My Dear Singaporeans, Is It Right?

My dear Singaporeans,

Today, I’m asking you to put away your fears. I’m asking you to put away the ‘Me-First’ mindset. I’m asking you, if we can look beyond ourselves for just a while, if we can see beyond our own interests, our money, our worries of whether we can get ahead. If we can look at the lives of others and think about them and what they go through.

Can you imagine how a single mother in Singapore has to live, when she gives birth to a baby, and she doesn’t get to take any maternity leave, all because she’s a single mother? Can you imagine that because she’s a single mother and doesn’t fit into the discourse set out by the government that she should belong to a family unit, that she gets no rights? What about women who were married but had to leave their partners for whatever reasons? As a woman, as a mother, as someone who had ever been pregnant or who had been there for our sisters, partners or a friend, who had seen them go through 9 months of pregnancy, is this right? Is it right for us to not care for them? Is it right for us to take their right to rest away? Is it right for us to tell them that since you had chosen not to give birth within a family unit, you should get no rights? Is it fair, Singaporeans?

Is it fair that a woman who is a foreigner who gives birth in Singapore also gets no right to leave all because she is a foreigner? Is it right? The 9 months of labour that our mothers had to take us through – is it right that we cannot show that empathy to another human being, and refuse to give them that space and time to recuperate? Would we treat our own mothers like this? Would we expect our mothers to hop on their feet right after giving birth to us? Our policy makers, our leaders, our politicians, our female ministers and members of parliament, now, you tell me, is it right? Would you treat yourself like this! Would you treat your own sister, mother, friend or another human being like this? Is it right?

Is it right that we expect an elderly woman or man to have to wipe our tables, clean our utensils and clear our rubbish, because we do not have the decency to do it ourselves? Is it right to expect them to work and toil in our dirt, because they do not have enough to use? Is it right to say in the media that it’s all because they want to do it, because they would otherwise have nothing to do at home, and that’s why they have chosen to work? My policy makers, would you get your hands dirty at 85 and choose to wipe the tables at food courts and hawker centers after another? Would you want to clean the spit of others and the hold the saliva on the forks and spoons of others? Did you have to live a life where you had to clear the trays of others every day and end your workday, cleaning thousands of plates, when after toiling after decades for your country, a respectable government and country should have the decency to respect it’s elderly to let them finally rest and reap the fruits of their labour? Now, you tell me, is this right? Are we treating them right? With our thousands of dollars of monthly salaries, are we able to imagine the labour that we put them through, simply because we want to utilize them as much as we can a worker, where their basic dignity to live out their old age as human beings have been robbed from them? Is it right?

Is it right that we do not want nursing homes to be built in our neighbourhoods, simply because we are not old enough to appreciate their struggles and their old age? Is it right that we are worried about our home prices, even though the situation of a nursing home won’t do much to affect the prices of our homes? Can we actually reach into our conscience and tell ourselves that we can be fair to the elderly, when all we do is donate into tin cans and charity shows, and hope that by doing so, we have paid our dues, and thus hope that the elderly can find another place, as far away from civilization as they can, because all we think about is ourselves? Is it right? Have we spared a thought for them? Have we thought about what it would feel like when we are old and we would need a place to stay? Have we thought about how housing prices have risen so much that they have been priced out of the market, that their wages have remained low all this while and as much as they try their very best to work hard, that they had to work as cleaners and labourers and couldn’t earn enough to afford a decent living, that when they hope for a place to stay, that we chase them away? Is it right? Is it right for us to think only for ourselves because we are young and able and are not of the age to think about their plight? Is it fair that we are well-to-do enough that we do not feel a need to go beneath ourselves to think about the plight that they have to go through? Is it right?

