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Spiral staircase - Nosha / Shutterstock.com

Spiral upwards

By Pamela Lim

It was just past 7 a.m. and the traffic was already choc-a-block at Raffles Institution (RI)'s gate. I was startled by a long horn let out by the blue car that was queuing to get out of the school. That driver was upset with the car in front for taking too long to turn right, holding up the busy school-run traffic.

I looked at the condominiums across the street and thought there probably were some babies sleeping in there, and some young parents needing a good rest before work started. So, I walked to his car, and suggested he be more patient, and explained the rationale.

He started wailing vulgarities not only at the car in front of him, but also at me. And then, I realized there was no turn right arrow, and no wonder the car in front had a hard time turning right and was holding up the traffic.

So. He was right. So. He had the right to horn as loud as he wanted. So. He had the right to scream at the person in front. So. He had the right to show me his middle finger. So. This is the kind of parent who will bring up our next generation of leaders? Wow.

What kind of society is one, where mistakes are not tolerated, where self-righteousness rules above all else, and instead of helping each other out of situations, we get impatient, and we are fast to criticize and judge.

In a country where progress and building monuments to commemorate our successes is of paramount importance, what is happening to the quality of our people? What is happening to the way we treat each other? What is happening to our next generation?

To me, Singapore is a country on steroids. While the exterior is developed and looks like an adult, the interior is still underdeveloped and adolescent. Or, like some said, we've worked so hard on the hardware, we've neglected the software.

While we spend time chaperoning our kids from school to tuition to sports clubs to music to art classes and invest time and money so that our children top the PSLE to get into elite schools, we don't give a hoot about others or their children.

We justified why a Sec 2 boy should be humiliated by having his hair shaven as ugly as possible by a teacher. We are indifferent when a 16-year-old was sent to jail because we believe respect is more important accorded to a leader posthumously, we sighed and rationalized when a 14-year-old was treated like a criminal for a suspected molest case and then jumped to his death, and while we sympathize when we hear of youngsters taking their lives in the national service every now and then, we judge people for not serving their national service for whatever reasons and invalidate most reasons.

And so it is important that our kids get driven to a top school daily, but we don't care that a baby is sleeping when someone gets in our way. If raising our own children well carries the promise of a good old age, then I'd argue it is as important to care for the whole of the next generation, or, other people's children.

After all, these are the people who will make policies, govern, run schools, build our houses, organize and pay taxes when we grow old. If we raise a whole generation of monsters, then our future leaders will be monsters. If we raise people with empathy, with compassion and with wisdom, then we will get leaders who will lead with greatness.

It is not enough to just raise great kids, we must raise a great generation. It is the duty of the country as much as it is the responsibility of each adult. If we continue to violate the rights of children, they will grow up thinking they can do the same to the next generation and the next and the next. It just keeps spirally downwards. The reverse can also be true.

Instead of screaming at our girls in school, and reporting our boys to the police, perhaps we can lend listening ears and empathetic hearts. Instead of striving to be right, we can strive to be kind as well when dealing with kids. Allow children to make and redeem from their mistakes with compassion. We can spiral upwards.

So I thought about the situation at RI again, and perhaps I was a bit too judgmental. I walked to the car in front and told him that he could turn left instead. Now, now who said he could not turn right if there's no 'no turn right sign'? I stood there stunned, like a fool, and the only one who was wrong. Stared at by the security guards who did nothing except probably tried hard to hold their laughter in.

I guess, being nosy and being screamed and laughed at is probably better than having a monster society. So, you'd probably catch me doing that again. Yep. A small part. But all great things start small.

This post was first published by Pamela Lim at her Facebook page and reproduced with permission. Pamela is an award-winning and well-known entrepreneur in Asia turned home-educator to her five children.