Rebutting Lee Kuan Yew

Former PM LKY recently said something that irked me slightly.

So before I carry on with this post , let me say a few things. I respect good leaders, and by that virtue I have the highest respect for what LKY has done for Singapore. I am not partisan, I am merely opinionated.

And I feel like I must say this. As tactfully, and yet as sincerely as possible.

The tone of what LKY said scares me slightly, because not only is he dismissive of youths, but unaware of the stories present in today’s society. He takes on some major points –

  1. Youths don’t write as beautifully, if they write at all.
  2. Youths don’t appreciate the miracles of struggles past
  3. Singapore is not certain in the next century, and by extension, he’s warning Singapore of our future

I doubt most of his points stand to insult or degrade our generation – but the tone is certainly not optimistic of us. Having studied his writings for some time, I know he’s very stubborn and strong in his views – and that’s fine as well. But when people take their cues from him, when the older generation identify with him and adopt his opinions, we have a problem.

Being a youth, my biggest obstacle is not my generation. It’s the wave of negativity that comes from people older than me , who continue to diminish the potential and promise of our generation by claiming us to be “spoilt, unexposed and ungrateful.” How do you grow up in a society where most adults and old folk treat us like the punks you see on MTV.

Just like no adult likes to be called old news, no youth likes call to be called lost hope.

Taking on LKY’s points

  1. While his point is seemingly trivial, I think it says a lot about how we understand beauty. I don’t write anymore – I type. I don’t write because with typing I can edit, I can combine visuals and I can format efficiently. I do appreciate letters and handwritten cards and I write for those close to me. But I wouldn’t write if I wanted a trusted mode of communication to an official. Yet that doesn’t mean, I wouldn’t write beautifully.

I’ve seen Facebook statuses that sum up experiences and moments so elegantly it connects hundreds of people. Combined with poignant pictures taken with Instagram, or videos captured on Vine, people are able to connect on a new level. The same goes for music, art , theater and essentially any form of expression.

Dubstep, Parkour, YouTube – they’re all here. They take conventional forms of expression and draw energy from the current atmosphere. Life didn’t use to be industrial, life didn’t used to be so technological – but now it is and we’ve added it into how we see ourselves. In fact, most of these ways we express ourselves are inspired by the age-old forms of expression. And as a final point, it was the older generation that made our country so industrial and technological – we’re just making more of what we we were given( and I think that’s some brilliant innovation)

2. I think if anything our generation has been loaded with more Social Studies, History and National Education lessons than any other generation. I love our past. I’m so grateful for the sacrifices made that when I walk past sites that contain heritage and echoes of lives gone , I really do stand and take a moment to recall the stories I was told. In fact, many Singaporeans can identify with the stories. We all know the same recitation that is told every Total Defence Day. We all know the story of political calamity during the formation years. And even if we don’t , we identify with the spirit of fortitude and commitment.

But that’s it. I’ll be the first to admit , we don’t obsess over the past. We take cues from it, we take lessons from it, but we want to look to the future. Because as much as the miracles of struggles past are important to appreciate, we believe it is important for us to make our own miracles and continue the legacy of Singapore. We don’t want a Singapore that cannot take care of itself , we want a Singapore where it’s society  is proud of its country and it’s country is proud of its society. Having started with The Hidden Good , I’ve been in touch with young people who are giants in their own right, tackling social issues and making things happen purely  because they want to. Jeremey, Josiah, Adrian, Val and so many other people who take cues from our forefathers and move to make our own futures. And they’re certainly not the minority. A wave is coming. Society IS changing.

3. I’m very optimistic about Singapore. I think leadership has to be dynamic. We need to make decisions that are not easy, and we need to realise there’s never an unsolvable problem. If ministers have a lower pay, does that really mean we’ll never get good leaders? I never had an opinion about the pay issue – I felt that leaders would step up eventually because they did care. Because people care about a lot more than money nowadays. I’m 20 , I know. I still have a lot to learn and live. But I know that I cannot survive on money alone, I need to be satisfied with the way I live my life, the environment my family grows up in and the way my society is. And that doesn’t mean I”ll fly away the first chance I’m not happy. I’ll stay and make change – because I don’t quit, and neither do a lot of people who I’ve met my age.

Knowing that there’s people out there fighting not to make Singapore  “more convenient and more Western ” only but actively fighting to make Singapore “fair, inclusive and open” – that’s what makes me optimistic about my Singapore.

So with all due respect, I have to disagree with LKY. I have to stand up for my generation and stop pleading “please give us a chance” but start saying “look at what we’ve done”. We’re growing up right – and we need you to mentor us, we need you to teach and share but treat us with the dignity. We need the older generation to stop perpetuating the “younger generation is always worse” syndrome and start encouraging more active citizenry through the way they talk, walk and live.

Singapore is changing, and my generation is excited to be a part of it. The future is uncertain, but we’re certainly not going to let it go bad, not on our watch.