Is it right to expect our children to go through their studies, in as much stress as we had to, simply because we are in the rat race, and want our kids to be part of it as well? Is it right that we put them through all kinds of activities because we hope that they can become who we couldn’t be, or who we would have wanted to be, but wasn’t? Is it fair that because of the stresses we face as adult, that we forget to slow down and look at them as another human person but hope to bring up another exact replica of who we are? Have we forgotten how to let the kids grow up as individuals in their own right? Have we forgotten how to let them come to their own, to discover, to be and to become the very best that they can be, as respectable, kind, open-hearted and caring individuals? We talk about the Singapore society as one that’s too busy, that’s too selfish and too demanding, and yet we demand these very things from our children. Is this right? Is this right that our kids are denied their chance to live their lives as who they are and truly can be because of our own fears and thus we bring them up, based on the very fears that we have? Is it right?

Is it right to deny our children the opportunity to sexuality education, to discuss about sex and condoms, because of our own so-called ”moral’ principles at this point in time? Is it right to subject our kids to not having access to sexuality education even though when we were teenagers, we were having sex with one another ourselves and were exploring our sexual organs and masturbating in our privacy? Is it fair to prevent our children from gaining access to sexuality education, which has been shown all over that the earlier we allow them to be able to learn about their sexualities that they would be better able to take better care of themselves and protect themselves from unwanted advances? Is it right that while we pretend to take the moral high ground, we have chosen to forget and pretend that the youth we had, while exploring ourselves and touching ourselves should be prevented simply because we are too ashamed to face up to ourselves? Is it right? Is it right that we force our kids not to be educated on their sexualities that they then turn to porn or to one another, where they then get infected by a sexually transmitted infection or get pregnant, all because we have chosen not to allow them to be educated? Is it right to deny a children a responsible education on their sexual well-being? Is it right? Can we honestly face up to ourselves and say we’ve done the right thing when a child gets raped, when a child doesn’t know how to protect him or herself? Can we honestly say we’ve done our best when all we’ve done is to scold them or to deny that rape or molest has taken place, because we’ve refused to face up to sexual issues for ourselves and thus deny our youths an education on their sexual well-being, simply because we cannot deal with it for ourselves? Is it right?

Is it right for us to allow a migrant worker to be paid a few hundred dollars a month or a few dollars a day, simply because they are from another country where we think that their cost of living is lower? Is it right to say that simply because they come from Indonesia or Bangladesh or India that because their cost of living is lower, we should pay them a very low wage and expect them to survive with the cost of living in Singapore, eating and living in Singapore on a low wage, and yet, expect them to have enough in savings? Is it humane? Is it right that when we wouldn’t want to be paid a few hundred dollars and know that this wouldn’t be enough for ourselves to live in Singapore, but yet expect them to know how to live with these few hundred dollars and ask them to take it or leave it, when they’ve been cheated of thousands of dollars to come to Singapore, to build our homes and work on our lands, for us, yet expect to take them for granted, simply because they are doing jobs that we refuse to do? Is it right? Is it right to ask of them to not ask for their rights simply because they are not born of our lands? How decent are we as people if we know how to deny the rights of others, yet expect others to treat us with any decency?

Is it right for us to accept that there are 300,000 people in Singapore earning less than $1,000 every month? Is it right for us to accept that there are 450,000 people in Singapore earning less than $1,500 every month? Is it fair? Is it right to pay them such a low wage, when again, we know that we wouldn’t be able to survive on such a low wage? Are we not at all ashamed that even as we do not want others to judge us for the work we do, or the education we hold, that we judge that since they are not able to get themselves through an education, or sometimes even afford one, that we expect them to live with a low salary? Are we not being two-headed when we hope that others will see us for our worth and measure us for who we are when we do not see that of others but learn to see them as just another economic node? Is it right?

Is it right to judge the students who do not do well academically to be deemed as unable Singaporeans, simply because their learning abilities are different or simply because they understand and learn things differently from us? Is it right to deny the talents and skills that these individuals have, simply because we feel the pressure on having to perform academically and learn to judge them according to how they cannot, simply because if we have to go through the pain, we expect them to do so as well? Are we not being unfair, when at the very same time, we do not want others to treat us unfairly? Is it right when there are students who might not do well academically, who are of kind hearts and souls and who are still individuals in society who care for others, but because they do not do well academically, that we laugh at them and call them names?

