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In danger of silencing the voices that care

By Winston Tay

Courtesy of Demon-cratic Singapore
Courtesy of Demon-cratic Singapore

I’m a small fry. My web stats will tell you as much. But it hasn’t stopped me from speaking my mind about iffy issues people don’t usually feel comfortable talking about. Sure, it’s gotten me in trouble before (mostly with my wife), but that’s The Blogfather for you.

Which is why I’m quite concerned about the state of the blogosphere over the last few months, or rather, the state against the blogosphere; Bertha Harian has the lowdown, as well as a sort-of “word of warning” for us budding online social commentators. Most recently, though, the social networks are erupting with news of Demon-cratic Singapore’s creator Leslie Chew getting arrested over 2 comic strips he created that allegedly contained “seditious” material. Die-hard fans are up in arms, critics of his work are going, “Meh”, and people everywhere that like to discuss government policy, social adventures and misadventures, and other hot topics are suddenly sitting with their legs tightly crossed and a little pee in their knickers.

I remember the first time I encountered a blogger getting into trouble for writing something a member of the state felt wasn’t appropriate. It was way back in 2006, and the blogger was Mr Brown. Following his story from all the way back then to where he is now, I have to admit he’s become a major influence in what I write, as well as the way I write. Sure, the fella’s funny, but satire aside, the dude’s got balls, too. More than that, he loves this country enough to continue making fun of it despite the problems it’s caused him.

I love this country too. Which is why The Blogfather won’t stop talking, either.

There’s a piece of oft-forgotten advice in customer service management that goes, “When a customer complains, it means the customer cares enough about improving your service enough to make the effort to complain.” You also know a friend is a good friend when he’s able to go past the niceties and friendly formalities to tell you in your face exactly what’s wrong with you.

I see a lot of the good that the ruling party has done over the last 48 years, and it is unfortunate that our society hasn’t bought into the culture of praise such that people can see the good that they’ve done. But as much as I feel Leslie Chew takes his satire of our state’s policies to an extreme tone (if only to illustrate point-blank exactly what’s wrong with them), if the state isn’t in the mood to take such criticism (joke or not), it’s well on its way to losing a friend in the people it seeks to serve.

Our Singapore Conversation has been happening long, long before the government decided to make it official; in kopitiams, in taxis, in theatres, in blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter, in homes and in the streets. Then when the government sat down to formalise the whole thing, it was met with a lot of skepticism from various corners (some of which, including Yawning Bread and Dairy of a Singaporean Mind have also since fallen silent in mid-March, for one reason or another). It’s not that the skeptics thought it was a ridiculous idea; it’s that they thought it was ridiculous that the government has not heeded the voices that have been cow-parenting (def.: cow-peh cow-bu) since the ’06 elections.

And the biggest disaster for our government has been this campaign to demand apologies, threaten lawsuits and involve the police in curbing the voices that care (and complain), effectively flouting a fundamental relationship management rule even my own son can teach me.

When you get into an argument, do you:

a. force the other person to say sorry?
b. tell his mother?
c. threaten the time-out corner or the cane?
d. focus on the problem the person is talking about?

The way I see it, there’s still a way for the government to salvage the situation: stop all this childish bullshit of taking the voices against you to task, and start bloody listening to what’s already been said. Admittedly, listening happens to be the difficult part; as a dad, I do regularly fail in this respect whenever my wife and I have a spat. But fatherhood has also taught me, if you expect to change mindsets for people to accept what you’re doing, you need to change your own mindset in order to know what you’re doing.

Don’t shoot the messenger, guv. Just deal with the message.

This article first appeared on Winston Tay’s blog, The Blogfather. We thank Winston for sharing this with us.

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