In Singapore We’ve Forgotten: I Think That I Am Better Than You (Part 2)

This is a two-part article to understand the real problem facing Singapore now and how we can overcome it. Part 1 of this article can be found here.

In Singapore, Where Is Our Soul?

As Singapore grew, we learnt to made functional things. We had converted our rivers into drains, but now we are converting them back into rivers. We’ve learnt to construct manicured gardens but now we are starting to realise that perhaps, we need to leave our greenery natural. When Singapore was growing in our early days, we have learnt to make things simple, useful and practical. But now, as we look back, we start to think – but where is the soul? So, we have a useful big drain that channels the water to the reservoir but where can the people go and sit by the river if they would want to? Slowly, we are beginning to realise how we can learn to find beauty in things. Slowly, we are realizing that we need to start being connected.

As Singaporeans grew, we’ve learnt to become detached from our emotions as we plow our time into work, so that we can help Singapore attain a First World living standard. And so, we’ve negated our emotions and we’ve focused on material wealth and living, so much so that into the new century, as Singapore has finally attained an enviable standard of living, our people look at one another and wonder to ourselves – where is his soul? Or where is her soul? Or indeed, where is our soul?

In our hurry to earn more and more, we’ve learnt to buy our children over with things. In our haste to grow our wealth, our children have learnt to follow our lead and believe that things in life can be defined by the money they have and the material goods that they are showered with. As our children grow up and become workers, they have learnt to think of the Gucci, the Prada and the Mercedes and Bukit Timah. Our lives start to become defined by what we have, rather than who we are. Our lives are defined by how far we go and how much we earn rather than how much I care or know. What is education but the ability to pass examinations? What is education but not to waste it on inquisitive thinking!

Singaporeans Lost: Finding Our Soul, Finding Meaning In Life

And so, in our money-minded driven-ness, we’ve finally reached a stage where with all the money that Singapore has, we are beginning to ask ourselves – so what? Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations have worked so hard to bring Singapore to where we are now. And now, in our generation, we are asking – so what? With all these money, so what? But the problem isn’t because we have reached a different generation. The problem is that in our years of economic pursuit, we have lost many years forgetting to grow ourselves as people, as individuals.

Our lost decades of social and psychological growth are finally catching up with us now.

Yet, unfortunately, because we have developed a sub-par social and psychological consciousness, and in our economic wealth, we have been led to believe that socially, we are affluent as well. But, how wrong we are! And so, on the roads, we honk at other drivers – get out of the way, you low-level being! Don’t you know how to drive? Gosh, I am even a better driver than you are!

In our social and psychological growth deficiency, we are unable to realise our social ineptness. We have learnt to think that because we are wealthy, that we are naturally socially as graceful. But yet, how we do not see ourselves. We honk at others on the road, thinking that we are better than others, only to have others honk back at us, them thinking the same way. We past by others in our way, turn around and stare at them, only to have others turn around and stare at us as well.

In our eagerness to grow Singapore to become wealthy, Singaporeans have learnt to forgo some of our social ways, just so we could get to the fore. As more and more of us do that, we’ve learnt to let our social development languish.

And so, a Singaporean who has become “angsty”, unhappy, snide, rude and quick to the temper, a Singaporean quick to judge, berate and shout nasty remarks at the waiter, thinking that we are better than they are, has developed. I earn more money than you, who are you, you lowly waiter on lowly wages who should be serving me with more courtesy!

The Side Effects of Meritocracy: I Am Better Than You

Yet, in our meritocratic system, as our people strive to do their best to get to the top, it has bred a pool of Singaporeans who believe themselves so mighty that we have learnt to demand things of others, because we’ve worked so hard to deserve this, and what have you done? Wait at tables? Did you spend as much money as I did to study for my medicine or law degree? Did you spend as much time as I did mugging in my exams to sit for my degree examination? Are you even better than half my level?

In our earnestness to build a system where we can allow Singaporeans to grow and propel themselves to the highest echelons of economic relevance, we have created a system so competitive that our people have learnt to push one another out of the way, so that they can get to the top, and once they are at the top, they’ve learnt to look down at others and smirk at others for not being good enough because you know what? – I am better than you.

It is perhaps unfortunate that Singapore has come to this stage. But yet, we should not judge ourselves for having become so. For it is precisely because of the sacrifices that our forefathers and foremothers have put in that have given us the life that Singapore can now respectably stand head and shoulders with the rest, that we can live a life that is at least comfortable, safe and respectable for most. And this is something that we can be and should be proud of.

