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.



13 thoughts on “Rebutting Lee Kuan Yew

  1. 1. It’s iPhone generation. Maybe not now, but the next gen is definitely going to lose touch with writing. It’s happening in many countries, not only Singapore, deal with it.
    2. It’s a matter of growing up in different environments and facing different types of challenges. They worried about paying for their studies, now we worry about getting enough tuition. Matter of fact.
    3. Singapore is Singapore. Small island nation. We were uncertain in the past, and we are uncertain today. We had problems in the past, and some of these problem remain unsolved, such as land space, together with new problems such as immigration.

    I know you are trying to be optimistic about the young/new/future generation, however, if we be too optimistic, we will never improve at all. For example, even though we see youths contributing to the community, society, arts and culture etc. they still represent a minority of all the youths in Singapore. The way you described the negativity that youths faced from adults, this also is a phenomenon that has always been occuring since 10’000 BC. Again, a matter of fact. Understand that adults have their reasons for being conservative, take it as something to reflect on, don’t pass it as mere bias. Someday, you will be looking at your kids the same way too.

  2. Daily SG: 14 Aug 2013 | The Singapore Daily

  3. I could not agree with you, when I hear LKY talk, it reminds me of “one man” not his generation, who fears that his legacy will be lost. He might have re-written the history of Singapore but he is afraid that the younger generation, like yourself will not accept the official narrative and will explore the Other. From that fear stems the desire to dismiss the new generation.

  4. The sociologist Howard Becker wrote a great article on youth, “Twenty Three Thoughts About Youth”, which is worth reading (

    He writes,
    “Youth have their ideas. Older people have theirs. In almost all societies, older people control the distribution of scarce resources, control the police power of the state and, importantly, control the decision as to which ideas are good, right, sane, sensible, and so forth.”

  5. Mr Lee Kuan Yew is an illustrious son of Singapore. Do you think he really fears that he will lose his legacy? If this is what you really think and believe…then you do not know who Mr LKY is. He is not afraid for himself…he is afraid for his people . Words are cheap…promises can be empty… few men can deliver…the future is for the next generation to build. The soil that you step on today is not without sweat and tears….give Mr LKY the due respect…the utterance of him wanting to dismiss the new generation and holding on to his legacy is most unthinkable!

  6. I agree with Ong Bing Shao. I am a millennial (1980s-2000s) too like you – grown up with iphone, fb and stuff. As someone who researches on history and sociology, I have to say that generally our generation is less motivated and less willing to sacrifice for the interest of a bigger picture than the previous generation. Practically, most millennials tend to shun hardship and would tend to take the easy way out when faced up with difficulties. I’ve lived in the states for a period of time. I’ve seen white boys clearing trash bags and doing cleaning jobs. It is not a ‘dirty’ or ‘low-class’ job to them or their society in anyway. It’s a job and a job to be respected. It is known that Americans have good work ethics. I don’t think anyone would disagree that most Singaporean youths would not take up a cleaning job as gracefully as an American youth, regardless of their educational level.

    By the way, I am never a fan of LKY. However from his writing, I found that he seldom make sweeping statements. As a learnt person, he gathered his views from his knowledge in world history since ancient time and human nature. If anything, history has been repeating itself and hence is an accurate gauge of the future.
    Judging from the things that he has said, most of his views are evident-based, practical and accurate prediction of the future, ceteris paribus – unless our generation is willing to change our attitude towards life and work ethics, his predictions will probably come true.

      • Stop at 2 was a policy to better manage resources at a time when Singapore was still developing. If the population were to expand exponentially without control, the resources of Singapore at that time and the decade down will not be able to sustain the progress.

        Not a perfect policy, but again, it was calculated policy that has help Singapore grew into a developed country in less than two decades.

  7. Perhaps you should join teaching to understand what the youth today are going through. I do not fully agree with what LKY has mentioned, but I can understand where he is coming from.

    No doubt we are currently living in different social environment compared to the past, but undeniably, we are still prone to setbacks and failures as a country.

    I think what LKY was putting across are his worries that the younger generations will not be able to cope with failures and setbacks, in short, the lack of resilience and resolution.

    It is not the fault of one or two person, it is just a result of how our society has developed. The younger generation are not given opportunity to strengthen their characters in the face of adversity, our leaders have done well in steering Singapore away from such situation, but paradoxically, it is also driving the country into complacency and its citizens taking things for granted.

    The past serves as a reminder for us youth that while we pursue the future of our own, we should at the same time learn the lessons of the past, lessons that we should reflect on so as to build on our own values and character to overcome future uncertainties.

    Our education system has created a generation of population who are capable of being critical and opinionated, yet are we able to think from different perspective and compromise our interest for the progress of our nation as a whole? Again, this reflect our character as to whether Singaporeans are willing to sacrifice in times of need.

    In the times ahead, more and more people will put in their demands for how resources in this country is used, how should our leaders react to these demands and to safeguard the interest of the country without losing the mandate of the people?

    I think it is very easy of us youth to simply sit behind a piece of technological equipment to type rebuttals, criticisms and our opinions, but instead of just typing, why don’t we take concrete constructive action that would actually do good to this country?

    There are already enough differences as it is today, from the opposition and people who just wish to sow discords between Singaporeans and our leaders. Their agendas are simple, to create chaos and hopefully allowing them to forward their own motives. Our leaders are not perfect, every policy has its own drawbacks, this is something that we as Singaporeans need to understand and accept. A divisive nation will only serve to paralyse us and halt our progress.

    At the end of the day, do we allow our differences to polarise send us into regression and, or are we able to compromise on our differences to find a balanced approach to progress on as a nation? Personally, I hope it is the latter.

  8. Rovik,
    I thought you might like to read Terry Eagleton’s very enlightening ‘Across the Pond: An Englishman’s View of America’. It’s not a 100% fit per se, but I thought it genuinely encapsulates the values of Singaporean society (colonial legacy).

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