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.
This is a two-part article to understand the real problem facing Singapore now and how we can overcome it. The second part will be published tomorrow.
The problem that Singapore faces now is not that we are in a transition. It is that we have forgotten. We have all forgotten.
On the one side, we have some who say to the others – “you are so ‘elitist’ and you care only for yourself”. On the other, we have Singaporeans who say – “you are too ‘comfortable’ that you no longer work hard enough for Singapore”. On both sides, we have Singaporeans calling out at each other, claiming that one has forgotten his roots, of Singapore’s struggles and that they are giving it all away. On both sides, we’ve relegated the other to ungrateful people who think only for themselves.
But yet, isn’t this what both sides say to the other. And if both sides are claiming the other selfish, who is right or who is wrong then? And if both sides are saying the same thing, then what are we bickering about?
It is perhaps sad that Singaporeans don’t realise that as we criticize the other, that we aren’t actually that different. On the surface of it, we’ve taken the symptoms to be the problem – so Singaporeans are too “comfortable” and we need to fix that. Or Singaporeans are too “elitist” and we need to fix that. But is that it?
Yet, perhaps what is most disconcerting is that we have learnt to point the finger at the other but we have forgotten to point the finger at ourselves – all of us are party to this.
We Think That We Are Better Than The Other
The problem in Singapore is this – we think that we are better than the other. Some might think – I have worked so hard for Singapore and now you are telling me that I am not doing enough for you. How dare you, you lazy bugger. And some might say – don’t you see what you are doing? Singaporeans are unhappy because you no longer care about them. At least I do! But who is right? Who is to say who has a better argument? Who has the better heart? The better argument is that which we choose to believe in, and for now, Singaporeans have drawn ourselves down the line – half of whom align themselves to one side and the other to the other side.
But our nation is divided. What good is there when in our bickering, we tear the nation apart?
The problem is we think that we are better than the other. We think that I have a better education and I have committed myself to Singapore – what have you done? We think that I care more for others and you do not – do you even care?
Yet, aren’t we saying one and the same thing – I am better than you. I know better than you.
So what if we might know what needs to be done for Singapore? So what if we think we care? So what, if amidst all these, what we really care about is ourselves and to pride ourselves? So what, if amidst all these, we want to protect our pride and take every offence at someone whom we think are trying to make us feel lesser?
But aren’t we all making each other lesser? Aren’t we all calling one another names and labeling another? It was an illegal protest. You don’t care. You just want our money. You are too comfortable. You are “lousy”. You have defamed me. You are slandering me. And this never ends. As we take potshots at one another, seeing who has the louder voice.
Amidst all these, we continue to think – it’s because I am better than you.
So, we might call our government elitist. And our government might think the people too comfortable? What is right? The truth is that the people in our government thinks that it’s better than the people. And the people think that they are better than those in government.
This battle of wits will never end if Singaporeans don’t realise this. This will not end if Singaporeans don’t stop and take a look at ourselves.
Singapore at the Crossroads: Economic Growth but Social and Psychological Growth?
The problem in Singapore isn’t that we are not contented, that we’ve learnt to let it all go to waste, that we don’t care about Singapore. No, it’s not.
The problem in Singapore is that as we’ve grown so fast economically, we have no time to stop and think about our lives and ourselves. We have learnt to keep pumping along that now, as we have reached a stage where we are wondering – where is all the money taking me to? – this is when we have finally stop to ask, what is it I want? What do I truly want?
This is why some Singaporeans have started to slow down to look at their lives and started to question – what is the life that I want? Is Singapore moving too fast ahead for me and for the people around me? Why are people so unhappy and angry? Why have we learnt to shout at one another?
Yet, the economy keeps chugging along, as those still chugging with it look at the others and ask – what are you guys doing derailing our economy? Have you started becoming too comfortable? We are doing this for you and you don’t want to come onboard with us?
So, who is right? Who cares for Singapore? One group might think – why are we moving so fast when we are leaving the rest behind? Look at our poor and elderly. The other group would say – but if we don’t move fast enough, we would not be able to take care of our poor and elderly! Beneath all the bickering, Singaporeans care for one another. We might believe differently about how to care. But we do.
The problem isn’t how we have decided to chart our ways differently. The beauty of life is that we are all different, isn’t it? The problem is that we’ve forgotten to look at ourselves.
For some, we have stopped and asked – but why are we unhappy? Why are we angry? Yet, we do not know the answer. For others, we haven’t stopped but keep going and we tell to the others – stop mopping around and being unhappy! Start doing something useful with your life and maybe you will become happier! What is common is that we know that Singaporeans are unhappy but we do not have the answer.