THE Community Chest should re-examine its criteria for choosing which causes and charities to support. Its commitment to helping the poor and disadvantaged is not in doubt. Its aims are admirable and its generosity remarkable. But its ways of selecting charities are dated and excessively conservative. The decision to exclude the Society for Community Organisation (SOCO) on the grounds that its ''public image'' is more that of a pressure group than a welfare agency smacks of the attitudes of old-fashioned colonialism, of a time when public agitation of any kind was viewed as suspicious, if not seditious. SOCO, it is true, has been involved in social and human rights advocacy; it has organised demonstrations; it has demanded better conditions for caged men and illegal immigrants, among others. Public advocacy, designed to trouble the conscience of government and the populace, is a legitimate activity. But SOCO has also worked directly to ease the sufferings of the elderly poor, particularly those in bed-space accommodation. It is absurd to demand the complete separation of the two functions. The days when a welfare agency could be expected to devote itself to good deeds in unquestioning silence are long past. The Community Chest is apolitical and expects similar political neutrality from those charities it supports. It appears, however, to confuse neutrality with support for an old-fashioned hierarchical order in which the poor suffer in silence and wait for hand-outs from the establishment. We no longer live in the era when the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution across the border justified the view that anyone organising a demonstration in Hong Kong was automatically to be regarded as subversive. The Community Chest is living in the days when the colonial administration considered social advocacy as subversive as Communist-led, shop-floor militancy. Those were the days when the Government could pillory even Elsie Tu (Elsie Elliott, as she was then) for her campaigns on behalf of the working classes and blame her for the Star Ferry riots. It is not SOCO's fault that it has been around since the early 1970s or that the Chest's image of its activities has not been updated. The ''subversion'' of those early years is now regarded as democratic activity by the public at large. In SOCO's case it is also combined with real social welfare work. It is time, as legislators and social workers alike have urged, for the Chest to reveal its funding criteria and to update its methods and its thinking to meet the needs and the perceptions of the 1990s.