I believe that everyone in Singapore has the freedom to believe in whatever religion they want to and partake in any activity of that religion as long as it does not hurt the social fabric of our secular, multi racial and religiously diverse nation state. I also wholeheartedly consider sacrosanct the right for individuals to hold differing opinions as long as such opinions are openly articulated and respectful.
It is in that spirit that TheOnlineCitizen reached out to the Board of Honour Singapore to give them the chance to tell their side of the story. To their credit, they have engaged in a way that many government endorsed/related organisations have not. Although Honour Singapore is not strictly a government-affiliated organisation, its Board comprises many high profile civil servants and attracted the support of a few notable members of our current government. It is therefore refreshing that they have chosen to engage when many others in their position may not have.
That said, their answers which have been published verbatim (insert link) have not really allayed any of the misgivings the public may have had towards Honour Singapore because the answers are so general that they do not seem to answer anything at all!
Although honour (as acknowledged by Honour Singapore) “could mean different things to different people”; as an organisation that has received IPC status and who has indicated that it represents the interests of all Singaporeans, surely it would need to have a more specific agenda?
Open-ended examples cited such as “small kindnesses and being on time for appointments, honouring parents and strengthening family ties, employers paying wages on time and CEOs valuing their people are just as generic as the term “honour”! While synonymous with so many positive attributes, how we achieve them and what they constitute remain vague and subject to interpretation!
This goes back to the root of the problem – what exactly does Honour Singapore do? What can they add that another organisation isn’t already doing? Surely “a culture of honour” is already being practiced by the many charitable organisations that seek to tackle specific social issues? In the absence of a specific plan of action, are they not at risk of duplicating the efforts of more established charities?
While I am heartened that Honour Singapore is willing to hear the views of others, it is difficult to enter into robust discussion on how best it is to further honour in Singapore when we are still unclear on the following:
- What is honour in the Singaporean context?
- Does Honour Singapore seek to promote honour through the means of some type of charity work?
- How it plans to work through differences in opinion as to what “honour” means?
Honour Singapore has indicated that honour is an “other-centred” trait, it has not fleshed out what happens if what one thinks is best for the other may not actually be what is factually good for the other? For instance, a mother might think it best for her son to be a doctor. He would have the prestige and the money that would go hand in hand with the job of saving lives, Her hopes and dreams are “other centric”. She does not want these things for herself. She wants them for her son because she thinks that these things will make him happy. He on the other hand wants to be fashion designer. He is creative and would have been good at it but to please his mother became a mediocre doctor who does not feel fulfilled. While this may be an overly dramatic example, it does illustrate the point that phrases like “other centric” do not mean as much in substance. What good does it do if you do for me what I do not want or what may not even really be good for me based on what you think is good for me?
When asked how he would ensure that the ideals of Focus on the Family would not interfere with what Honour Singapore is doing, Jason Wong indicated that he would serve his function “according to the organisation’s mission, vision and objectives”. While that sounds easy enough, what happens when an organisation’s mission plan is not set in stone? Does that not require some sort of initiative and would that initiative not be influenced by personal beliefs?
Given that Honour Singapore (as already established above) does not have a fixed plan of action besides the subjective topic of honour, how can Wong not confuse his two roles when one requires subjective interpretation?
It is clear from many of the questions that Honour Singapore does believe in the honourable work it is doing (no pun intended). However, many of the answers still do not give us a clearer understanding into how exactly it means to promote honour or even what honour means?
Given, there are so many worthy courses in Singapore to champion, perhaps a better way to promote honour is to channel its resources towards a specific issue and foster honour that way?
Having read Honour Singapore’s answers and meaning no disrespect, I wonder if the organisation’s talents can be better utilised on something more concrete than a concept that is firstly subjective and secondly difficult to verify.
The Online Citizen has published the replies of Honour Singapore in two parts, view the below links for what they have to say about our questions to them.