Yet, in our eagerness to strive, we’ve become a hard-headed, cold-hearted, quick-tempered and emotionally-uneven Singaporean that because we don’t have time to even think for ourselves, we don’t even stop to think for others. It’s simply easier to hold on to thinking that I am better than you and keep hanging on to what we have achieved than to stop and look at the other and think about how we can also help him or her succeed or how we can perhaps step out of the way, so that he or she can move ahead and we can be happy that we have carved a path out for somebody else as well.

Finding Balance in Singapore Once Again

It is perhaps then true that Singapore is in a transition but not because we are into a new generation. Singapore is transiting because from a sole focus on economic growth, it is time our people learn to figure out how to understand our social, psychological and emotional selves. We have learnt to forgo and sacrifice the other parts of us – our soul – as we’ve learnt to put our faith in money. But it is perhaps time to find that balance.

Why is Singapore divided? Why are we unhappy? Why have we learnt to lose our patience or cool in front of someone else? Why have we learnt to bark at someone else? Why have we learnt to slight someone else?

Why do we think that we are better than us? Or do we really think that we are better than others?

But have we even stopped to think?

In Singapore, it’s not because we don’t care. It’s not because we don’t want to. Singaporeans have a heart and we are gentle, accommodating people. But we have forgotten that. In our yearning to strive, we’ve let that go, but it is perhaps time to face up to our inner selves once again.

Knowing That We All Believe In The Same Thing

It is perhaps not necessary to judge another Singaporean for being “elitist” or being too “comfortable”, for if we are able to see beyond and beneath what one says about us, or what we say about others, we will understand that in truth, we have learnt to see ourselves as better than the others so that we can protect ourselves – so that we can achieve a better life. And if we can understand how we snide at others only because of our fears and our want to protect it, perhaps if we step aside from our fears, we would realise that so is the person fearing and so is the person only reacting to that fear.

Singapore is in a good position. But we need to start letting our fears go and our egos down. We need to start realizing that if we were to stop shouting at one another but perhaps, listening to one another that we can perhaps finally hear what the other is saying and we would understand that we are saying the same thing.

It is not that we think that you are not good enough or that you think that we are not good enough. For we are all trying to be good enough, aren’t we? But if we come together and finally start listening to one another, we would realise that when we put our heads together, we would be able to find some many more solutions for Singapore to bring Singapore forward.

But we need to remember. And we need to forgive one another, and to accept one another.


  1. Jentrified Citizen

    Reblogged this on Jentrified Citizen and commented:
    Jentrified Citizen – a timely thoughtful essay by HeartTruth blogger. Yes, in our hurry to be successful, have we forgotten the important things in life such as appreciating education for helping us learn and develop into better beings rather than just seeing it as a means to a job? Our government, ministers, MPs and all of us need to relearn the meaning of life. It goes beyond the 4Cs, beyond GDP and certainly beyond building inconic artifice like the Gardens by the Bay for miillions of dollars. A simpler life can often be a richer life.

  2. Pingback: Daily SG: 13 May 2013 | The Singapore Daily
  3. vreedom

    True but truth usually hurts. Under this rule, we have turned into money making machines. We are defined by how much our income, how much our wealth, what car we driving, what kind of housing, what bad brand we used etc. Sooner or later we will be harvested for our organs once our economic value deteriorated. People has to learn to stop voting for any party that is all about money, money, money.

  4. Herbivorousfag

    ” We past by others in our way, turn around and stare at them, only to have others turn around and stare at us as well.” Great point I thought I was the only one who goes through that.

  5. Danny Ooi

    Hey there Roy,

    I read your blog with great interests, and your efforts in your beliefs is commendable. I’ve also read through a couple of your other posts. It is a awesome. Though it is a little political. Why do I say so, as many of us act upon our own set of beliefs. Hence there will always be people who are against your idea, as in their mindset their way was a superior produce. If the rich are getting rich and the poor are getting poorer it is because you are all fighting over the same thing. “MONEY”

    The “Elitist” / Rich / Famous / Capitalists / will always want to marginalise the Poor as you put it. And that is their mindset. And I’m afraid they are winning if like how you put it. Don’t you see, you yourself have also got the same mindset in your mind. You think that if they the “Elitist” thinks this way they have got an attitude problem and should have a change in mindset. But who are we to judge them. We are not in their shoes, we do not know the reason why we need to have a bigger condos, why we need to have luxury sports cars, why we need to be more special than others. We have no idea, or do we?

