Singapore, My Home and Nation

On Monday, I crashed the Social Inequality lecture at NUS. Then two nights ago, I had a chat with Winson about what we remember of Singapore. Suddenly, I realised that for all our pursuit of being the first for this and for that, we have really lost our own people. We have lost our culture as we try to emulate the Western culture, we have lost our buildings and architecture to a copy of the London Eye, we have lost kopitiams to alfresco dining cafes. Will it not be soon that we shall lose our identity and forget the Singapore we have always known? There isn't much left to remember and reminisce about what we know and what we are attached to anw. What happened to all that I remember as a child as our culture dilutes itself amongst foreign culture, and as buildings get torn down, one after another?

It really isn't that I do not like the way things are now. I like my country, I love Singapore. But is Singapore really the way we have portrayed ourselves? People in America think Singapore is a part of China. Do we not seem different from China? Anyone who actually even know nuts about Singapore, and even some Singaporeans themselves, assume our national language is English, when it really is Malay. Do we seem too westernised? Or is it that there is something wrong with a nation when more than half of its people cannot speak the national language?

I have no answer for these questions that I come up with, and I shall continue to search for the right answer; the answer which balances our losses with our gains, and the answer that shows me, that deep down inside us, we are all still Singaporeans.

Sometime last week, Mr Tong wrote an essay which I think is really apt in resolving this dilemma, and I hope that after reading it, more people will find the Singaporean within themselves. I quote;
A walk with my daughter in the park while teaching her how to feed the swans grounded me beautifully and showed me how to otherwise see the burden I am experiencing. I asked myself, would I ever see my daughter as no longer valuable or irrelevant? Shouldn’t she also likewise change in relevance, value and worth as the context of my life and the world changed? The truth is, there is an assured stability in how I see my daughter. I love her unconditionally and her worth is not tied to changing circumstance but rather identity. Simply because she is my daughter then all she ever needs to do to have her parents love her is to, be. And no ranking, no external assessment, no global calamity or market shift will ever change that. And if we can all love our children this way, could we not similarly love our nation, our jobs and our lives with the same stable, assuring and unconditional lens?

That walk in the park brought such clarity for me why our own nation was struggling so much. The pride that we have assigned to our nation has in many ways been couched in conditional terms. We are the best in this, and first in that and have grown in one way or another. And while I understand that this was essential for the development of Singapore’s external reputation, it is not the way that our people should assess our own love for our country. Being proud of our nation because it ranks first, or provides amply, is love assigned in relative terms, and it is tantamount to loving my daughter because she does well in school or will eventually provide for me. It is certainly important that she does well in school, but it is not the reason why I love her. And if it was, then we are going to have a very tumultuous relationship for it will become an ungracious wrangling of deals and transactions, not couched in trust but contract. Any relationship premised on these terms is going to be painful; the more circumstance changes the more insecure we are going to be.

We do not put a price on the things we love for we recognise that the things we truly love are deemed by what they are, not how much they cost or how relevant they are. I am not saying that transactional world views do not exist. Of course they do. People are going to judge my daughter, rank her, assess her value but it is our love for her that is going to give her the emotional security to adapt and stay relevant. And I have learned this is the same for all the work we do as a nation. As information streams in, and contexts change, and the perception of our value is put into question, it is our choice to believe in and unconditionally love that will fuel our transformation. Transformation without love just brings change bred from insecurity and a need to please; it is not bred from genuine service and maturing growth. Watching how Lincoln led America through its bloodiest war, transforming the community from both inside and out was inspiring for me. In its inception, America used slavery as a means to succeed, the worst sort of contract premised on abuse and oppression, a polar opposite from the unconditional ideals of freedom and love they were supposed to aspire to. Among his closest allies, Lincoln remained stalwart in his vision of what his nation must be. He led in a commitment of love and dignity from the inside but negotiated a contract of relevance from his opposition on the outside. Despite the revolution, America remained relevant after the change, but even more sure of who they were as a nation.

New information is going to keep hitting us like a ton of iron-clad bricks. And with these new contexts there will be insecurity and fear. I say this because I have lived this fear for a good part of this year. But even as I write this, I feel my anxiety and burden disappear, and I have my daughter to thank for it. I remain confident that even if other children do better, other parents send their kids for a gazillion enrichment classes, and even if my children fail their first few exams that I am not going to worry. They will come into their own someday, because we love them and because we trust that they will find a way. For in the presence of fear and our need to manage the probability of things, trust is an equally powerful emotion that opens us up to the possibility of things. And this is how I intend to navigate the rest of my year with my family, my work and my beloved nation. I trust you Singapore and I love you and I am sure as we hold the leadership to continue to believe, you are going to find a way. You always do.