Tuesday, 26 September 2023

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National Day Week Series: What can the general public do to shape their vision of Singapore?

By Ng Yi Shu –

What is vision anyway?

We talk about this word in many forms – dreams, wishes, imaginations, fantasies… We picture people with vision (and achieve them) as those who are great. But in fact, everyone has a vision.

We think about the future all the time – whether it is about the small things (like “What’s for lunch?”) or the big things (like “Where do you see yourself in five years?”. Good or bad, it is still a desire.

This desire about the future is mostly subconscious. We are not really aware of it – nor are we aware of how we get to it. For example, we are not really aware of what we want for lunch until we get it (this is unless you are on a strict diet, or eat catered food). Similarly, we are not really aware of where we will be five years down the road until we get there. But sometimes, we have a clear goal about what we want for the future. We may be conscious about what we are craving for lunch, or where we see ourselves five years down the road. And we may be determined to get there despite the obstacles.

These desires are all part of our vision. Vision dictates what we build and contribute to. It is an innate desire to get to our goal – good or bad.

To use two classic examples – Hitler had a vision to cleanse Germany of all Jews, leading to the Holocaust. Nelson Mandela had a vision to free South Africa from apartheid, leading to the modern South Africa we see today.

By extension, evil people have the vision to cause harm to others (psychopathy) while good people have the vision to care for others (love).

Our economic circumstance today wasn’t the result of luck but of a vision – that of our forefathers. The Pledge was the epitome of this vision our forefathers had – and we have generally followed this path our forefathers had seen as the way to make us great.

Similarly, the cynicism we hold today wasn’t because of circumstance but of a vision – a vision that things will never change despite what people do; that being a better nation is simply impossible; that all this talk is bulls**t.

But the vision we hold is limited to what we feel is within our control.

Usually, we limit our vision to only ourselves – we limit our vision on the individual level. We believe we are only responsible for ourselves.

But what if we as a community chose to believe in possibility?

What if we chose to become responsible? What if we chose to believe that we could enact positive change in others?

What if, instead of being inspired, we become inspirational?

What if, instead of being cynical and apathetic, we listen, love and get involved?

We don’t know how things will play out. I don’t.

But we have talked about what will happen. Vague concepts like ‘kampung spirit’ and academic terms like ‘social cohesion’ have been part of our national conversation since the days of economic development. People have been missing ‘the good old days’ when strangers in a small community bonded over coffee, when people trusted each other, when people helped one another.

But what if we chose to find out? What if we as a nation of 5 million chose to live in kampong spirit?

The world might be a better place – for there would be more possibilities. More would live their dreams and contribute to others.

But the world might also turn out to be worse – for we may end up cheated. Kindness may not beget kindness.

We certainly do not know. I don’t.

But why are we – why am I, for that matter – choosing to fight for such a world?

Perhaps we have seen the value of it – of love, kindness, community, inclusiveness.

But I would like to suggest that we would like to bring hope – to the people we fight for, to the citizens we speak for, to the world we live in.

For we chose hope, even if we believed that hope might not be an option for some.

For hope is a choice.

Our forefathers fought to make us believe that Singapore could make it.

We fought because we wanted the legal system to give people a second chance instead of damning them to death because of the damage they had caused to society.

We fought because we believed in the fundamentals of human rights – that no man shall be stripped of his dignity, choice and equality, no matter what he has done – and that proper justice be applied to all men.

We fought because we believed in love, openness and kindness, not xenophobia, discrimination or hate.

We have seen the cynics and naysayers lead.

We have seen the world they have created – a world of labels, stereotypes, rat races, hate, injustice, indignity, inequality. From the racism of old to the xenophobia of new, we have lived through times of separation – of days where we had labels stuck onto us and stuck labels on to others; of days when we lived in fear of mutually assured nuclear destruction.

We have seen the hopeful lead.

We have seen the beauty they have created – and we believe there is still hope for our world. We have seen our own country grow from an entrepot port to a cultural city. More importantly, we have seen civil society, activism, charity and volunteerism go up despite the crises they had faced (Durai in 2006 and 6 years later Kong Hee).

And if you see what we have seen; if you believe your world isn’t one of love and community – it is your right to choose to fight for the world you want.

This is how we build our vision.

Through fighting for what we believe – fighting for hope, fighting for the world we dream and we talk about – and eventually, having a hand in building this world.

So, will you fight for your vision?

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