’d rather not have them affect the value of my flat (head).”
3. The inability to understand the long term for short term selfish gains. In other words, missing the woods for the trees. Everyone grows old (unless you’ve discovered the fountain of youth or are in possession of some elixir for eternal life). One day, you – and I – will be in need of such homes. And make no mistake, with a fast-ageing population, even spaces in such homes may not come by easily.
But here’s the challenge – it will take a long time to change these sorts of mindsets. Changing behaviour, even mental ones, takes time. But we do not have time. We do not have the time to wait for these “nimby” people to ponder, and consider and decide if these necessary homes should be sited in the heartlands.
We do not have time because there are elderly folks in need of these homes, in need of beds to lay their heads.
How many of us have actually been to a nursing home and see what goes on in there? How many of us have gone and speak to the elderly folks? It is quite a lesson in humility, believe me. It is also an eye-opener to what these folks go through.
Perhaps if we all took time to visit and see for ourselves, we will not be so utterly selfish.
In April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong raised this “nimby” syndrome as one of the more serious problems we face.
He stressed “the need for nursing homes, elder-care facilities and studio apartments for seniors.”
‘We all need them,’ he said. ‘It’s not for somebody else, it’s for ourselves, one day, when we grow old.”
In March, the Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS), Chan Chun Sing, highlighted the problem in Parliament.
“The plans which my MOS [Minister of State, Halimah Yaacob] had shared on community and home-based eldercare will not get past the starting line if all Singaporeans say ‘good idea, but not in my backyard’,” the Minister said.
In both of the earlier cases in Toh Yi and Woodlands, the authorities have rejected the objections and are going ahead with the plans for the facilities.
I applaud the authorities for doing so and not giving in to selfish Singaporeans and home owners.
But what saddens me more is the mindset that we are instilling in two sets of people:
1. Younger Singaporeans will start to think that the old is to be disdained because they cause trouble (lowering the value of our homes, bringing bad luck, etc.)
2. The elderly folks themselves. That they are useless, unwanted and are troublemakers. I can imagine the sense of isolation they must feel to know that they are seen as nothing more than pests in our society.
This, ultimately, is what we ourselves will have to contend with when we grow old – if we persist in adopting this sort of mindset about the elderly among us.
We ourselves will be looked upon with contempt – when we’re in our ’60s, 70s, 80s and beyond.
What a terrible sense of worthlessness that must be to feel.
So, have a heart. If the value of our homes go down, so be it. There is a bigger picture here. After all, isn’t it so so very shameful that, in the end, we are comparing bricks and steel to those who could be our fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers?
Indeed, what sort of society are we? We each have a choice in how we think, how we feel. The responsibility, really, is ours.
It is time to say no to the Nimbies.
A friend suggested this:
“People who object to nursing homes in their neighborhood should be marked and placed in nursing homes furthest away from their home / their children’s homes when they are old, preferably one in JB.”
Maybe we should do it.