Friday, 10 June 2011

Soul-searching: Singaporeans need a vision

Since the General Election 2011 there has been a lot of soul-searching and one of the questions raised is "Do our leaders have a vision?".

At the last British General Election I was lamenting (1st May 2010) the lack of vision in all the main parties:
None of the major parties seem to have any undergirding ideology in the recent years. There is no real 'vision' for this society. Everywhere there is just a bit of tinkering here, a bit of polyfiller there.

Our political parties have abandoned ideology because ideology does not win votes.

... Instead, we have politicians saying only what the populace wish to hear.
Previous to this I discussed vision in relation to the importance of speaking good English here (2nd October 2010):
The tools of language, like the keys on a piano, are all there. Just as good music would evoke a response, a good leader could put words together in such a way that listeners could go, “Wow! I’ve never thought of it that way.”

Good use of language could stir listeners to action. Think of famous speeches like "I have a dream" and "We shall fight [them] on the beaches", etc.

In his recent National Day Rally speech did the Singapore PM choose to inspire?

Instead he chose to dwell on bread-and-butter issues, using anecdotes and case studies to engage, explain and communicate.

Perhaps he had discerned that his audience were unlikely to have the vital language skills to be inspired by clever rhetoric. He has learned that they much prefer to talk cockles and chilli.

Years of languishing in a linguistic torpor have guaranteed that enough people remain merely useful and utterly apathetic. So apathetic that there is no real fear of uprising.

But alas! these same people cannot be stirred to action either.
Post GE2011 we may have stirred from our dreams, but do we, or our leaders, yet have a vision?

For all his shortcomings, Mr Goh Chok Tong's aspiration to a "Swiss standard of living" is visionary. I enjoyed my time in Switzerland. You can, literally, set your watch by the bus time-table.

Not being very good in reading German I did not realize that the shop I was in was about to close for lunch. I loitered. They did not say, "O! She's a tourist, just tell her to go. We'll not be seeing her again."

Instead they waited patiently when at last I bought a bar of chocolate. They took payment, I left, and they closed the shop. It left me with a very favourable impression of the Swiss.

Back up a little and I remember Mr Lee Kuan Yew admonishing us to aspire towards being "an educated Singaporean".

Even Mr Lee didn't seem to know how to define the "educated Singaporean". He made references to reading books unrelated to work, and paintings on our walls, of needing to have been "educated" -- not just "trained" -- and "something else". 

But what was that elusive "something else"? (Did he contrast this with the "ugly Singaporean"?)

Is it a bit like "class", as in "so-and-so exudes class". However money cannot buy you class. Thus while some people have all the money, and wear the most expensive clothes, they might still exhibit the traits of a peasant. (Think My Fair Lady, and the high-flying wife of a certain ex-prime minister.)

We can go back further still. Think about "We, the citizens of Singapore ...". Now that, I think, was a real vision: "happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation".

Most, not all, of us have done well on the score of prosperity. We have progressed a little in our arts. But happiness?

So what vision do I have for Singapore (or of Singaporeans)?

Call them educated or something else, my kind of Singaporean is a gracious Singaporean (23rd January 2008). That would be a good start.

A gracious person looks beyond the self to the society in which they live. They are conscious of their responsibilities (and not just of their rights) to the point that it affects even the way they drive their buses, serve a customer, treat a patient, etc. Being gracious is a first step towards that "Swiss standard of living".

Such persons look beyond pure material gains, mindful of their fellow travellers. People who abuse their maids need not apply.

A gracious person also believes in a "shared space". I refuse to throw my litter in the train, on the ground, or spit, etc. not because I am afraid of being fined so much money. I refrain from doing so because I think of public space as shared space.

I do not own the space. I do not have the right to mess it up. Either by polluting it with material waste or by talking loudly and incessantly (mostly rubbish) on the phone.

Gracious people can also be proud people. They are proud of their achievements, whatever their achievements. They are aware that they play an important part in the overall picture of national success. They don't look down on others because, hopefully, others have not looked down on them.

You see if, within and between every stratum of society or pecking order, we can be gracious and kind to one another, accepting one another for our talents, then wouldn't we all be happy?

I wouldn't look down at the men and women who empty my bins because if they do not do their jobs well we'd live in a stinking cesspit. Sure, I can see that they may not be as well educated and as well paid, but they earn their own keep. I respect them for that.

Just think, any of us could be that person who is now a maid or road sweeper. They are each someone's child, sibling, parent, spouse. How could you treat them other than with utmost respect? (And from the biblical perspective, may I add, they are each made in the image of God.)

For as long as we -- as a nation -- wander aimlessly around looking for a reason to exist other than a home, a job, family and a Kate Spade bag or two (or that Rolex watch, say), we will only find drudgery.

If Singaporeans are soul-searching, is it perhaps because in our quest to make more money (with or without asset enhancement, in or out of the casinos) we have somehow lost our soul?

1 comment:

CaL said...

Very Insightful thoughts!

"Meritocracy does not go well with Graciousness."

If the system grades everyone accordingly, there's bound to be competition, with every competition, there will be losers and winners. There's much more incentive to win than to lose. That being said, there are many things people will do in order to win. In summary, we are brought up in a harsh competitive environment that does not encourage us to show compassion nor empathy.

Soul-searching indeed!