Singaporeans’ love for their country underwent another evaluation last week when respondents to a particular subreddit overwhelmingly claimed that their often sung about (one dull new song every year) patriotism had diminished over the years.

Enforced conscription, a less-than-responsive or transparent government (in their eyes, at least), and the problems plaguing our vaunted public transport system were the consistently recurring reasons.

However, the reasons underlying the malaise in our national pride are less explicit than that. Otherwise, one would expect that the scrapping of National Service or a marked improvement in the MRT would lead to a surge of patriotic spirit.

When our image is threatened, as with the mini furore about whose Nasi Lemak burger is better or the portrayal of Geylang in that BBC documentary, Singaporeans return fire with a surprising amount of ferocity – almost as if they take the perceived slight personally. The Singapore Tourism Board even made this response video.

This, it seems, is our brand of patriotism.

We are content to bellyache about the practical aspects of life in Singapore but will not suffer any criticism, no matter how astute, by an outsider.

The easiest justification for this is as follows: Singaporeans know Singapore best, so only we deserve to truly criticise or praise her as we see fit.

Putting aside this obvious falsehood (does one need to be a train engineer to criticise an MRT breakdown?), I believe there is another reason why we behave like this when it comes to our attitude towards Singapore.

We are in love with the idea of Singapore – a doughty island nation with few natural resources and stoutly industrious people who have carved out a path from ‘Third World to First’.

We boast of the low crime rate (enforced by relatively draconian punishments) and clean streets (kept up by elderly and underpaid cleaners) to our foreign friends.

The reality of Singapore, however, is far from ideal.

For example, no matter how much National Service is talked up, who among us would actually volunteer to serve for 2 years if we were given a choice?

Source: RedWire Times Singapore

Rising costs of living, job insecurity, some of the longest working hours in the world – these are not things that make people proud, and to constantly hear that we are the world’s best in things that don’t interest or benefit us directly can sometimes be patronising or discouraging.

We should be happy but we somehow aren’t.

To hear a criticism of this Singapore ideal possibly forces us to face this harsh reality – our resulting backlash is a knee-jerk reaction to the cold water being splashed in our faces.

Like couples who visit a therapist, a third-party perspective can sometimes be useful in evaluating an issue, since the involved parties are often too emotionally invested or too attached to a particular stand.

Not every criticism from outside is true, but they’re not all false either.

What the uncritical demand for patriotism does is encourage us to reject negative feedback instead of examine its validity. Rather than ask ourselves how patriotic we are, perhaps the question should be how reasonable, rational, empathetic, and fair we are.

Rice Media recently published a piece which argued that civic volunteerism and activism is a kind of patriotism – those of us who pursue such causes are striving for the betterment of Singapore in our own way.

This is quite a stretch though. Most people who volunteer do not, in fact, do their noble work to make Singapore great again.

Empathy for others and justice for their fellow human beings are what motivates volunteers to head down to Little India after a gruelling 9-6 shift to offer a listening ear and basic case advice to wronged migrant workers.

It is not for the ‘glory of Singapore’ that volunteers spend time with lonely elderly folks or offer support to bullied LGBT individuals; it is compassion for the downtrodden and the fight for equal treatment.

The late great Christopher Hitchens once said that internationalism was the highest form of patriotism. Internationalism in this context refers to solidarity with people regardless of nationality. HOME and TWC2 are great examples of that; none of their beneficiaries are Singaporean, obviously.

Knee-jerk patriotism, which is the love for the set boundaries that one happened to be born in, is overrated.

If solidarity with and empathy for our fellow human beings is to be achieved, one should add “nationality” when reciting the “regardless of race, language, or religion” of the pledge.