By Mark Rozells
My name is Mark Rozells and I am a Singaporean staying in Toa Payoh.
I read the lead article in the Straits Times, “Singapore must change to avert crisis: ESM Goh” (12 Aug) and I was prompted to write this as a note on my Facebook.
Not bad, I thought. Finally some boat-rocking, apple cart-upturning, status quo-shaking speech from a PAP politician. Woo hoo, I thought. Our ex-Prime Minister is going to lay into the establishment and rip them a new one. And then I read the article.
Metaphors are a tricky tool of communication. I’m no expert, but I suppose having read enough bad literature I have had some experience with it. It works by association, and the associations need not be direct. But they have to make some sense.
For instance, when you say that John’s a pig, you’ve not just transformed him into pre-bacon. But you would associate him with certain piggish characteristics, e.g. size, shape, smell, behaviour etc.
So let’s look at the metaphors employed in the article.
The first metaphor: “Singapore is at a turning point and needs to avert a mid-life crisis, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh said yesterday…”
Suddenly unsure of the meaning of “mid-life crisis” at this point, I turned to Wikipedia:
“Midlife crisis is a term coined in 1965 by Elliott Jaques stating a time where adults come to realize their own mortality and how much time is left in their life. A midlife crisis is experienced by many people during the midlife transition when they realize that life may be more than halfway over. Sometimes, a crisis can be triggered by transitions experienced in these years, such as andropause or menopause, the death of parents or other causes of grief, unemployment or underemployment, realizing that a job or career is hated but not knowing how else to earn an equivalent living, or children leaving home. People may reassess their achievements in terms of their dreams. The result may be a desire to make significant changes in core aspects of day-to-day life or situation, such as in career, work-life balance, marriage, romantic relationships, large expenditures, or physical appearance.”
The key thing I got from it is hey, Singapore has finally come to realize its own mortality, that the clock is ticking and that those forever-young days at Zoukout are finally over. Not bad ESM Goh. Singapore coming of age, maturing as a society, realizing that things have changed and that it can’t afford to be as carefree and careless as it used to be.
The thing is, a mid-life crisis is not the same as an economic crisis. Yes, if you can see an economic crisis coming, you try and avert it, or when it happens, you try and control it.
But a mid-life crisis is different.
A mid-life crisis is a realization that what you used to thing was important, (e.g. career) is not as important as what you sacrificed to get there (e.g. family, friends, art etc. or that sports car that you’ve always dreamt of).
It’s a realization that you were wrong about things.
And so you change your job to something more fulfilling, or something that allows you to spend more time with your family and friends and passions.
Or you go out and buy that car, to make up for the fact that you are a sad and lonely chap that spent so much time and energy climbing the corporate ladder that you have no friends or family.
So a mid-life crisis is actually, believe it or not, A GOOD THING. It brings unpleasant things that you’ve denying to the fore and forces you to confront them so that you can change your ways and hopefully live a happier and more fulfilled life.
So Singapore’s mid-life crisis, I imagine, is the realization that money, GDP growth, New Singapore Shares, GST credits etc. isn’t everything in life. The realization that people need more than money to lead fulfilled lives. And that is ultimately where all the disaffection lies.
I wasn’t very sure at this point because of the way the article was written, but it sounded to me as if ESM Goh wants to “avert” the mid-life crisis, to escape or avoid it.
The second metaphor: “Mr Goh said that it is important that citizens recapture the ruggedness and can-do spirit of earlier generations”
Thing is, as our country is at the young age of 45, many of the “rugged, can-do” people that built up Singapore in the 60s, 70s and 80s are, ahem, still around. So have they suddenly become “soft, cannot-do” weaklings? And also sired whole generations of softies?
This was followed by an anecdote about how a resident called the Town Council to kill two cockroaches that had invaded from the rubbish chute, therefore proving his point about how we need to be more resilient. Hmm…
The thing is, it is a different kind of resilience that we need now. Catching cockroaches with your bare hands isn’t going to get you anyway if there are no jobs or you don’t have the required skills.
Instead the resilience that we need to build is, at a personal level, for people to be equipped with skills and emotional competencies to deal with change. For flexibility. For openness. To admit that they sometimes do make mistakes. To learn from those mistakes.
And this is needed not just at a personal level, but also at a systemic level. All systems. And that means you too, Gov.
The third metaphor: “The former prime minister likened the government to an architect designing a common home, adding that individuals have to play their part. To build our common home together, we need to reinforce our trust in each other. Singaporeans must… support the Government in areas that will ensure Singapore’s long-term success, even if it involves certain sacrifices sometimes.”