Is it right for us to look at another and laugh at them for being different, for being gay, for being disabled, for being over-weight, for choosing to dress differently, for choosing to express themselves, for choosing to believe in what they want to do and who they want to be? Have we not forgotten that we would want to be who we want to be and to be ourselves as well? Is it because we feel that in this society, we have to put up with appearances and so we have forgotten to be who we are, that when we see someone else who knows how to or does it, that we judge that person simply because they are willing to live a life that we dare not live?

Doesn’t this mean that we have to start looking within ourselves and to learn to come to terms with ourselves, to be who we want to be, and have the pride and courage to live the life that we truly want to be and have? Doesn’t this mean, that instead of living a life that others want of us, instead of living a life that we think we are expected to live, that we learn to find peace and happiness within ourselves, so that we will not use anger to look at another but to learn to look at another with respect and appreciation, because we realise that we can learn to respect the individual journeys that each of us go through? When we learn to live our lives the way we want it, we would not expect others to live the lives that we want them to simply because we cannot for ourselves. When we learn to live our own lives the way we truly want to, we won’t expect our children to live the lives we feel that we couldn’t.

PAP, for those among you who can see this truth, is it right to keep toeing a party line which expects you to side what they want to do, even if it means bulldozing over the rights of others? Is it right that there are people who are margnalised, manipulated or bullied, simply because they are not considered able economically and thus become sidelined? Is it right? Is it right that when we know we join politics mainly because we want to improve the lives of others and to give others a better life that when we go in, we see mistreatment enacted on others, yet keep quiet on them, because we feel we have to? Is it right that we compromise on who we are simply because we’ve grown up in a world of politics, where we’ve learnt to play the game and to play it against others that because we want to protect ourselves, we’ve learnt to put others in harm’s way, so that we can continue to protect ourselves?

Is it right, my dear Singaporeans? Eventually, everyone of us are born equal into this life. Eventually, everyone of us will die equal from this world. As much as it is a cliche to say, we do not bring our pride, our ego, our face or our money with us when we die. But when we go, what we’ve done as people, what we’ve learnt as people, these are the things that bring meaning to our lives. Sure, people may remember us as the founder of Singapore, the architect of Singapore or the person who made millions for the company, the one with the masters, the one with the doctorate, the one who made history, and so forth. But what really matters is how true we are to ourselves and to others. What matters is whether we’ve given another thought to another person and whether we’ve truly enriched and made the lives of another better.

My dear Singaporeans, we can move beyond the fear we’ve known and held. When we open our hearts and listen just a bit, we realise that what we’ve closed off or been running away can be faced and can be heard. When we truly see things for what they are, we realise that it’s actually easier when we learn to accept and embrace things for what they are, when we learn to embrace others for who they are, treat others with respect and kindness, so that when they improve and become happier in their lives, so can we in ours.

My dear Singaporeans, we can do our best for one another, and in turn, for ourselves – if we let go of our fears, if we look at things in truth and with honesty and openness, we see things for what they can be, the potential that they can be and we will work towards achieving them, in openness, kindness and love.

My dear Singaporeans, we can make things right. We can. We can.

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8 comments

  1. John Tan

    Is it right for us to allow a migrant worker to be paid a few hundred dollars a month or a few dollars a day, simply because they are from another country where we think that their cost of living is lower?

    Yes. I can survive on less than 250 before rent. There are other poor people surviving on that amount.

    • Do the right thing

      One can does not mean that one should.

      Use another scenario, you are man enough to withstand physical beatings, does it mean that you should be beaten by your bosses every time you screw up?

    • Seriously -.-

      With all due respect, fuck you. So they should get so little because its all they need to survive. What kind of screwed up reasoning is this?

  2. K

    I agree with the general sentiment in this piece, but a large number of questions asked make too many assumptions.

