by Augustine Low
The government seems to have shifted from talking about building trust with the people to its latest pet topic: Humility.
Marking the start of the annual Public Service Week, Minister Chan Chun Sing preached to public officers about the importance of staying humble and working together as a team.
Recently, when announcing in Parliament that 4G leaders would conduct a series of discussions with Singaporeans to chart the country’s future, Minister Heng Swee Keat said: “The fourth-generation leadership will listen with humility and respect. We will consider all views with an open mind.”
Another Minister, K Shanmugam, reiterated recently that the three cabinet ministers who are frontrunners to be the next Prime Minister – Heng Swee Keat, Chan Chun Sing and Ong Ye Kung – all come from difficult, humble backgrounds.
Which begs the question: What’s more important, sincerity in demonstrating humility or the mere fact of talking about it?
During election campaigning, then colorectal surgeon Koh Poh Koon (who is now a Minister of State) tried to turn his own humble past into a political virtue.
Koh said he grew up poor as the son of a bus driver who worked two shifts a day. Moving into their first Housing Board flat in 1998 with his wife, they could only afford to buy chopsticks and “my wife and I had to borrow money from my uncle to do renovations . . . in our combined accounts, we had $11.50.”
That is surely stretching it to the point of incredulity! A doctor – a specialist no less – who could only afford chopsticks, with only $11.50 to his name!
Is it too much to ask that there be sincerity and honesty in humility?
Chan Chun Sing has also talked about that fact that he has been wearing the same Casio watch for years. Does that really constitute humility?
Do spare us the false modesty, which is worse than bold-faced arrogance because it is much more deceptive.
An aspiring MP, Victor Lye (the losing PAP candidate in Aljunied GRC in 2015), recently put on a wayang show by putting the spotlight on his selflessness, saying he has received “not a cent” for voluntary service to the community since 1999.
What are we to make of someone who is supposedly quietly providing selfless service to the community, and then turns around and reminds everyone that he has been making sacrifices all these years? Pardon the cynicism, but blowing one’s own trumpet seems to be the exact opposite of humility.
Former PAP MP Inderjit Singh was troubled enough to recently write on his Facebook that “the responses from the government unfortunately does not reflect humility.”
He was referring in particular to the Press Secretary to Heng Swee Keat for responding to an opinion piece by Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang in a style and manner which smacked of unbridled arrogance.
It is a fact of life that the humble very rarely describe themselves as humble. Our politicians would do well to bear in mind that humility is best practised and demonstrated – not preached and pontificated.