Hearing our leaders say ad nauseam that Singapore punches above its weight has always been unsettling.
To proclaim to everyone that although small, our country is a heavyweight in regional and international affairs is to ownself praise ownself.
Right now, we have become one of the hardest-hit countries in the COVID-19 outbreak. Our coronavirus cases per capita are seen as the highest in the Asia Pacific.
For a country with just over five million people packed into 719 sq km, we can certainly say that’s punching above our weight. All of a sudden, the bluster takes on a whole new twist that our leaders never intended or envisaged.
Conversely, what do we call ministers who huff and puff in a pandemic with little to show and lament they do not have “the luxury of the benefit of hindsight”? Since they are the highest paid in the world, it can be said that they are punching below their weight.
The impulse to ownself praise ownself has become deeply ingrained in our leadership.
At the opening of Jewel Changi Airport, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hailed it as one of Singapore’s “instantly recognisable icons.” He was so effusive it was cringeworthy: “It resonates with Singaporeans, because it reminds us that when we dream big and apply ourselves, nothing is impossible.”
Thanks to the pandemic, the $1.7 billion Jewel is currently a white elephant.
Sometimes they even take the self-gloating all the way to Parliament. In February, Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah praised Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat for rolling out packages to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.
She recited with gusto the anthem of the Liverpool football club, You’ll Never Walk Alone: “Hold your head up high. Don’t be afraid of the dark because at the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky.”
The drama queen managed to turn Parliament into a soap opera house.
To make a mockery of her self-praise, Singaporeans are now told to go out alone – a far cry from You’ll Never Walk Alone.
An article earlier this month in the South China Morning Post was headlined: ‘Cut back on the back-patting’: Singapore’s coronavirus response loses its shine as critics speak out.
It’s a timely reminder that when we are too carefree with ownself praise ownself, it can come back and bite us.