    With regards to “Is it right to expect our children to go through their studies, in as much stress as we had to, simply because we are in the rat race, and want our kids to be part of it as well?” for example, not everyone wants their children to go through the stress that they went through “simply because” they are/were in the rat race themselves. Some people genuinely believe in the value of a rigorous education. Some people reached positions of widely-regarded success through this well-recognized route, and what they want for their child is to achieve success as well. Then the problem is not “simply” that these people are part of the rat race themselves, or that they want their children to achieve what they couldn’t.

    “Is it right to subject our kids to not having access to sexuality education even though when we were teenagers, we were having sex with one another ourselves and were exploring our sexual organs and masturbating in our privacy?” for another example. I doubt it is the people who were “having sex with one another” while they were teenagers that are mainly the ones in favor of abstinence-only sex education. Furthermore, you mention this line: “Can we honestly face up to ourselves and say we’ve done the right thing when a child gets raped, when a child doesn’t know how to protect him or herself?” I am unsure as to how abstinence-only sex education leads to higher chances of children getting raped or being unable to protect himself or herself (in this case, I assume you mean in fighting off a person who is forcing them into sex) as compared to comprehensive sex education. I agree that comprehensive sex education is more beneficial, and is more likely to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, knowing that cultural norms have changed and that teenagers are having sex before marriage, but abstinence-only sex education can and does also teach students about unwanted sexual advances, harassment and rape, so I cannot see the link which you have made.

    And again, “Is it right for us to allow a migrant worker to be paid a few hundred dollars a month or a few dollars a day, simply because they are from another country where we think that their cost of living is lower?” I don’t think the main problem here is that they are being paid too little. The truth is that the cost of living in the countries they come from IS lower, so the value of the money they send back is higher. I do not know how much it takes to hire a construction worker, but I know that my previous household helper from Indonesia was paid ~$270/month. She said that after working in Singapore for a few (4-6) years, the money was enough for her to go back and build a house. That is also why it is economically more beneficial to hire workers from those countries. If they were being paid at an unimaginably low rate, why would they seek work in Singapore? And do so continuously? Why not remain in Bangladesh, in China, in India or wherever else they hail from? I think other problems, such as inadequate housing (10 or 12 people to a room of bunk beds with hardly any space to walk), or being forced to work long and unusual hours, or in unsafe work conditions would be more relevant concerns. If you truly believe they ought to be paid more, then it would make a lot more sense for companies to just hire Singaporeans with that sum of money instead–the main purpose of the state is after all to look after the needs of its citizens.

    These are just some of the issues that I take with your very long post. Again, I reiterate that I agree with the general sentiment behind it–that Singaporeans need to shift away from, or at the very least reconsider some of the mindsets that we have. However, it is important also to note that each issue is multifaceted, and the risk of you sliding down the slippery slope with each very pointed question is gets higher and higher.

  3. KHP

    U raise many questions we should ask ourselves. Do unto others – it’s as simple as that. Or at least, dont be UNkind. Kindness is a much underrated virtue in this day and age.
    Ps: Good for u, John, to be able to survive on $250 a month before rent here in singapore. For you AND your family? Wow. Please hold a seminar and i’ll be the first one to sign up for it!

  4. Joe Tey

    Some sensible questions and some truly utterly absurd ones.

    Come on lah, it’s not just $ingaporeans. It’s people. People are like that EVERYWHERE – some worse and some better, but never really that much better and never that often. This is what people do.

    To expect human beings to not be selfish, greedy, cowardly, judgmental, hypocritical, irrational, biased, dishonest, competitive, blah blah blah… you will have an easier time trying to convince cockroaches to be hygienic.

    Anyhoo, obvious basic Facts – we are not all born equal. Neither will we all die equal. And not everyone finds “meaning” in bettering the world and helping others. That’s YOUR meaning. Not everyone’s. And whatever kind of “morality” you speak of regarding whatever, that’s YOUR morality, not everyone’s.

  5. Pink Ranger

    Many thought provoking questions given, yet little tangible answers stated. The Hugh order bit is how, not what.

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