At a lecture at the Singapore Management University (SMU), Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim made some rather interesting observations about leadership. When speaking about the qualities of leadership needed for the 21st century, Anwar said that “beyond leading by example, modern leaders should also demonstrate compassion and forgiveness”.
Given that this is from a man who had been incarcerated on suspected trumped up politically motivated charges, we should take note and reflect upon this simple but yet profound statement.
Compassion and forgiveness have always been seen as virtues. In our current age of social media, these values have taken on a super charged type of significance. Everything is public and everything is instant. For celebrities and other public figures (including those in power), their reputations are vulnerable to bad publicity. In days of yore, images can be carefully controlled. With the internet however, this makes it much harder. Being seen and viewed as compassionate and forgiving has therefore become more nuanced.
While Anwar took great pains to say that it is “not right” to compare Singapore and Malaysia, it is imperative to note that the qualities of compassion and forgiveness have equal relevance in Singapore as it does across the causeway. Are our leaders seen as compassionate and forgiving?
Anwar himself has been on the receiving end of both ruthlessness and forgiveness. He was thrown in jail and then pardoned. From a Singaporean perspective, has the government been forgiving to those who have challenged the authorities?
Looking at how historian Thum Pin Tjin has been publicly singled out and discredited, one would be forgiven for thinking that the authorities are unforgiving. This is but the most recent example. There lies a long string of people who have been subjected to the unforgiving nature of the authorities. Remember Roy Ngerng? How about Jolovan Wham? Let’s also not forget Chee Soon Juan or JBJ – just to name a few. Could the government have been more forgiving?
In this new age, information travels fast. Discussions are also more rapid. If the government does not get the balance right, it can very quickly find itself severely judged by the court of public opinion. Everyone is a sucker for a benign and magnanimous ruler.
Is this why the government is so keen to have a measure of control over “fake news”? Control, however is not a long term solution – not where the internet is concerned. It is an ever evolving medium. A change in values would be a more permanent way of entrenching itself. The government would do better cultivating its image and take a less aggressive and petty stance towards perceived critics.
While saying that Malaysia and Singapore are not the same, Anwar has also listed qualities that transcend both sides of the causeway.