Racial unity is often one of the highlights of ministerial speeches here in Singapore. Singapore is after all a manufactured society of different races.
No one racial or religious community can claim to be the natives of this land because every race and religion has contributed to the country’s success.
Therefore, the government would find it an uphill struggle if it tries to influence people’s thinking about lifestyle, having babies or device ways to gather different races to have weekend gatherings.
It would work no better than our 30 years of courtesy campaigns.
Individuals’ mindset on religion and race, just like mannerisms, is inarguably determined by factors far more influential than the government itself: they are family, educators, friends and self-awareness.
Instead of trying to achieve the impossible, that is making everyone become one happy race, we should open up our eyes to the differences and aim for strength in diversity.
Diversity is healthy and this is the notion that should be reinforced with the younger generation.
The reality is: There will always be likes and dislikes amongst humans.
In an ideal world, all humans will be able to accept differences. In the real world, this is not always achievable. History tells us so.
Therefore, people need to know that it is absolutely normal to be unable to accept or agree with each other’s views – as long as they can tolerate it, respect it and remain friends.
Tolerance need not always equate to acceptance.
Being different is natural. Even our fingerprints are unique.
I tell my children that people are like the colours of the rainbow. The different colours make the rainbow beautiful, just like the different people on this planet.
Can you imagine a rainbow with one colour or a world with one race or one religion? How less interesting that would be.
I am hoping that in years to come, rather than becoming colour blind, my children will learn to enjoy and appreciate the colours all around them.
Resistance and resilience
Fortunately, the young today are able to keep up to date with news developments amid the world of internet and citizen journalism and are likely to be aware of the perils of religious and racial fallout.
Especially after the Mumbai terror attack that claimed the life of a fellow Singaporean, and the recent Jakarta bombings.
Individuals in Singapore need to build a character strong enough to resist undesirable intruders and infiltrators with the intent to destroy the society.
Again, it is my firm belief that families, educators and friends play a bigger role in building such character than the government.
The government can play a vital part by having sound policies in place to ensure that none of the racial groups feel sidelined, threatened, inferior, superior or disadvantaged.
Even simple things matter such as the daily encounters people have with food vendors at the food courts. Every race should be able to order its desired food from a stall without struggling to communicate with the vendors. I know that I have struggled several times restricting myself to only English speaking stall operators. However, I am mature enough to tolerate it and function around it.
Equal opportunities, equal rights and equal recognition are what a country has to aspire for to ensure true racial harmony. This is what the future leaders need to bear in mind.
Race for Life
Most Singaporeans have friends from other races not because the government has told them to do so.
During social functions, no one hands out invitations to match the racial ratio the government aims to sustain.
Instead, friends of different races mingle because they want to and that’s how it should be.
The different races in Singapore are getting along well because they are able to manage their differences and work with their similarities.
While we worry a great deal about racial harmony, we need to also realise that sometimes, there is only so much guidance and reminders the government can bear on its shoulders.
It can’t blanket the future generation to protect them from all evils.
One of the reasons why MM Lee and his team were successful in developing this country to its mammoth economic success is because their minds were challenged and stretched with the unexpected events and there was no one giving them the ‘paternal’ guidance or direction.
The best leadership and guidance and resilience often emerge from tumultuous conditions.
If we protect the society and young leaders too much from the perils we fear, it becomes a sheltered and cushioned society that we have today.
At times, nature will take its course whether we like it or not, and when that happens we must hope that the years of racial harmony will prevail and the people of this country will ride through the storm united, just like our past leaders did.
Headline picture from jewcy.com.