Don’t flaunt your wealth, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong tells Singaporeans.
At the other end of the spectrum, there are elites who blatantly flaunt their humility. They go to such great lengths to do so that it becomes cringe-worthy.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing is one who comes to mind. We know that he wears a decades-old Casio watch and when the strap gave way, he was ecstatic at being able to find a replacement strap.
We also know that he drives a second-hand Japanese car and he is proud that he was raised by a single parent in a three-room HDB flat.
Why do we know these things? Because he talks about them all the time! He wears humility and frugality like a badge of honour.
Last Friday, Chan told even more stories to flaunt his humility, including how he used his own car to ferry a visiting diplomat around. The guy was visibly shocked that he – a big shot minister – was not chauffeured, and he was doubly shocked that a minister had to stop at traffic lights.
Do the truly humble need to constantly and recalcitrantly bring attention to their humility? Doesn’t it then reek of false humility?
Having risen to be among the elite, Chan now repudiates his elitist status and instead, he came up with his own definition of what elitism is last Friday: “To be successful and rise up is not elitism. To be successful and not reach out is elitism.”
So he now says elitism is a mindset and an attitude, not about one’s status.
But if you look up the meaning of elitism, it says simply words to this effect: “In a political and sociological sense, the elite are an exclusive group of powerful people who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth, privilege, political power or skill in a society.”
So by this definition, the likes of Chan and his colleagues in the People’s Action Party certainly belong to the elite in society.
Why is Chan taking such pains to denounce his elitism? Because social inequality is the topic of the day and he is uncomfortable at being labelled an elite?
When people start telling stories and bragging of being humble, we need to be wary.
PM Lee should go beyond cautioning well-off Singaporeans against flaunting their wealth. He should tell those at the top – including the men and women from his own party – that flaunting humility and frugality can be an even bigger turn-off.