Is filial piety still with us in 21 C Singapore? In 1996 the Singapore Government enacted the Maintenance Act which provides for any resident aged 60 and above, who cannot subsist on their own to seek maintenance through the courts from their children who are able but are not supporting them. Is this a case of the government being the nanny state or that ‘filial piety’, the highest virtue in Confucian’s moral order, so ingrained in the Chinese diaspora throughout East Asia, is now slowly being eroded away.
On the other hand, in Africa,, there is no legal mandate for filial piety or respect to the elders. Children used to be implicitly considered as the “insurance” for old days. As they grew up, they will become income earners and contribute to the family earnings. Modern African families are now reducing in size. Raising 2-3 children per household is becoming the norm. So, the belief that “children are insurance for the old days” is gradually being eroded. The family bonding is still strong and solidarity reigns amongst the family members. In most modern African families, the elders are now more and more economically independent. Children are expected to take care of themselves as they start working. In some well to do families, they are not expected to take financial care of their elders. It is demanded of them that they remain part of the family life – being there in times of family celebrations, bringing the grandchildren to visit their grandparents, etc.
Chinese Singaporeans do make it a point of contributing to the family’s earnings. I remember distinctly giving part of my first pay packet to my parents as part of the unspoken ‘generational contract’- whether your parents were economically able or not. The fact that there is some 1,411 cases brought to court suggests that things are sliding a bit or is it a sign of the economic times? However, I do know that beneath the veneer of being ‘westernised’, there is still lurking somewhere in our sub conscience the notion that you have to respect your elders whether you are supporting them economically or not. I still address anyone that is much older than me as ‘Aunty’ or ‘Uncle’ in Singapore even though they are not related to me, much to the bewilderment of my Western friends.
In Tanzania, there is a special way of addressing people older than you. “Habari” is the normal greeting given to someone. However, if you are aware that the person is older than you, then “Shikamoo” is the proper greeting given to an elder.
Whether we, in East Asia, will continue to show our ‘filial piety’ by supporting our parents financially remains to be seen. However, it can be said that changing values are also slowly happening in the work place. With more and more exposure to the “Western style of management’, respect to the elders in the workplace is no longer the modus operandi in East Asia and Africa.
Seniority is no longer the way to promote staff. Competencies and required experience are the new calling cards. Role models and mentors irrespective of age are our new support system in the work place. ‘Filial piety’ might also take on a new shade of expression hopefully, if not financially at least emotionally.