At the recent launch of his book, “Asking Why”, Chairman of Singapore Management University and executive chairman of Banyan Tree Holdings, Mr Ho Kwon Ping had this to say: “I fear the group-think that we have in Singapore, this coddled little space where we do not question…“We will lack resilience, and when a severe crisis hits, we will be running around with our heads cut off, simply because of the lack of diversity.” I couldn’t agree more and am heartened that he is publicly speaking about it.
The big question is how we can foster an environment whereby people can be celebrated for being different and where people can speak out without fear of reprisal? You see, the thing about speaking out is that it should be a natural act of being. You speak your own truth and in so doing allow people around you a chance to see a different perspective while also giving yourself the chance to be challenged. It should not be in any way controversial. However, in the Singaporean context – this natural act of simply stating your opinion has become a big issue.
The thing about being analytical, forming your own opinion, being innovative and confident in your own thought processes, is that it is an organic and holistic process. You cannot encourage innovation in some areas while suppressing the same inquisitive mind in other areas. In other words, you cannot cherry pick a questioning mind. To do so, leads to artificial or stunted growth.
It is true that our political leaders are becoming too similar to each other which leads them to be unable to think outside their own experiences. This creates ivory towers and a lack of understanding of the real issues that bother the people. In large part, this is what has contributed to the government seeing nothing wrong with a multitude of things that bother the people in which they lead. For example, they genuinely do not understand why their high salaries are offensive to average Singaporeans. Nor can they understand why people view HDB flats as a lease and not ownership. This is a problem because how can a government lead a country if it cannot adequately understand the issues faced by its citizens?
Why have we come to this? Perhaps it is because we don’t have the guts to allow our people to be free to think. How can one ask why when one cannot be confident of what may happen if they dare to so do? Look at the 4 Singaporeans who met Dr. Mahathir in their personal capacities. In so doing, they exercised their right to individuality. Look what happened? Our government saw it fit to stir up the emotions of other Singaporeans to turn against the 4. With the fear of reprisal so fast and fierce, few would dare to question. We live in a society which does not even allow us to be true to our sexuality! Gay people still have the albatross of prosecution over their heads. The sad truth of our current society is that it only embraces people who fit one stereotype. We are all struggling so hard to fit that mold that we forget who we really are.
How do you question and analyse when you may well be too busy trying to repress your own personal truth? Our government wants innovation only in certain narrow confines and it just doesn’t work that way. Sadly, our 4G leaders are the ones who fit the mold in Singapore and therefore fail to see or understand those that don’t. Without more opposition members with different opinions coming into Parliament, this will unfortunately never change.