    And back to politics, how often have that not benefited someone. We always use a problem to poke at others without coming up with solutions. There will always be bickering because ultimately we are all sucked into the system. Unless there is a CHANGE. And this is what many people are yearning. You see the general consensus is the corporation is earning too much. And the corporations and governments are sucking the people dry. At the end of the day it is still about Money. Like many of your articles addressing the problem with CPF, the Companies and how the politicians and their cahoots is earning and wish to have your piece of the economic pies. And what they are saying is that they are not responsible to be your guardian angel to your life in Singapore.

    But neither sides are giving any solutions. And if MONEY is used as a measurement of success. There will always be no end. So do we know the solutions to this political game?? Do we know the answer to life?? I guess, ideally everyone will at least attempt to make their life better or if not would want to remain status quo. That’s why your argument around minimum wage, living in singapore. But that is not changing. Remaining the same and try to live out your remaining lives doing mundane things like a job, yearning to earn more next year. Everyone will be sucked into the same thinking. Cleaners would want SGD2,000, Bus drivers would want SGD 5,000 for driving buses. Everyone wants a pay rise. So is this a solution?? Like some of your viewers argue, the rising costs, MNCs moving out, etc etc is real valid concerns too as they do not want their status quo to be lowered or be jeapordized.

    See the end of this all, is that when we stop fighting for the same thing “MONEY” do we developed to become truly equal. Are we willing to work for free?? Instead of asking those “Elitist” to CHANGE, ask ourselves if we are willing to CHANGE ourselves first. Those that feel the same should start to change their ways. If we are willing to work for free, we would be able to produce our own iphones and samsungs. We would build our own homes for people. We would feed people. We would distribute it out freely. People will not be left out because everyone is deserving of the same equal chance. People will clean the toilets for free because they belief that a cleaner society is a more responsible and healthier choice. People would want to drive the buses for free because they feel that it is their responsibility to service the people that do what they do. People will produce more ways to self sustain. They would be more reliant on themselves and on society. Because we become a doctor by choice and passion to help and heal the sick rather than how big a pay check each profession can reward us, we don’t need insurance to cover us. We cover ourselves. Because we do what we do to provide back to society. Unfortunately this is not the case. So from a political point of view, don’t you think educating people that we don’t need MONEY is the solution to this?? After all, there are many ways one can choose to live their lives. But not many are willing to live their Lives FREELY. So do we know the answer to this? We do, but do we want it?? I’m not sure if we are not part of this problem as well. The problem of bickering about each other but no solution to the problem. So if we change the drive of the system, which is ourselves we are actually changing the system. I truly don’t believe that if without MONEY as a motivator that we Humans will become lame. And we just need to keep Changing as they say Change is the only constant in life. Like one commenter Mr Wong Tong Kwong, he is willing to change his lifestyle and hence is not feeling the pinch you were mentioning in the other thread how much SGD do Singaporeans need to survive. Since he live over the causeway, earning not much, sold his HDB, and taking care of his mother. But the point is he decided to make a cheaper change. Not free yet, but cheaper. So if the solution to this is to make living cheaper instead of more costly. And raising minimum wage increases overall costs as stated by the other side of fence.
    So why are not more people selling of their homes and move to some Malaysian outskirt town, I am sure they would live a rather decent lives. Afraid of changes. So what if more Singaporeans live freely and detached from the system. Maybe more Singaporeans would plant their own food. Maybe they would find ways to cheapen or provide services to fellow Singaporean for free. After all if those, that choose not to be capitalize on, and don’t have money to spend what would they do? What would governments do without the ability to tax the people. What do companies do, when there is no people that want to work for them to produce goods to sell-back to the people. So many here are just thinking of the same Problem (Money) and how to get more of it. Rather than think of how to get rid of the Problem (Money) and live without it. So if we flick a coin, we need to choose a side, rarely do we get a coin standing with perfect balance. So is life. and human choices.

  6. Benjamin

    Hi Roy, thank you for posting such a meaningful post. This is exactly what I feel working in Singapore. Singapore is indeed comfortable but cold. It’s like enjoying an empty, luxurious palace. I used to think that it is better to cry in a Mercedes than laugh in a bicycle but am foolish to hold such an opinion. Life is short and we are human beings with soul. I wish you well my fellow Singaporean.

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