Singaporeans: As We Regain Our Voices and Responsibility to Speak Up

I am very concerned with how the international news media is covering the current sociopolitical ongoings in Singapore. Many international news agencies talk about how Singaporeans are angry with foreigners and how foreigners are facing a backlash in Singapore.

Singaporeans, I understand that many of us might be unhappy with the current state that Singapore is in. We might feel squeezed and unhappy with our wages and cost of living. But we need to be very cognizant of our emotions. Is it foreigners that we are unhappy about?

I want to talk about this because we have to understand this – Singapore is a small country. It is in the interest of any small country to maintain good relations with its neighbours as well as with the other countries in this world, especially with those higher up the chain. History has shown this to be the case, that we know.

This is why it is very important that in our anger, we need to be very clear that we do not cause the relationships that we have formed with the other countries to be affected. Am I saying that we should stop being angry because we need to maintain Singapore’s relationships? No, that’s not it.

What I am saying is this – we need to understand this anger. We keep thinking that we are angry with the foreigners but is this the case? When wages are depressed and do not grow and where prices of goods and services are increasing, should should we blame the foreigners? Well, we can, because it seems that we are not able to ask for higher wages because a foreigner can ask for a lower pay, and the company can choose the foreign worker over us. Or we can blame the rich foreigner for paying high prices for housing and cars, and jack up these prices beyond our reach.

Well, yes, we can blame the foreigners and get angry at them. But that is myopic. If we think a bit further, if the government implements a minimum wage, would companies still pay low wages? Companies would have to pay higher wages, and fair wages. If the government regulates prices of housing and cars, and introduce policies to prevent prices from shooting up, will prices jack up?

You see, the answer to our anger is not the foreigners. The problem is that wages are low and prices are high, because of prior ineffective and half hearted government regulations. It is ignorant of us to choose not to see the larger picture and choose only to direct our anger at the foreigners, when they are simply reacting to the government’s policies, or lack thereof, as well.

If this is the case, what then can we do? We need to focus our energies on advocating to the government to do what is right to protect our needs and to address our concerns. And truth is, after the past few months of advocacy, we are starting to see some progress now. Finally, the government is starting to admit that their policies aren’t effective, even as they have not said it. From just saying that they will tweak the policies a bit here and a bit there just a few months ago, they are beginning to change their tune. They are beginning to overhaul some policies.

So, Singaporeans, we have a voice. Our voices do matter. And we can push the government further to listen to us. This is only the beginning. We cannot let up. We need to keep pushing, and asking questions, and making sure that our government listens to us carefully and introduce policies that are in our interests. And as responsible citizens who care about our lives and our rights, we will continue to do so.

As as I’ve mentioned, we need to be clear and focused. Our anger is not with foreigners. It is with ineffective policies which have affected our lives adversely.

Why do I emphasise on this? If you look at it the other way – what if we have another government in charge? What if the Worker’s Party or SDP is able to form the government? They will need to continue to establish good relations with the other countries. We continue to need the support of other countries to be able to deal effectively with the world.

Do you think China or India will still be interested in working with Singapore if more and more Singaporeans continue to say angry things about Chinese and Indians? Look, Singapore is not a big country where even if we piss the other countries off, we can still continue to operate on our own, with our own local domestic economy. If you are a big country, you can piss on others and others will still find that you have some relevance anyhow. If you are a small country, you start pissing on others and everyone else will piss right back on you.

It’s myopic and ignorant of us if we continue to let our anger and fears run all over, without realising the impact that what our uncontrolled and misinformed beliefs and emotions can take us.

As much as we are starting to find our voice once again and as much as we are learning how to use our voice to effect change, we need to learn how to be responsible in our thoughts and voices. It’s not about screaming at the top of our voices about what our rights are, and in doing so, criticise that of all others, simply because we feel personally offended – this is not free speech. This is not human rights. When we do this, this is simply self-centred madness. If we criticise without care and respect, we are being highly irresponsible.

Having the freedom to express what we believe in, means taking responsibility in what we say. It means ensuring that we have thought through carefully about what we believe in, and in doing so, phrase what we say in a way that allows what we say to have the maximal impact on the government, and also at the same time, be mindful and respectful of others.

Understandably, Singaporeans are only starting to regain the freedom of speech that the government has denied us for decades. And in this new-found freedom, we might still be learning about how to think in a more critical and arranged manner. The freedom to think and speak is like composing a song. You want to put your music together and play it out, so that when people hear it, they can hear the flow of your story. But when we don’t put it together well, all they hear is noise.

And right now, we need to learn to put our story together well. And in order to do that, we would need to have clear and thoughtful understandings of things. We need to be very clear why our emotions are the way they are, to understand them and act on them responsibly. There will be other issues which will arise, but as long as we continue to think responsibly and critically, and when what we say is respectful and well-thought-out, we can ensure that we will be able to be more effectively heard.

My friends, as we grow and learn to regain more of our ability to speak out and voice our concerns to the government, we need to take responsibility for what we say and to find the most effective and impactful ways to convey our message, without hurting another, and yet, always having the broad picture in mind. In Singapore, we need to always have the broad picture because we are a small country. Like it or not, we need to think broadly. Our education system might have limited our scope in doing so, because of the government’s controlled way of getting our education across. But it’s time that we re-educate ourselves. It’s time we start reading up more and understanding Singapore’s position vis-a-vis the world and how, with this understanding, we can structure our thoughts from a more holistic point of view.

Even as we learn to find and use our voice, it’s not only about speaking up about our own individual rights. It’s also to speak up for the poor and less fortunate in society. It also means always thinking as well about Singapore’s position in the world, and how what we believe in and want, need to always be thought of, in conjunction with the larger position of Singapore and the greater good.

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