By Dr Wong Wee Nam
“Good medicine is bitter to the mouth but cures the illness; honest words grate the ears but right the act.”
Who is Kenneth Lin? Well, he is a boy who has just turned 16. He is also a lad who was recently given a scholarship at a grassroot scholarship award presentation event for being the top 5 in school. After the ceremony when the crowd had thinned out, Kenneth approached the Guest-of-Honour, a minister, to have a chat with him.
The conversation started cordially about what Kenneth did in school. Then Kenneth started asking difficult political questions. The conversation ended amicably but the parting of ways left a sour taste in the mouth after Kenneth was asked if he had recorded the conversation on his handphone and whether he was a member of a political party.
After reading the conversation recounted by Kenneth, I could not help but be reminded of the story of David and Goliath.
Like Kenneth, the choirboy, David also used to sing and even founded the Temple of Singing. Like David, Kenneth does not appear to be intimidated by a more important and powerful person.
The Idealism of Youth
I can understand Kenneth because, like him when I was young, I used to approach ministers whenever I got the opportunity and engage them on political issues. To me, the 16-year- old, Kenneth is probably just an idealist trying to look for a perfect society.
This type of idealism may be an anomaly in today’s Singapore but in the 50s and 60s, it was not uncommon for a fifteen year-old to be interested in politics. Singapore would not have got its independence without the idealism of its youths then.
There is, therefore, nothing wrong for a young boy to be idealistic. They should be. In fact, this is what is sorely lacking in Singapore’s youths today. Instead of frowning on the likes of Kenneth Lin, Singapore would do well to have more young people like him instead of having those who run around killing each other, posting their sexual escapades on the internet, taking pictures of female underwear and getting all the As in school while oblivious to society’s problems.
Young people are naturally full or dreams and idealism. If Singapore youths are stifled to the extent that they are no longer idealistic or are afraid to share their dreams, then this country, as a nation, is going to be in serious trouble in future.
Thus a young person should be encouraged to speak his mind and have his question answered instead of getting it brushed aside. In this age and time, we should try to eradicate the climate of fear and replace it with a more conducive environment for youths to develop a more enquiring mind.
I do not understand, therefore, why was there a need to question if their conversation had been recorded and whether Kenneth was a member of an opposition party.
I do not understand because it did not happen to me when I was young.
The Older Politicians
The Old Guard ministers that I had met were not condescending even though the style of their government at that time was certainly much more intimidating. They did not avoid thorny political questions. In fact you could see their face lit up when political issues were brought up. If they did not agree with you, they would try to show why your premise was wrong, sometimes even with facts that could not be published in the press.
At no time did they appear to be worried that I would record our conversations (they did not ask if I had a tape recorder on me) nor did I care if anyone else had been covertly recording what had been said.
Even when I became an active Opposition politician, MPs like Dr Tan Cheng Bock, Tan Soo Khoon and some others felt comfortable to talk to me. To these people, belonging to another political party does not make a person any lesser a Singaporean.
Only just last night I met a minister at function. After we shook hands, he asked what I was doing now. I told him I am cultivating some young people. He told me that is a good thing to do. We need more young people coming forward. It would be good for Singapore.
There was no bodyguard starring at me. There was no sour ending. Kenneth would certainly have benefited from such an encounter.
It would, therefore, be good for all political newbies to learn from these political veterans. Political affiliations should not devalue the merits of a political debate. In fact, diversity will enrich such a discourse.
Political leaders must know that their plans for the country are not the necessary the only workable solutions. Once they can realize this, they will be able to accept criticisms as positive feedback.
Wisdom From The Past
One exemplary leader that they can learn from is Duke Huan of the State of Qi.
Duke Huan of Qi (齊桓公) had a half-brother called Jiu. Each had a mentor to groom them to take over the throne. Duke Huan’s teacher was Bao Shuya (鲍叔牙) and his brother’s tutor was Guan Zhong(管仲).
When their father Duke Xiang was killed and the usurpers of the throne were in turned murdered, a vacuum was created. At that time Duke Huan was in the State of Ju and Jiu was in the State of Lu. Both brothers then led their men and raced back to Qi to try and claim the throne.
As State of Ju was nearer State of Qi, it was likely that Duke Huan would reach Qi first. Guan Zhong, Jiu’s mentor, decided to intercept Duke Huan before he reached Qi. Just outside the city, he met the Duke’s entourage, took out his bow and shot an arrow at the Duke.
As Duke Huan was wearing an armour at that time, this did not hurt him at all. Nevertheless he led out a loud cry and pretended to be dead. Satisfied, Guan Zhong rode away. Subsequently Duke Huan managed to arrive in Qi earlier than Jiu and took the throne and became the Marquis of Qi from 685 BC until his death.
After he came onto the throne, he demanded that Guan Zhong be extradited to Qi to be executed. When Guan Zhong was sent back to Qi, Duke Huan’s mentor, Bao Shuya, advised that the former be not put to death but be made the Prime Minister instead because he was such a talented person. Though Duke Huan was very unhappy at being nearly assassinated by Guan Zhong, he, nevertheless, took the advice and indeed, under the latter’s reforms, Qi became the strongest state of the time.
The moral of the story is to look at the positive side of a person.
The Young and The Future
The future of the country belongs to the young of today.
However, the young need to feel they belong and have a stake in this country. The political climate must, therefore, allow for the maximum development of intellect, the moral character and the creative energy of our youths.
The best guarantee of a good future for our country is the participation of a better-informed and educated young people.
Without such participation, we will only encourage bright young people to drop out of society, the talented to migrate and the majority to live their lives of apathy without any love or passion for their country.
Thus our youth, people like Kenneth, must be made to feel that there is a future and they have a hand in molding it. When we stifle idealism of young people, by refusing to engage them, we destroy their motivations, hopes and love for the country.
This is the meaning of being a true blue Singaporean.
Kenneth, in my opinion, is one of the true sons of Singapore.
12th January 2011