It’s been a while, but I feel like I’m finally ready to comment on the series of events that have just passed in Singapore. Founding Father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew passed away last weekend. I was sitting in Nashville, Tennessee when I read the news on Facebook. It was 0300 in Singapore, it was only 1400 for me here. I was one of the first wave to read the news. I remember sitting , and being taken aback. There was grief and then there was confusion.
I didn’t understand why I felt so emotionally connected to the death of someone I had never met before , yet supposedly was so familiar with. I remember telling Derrick, another Singaporean, who was travelling with me about the news and seeing his reaction of shock as well. We sat down for a while and let it sink in. We then continued to help share the news to bring closure to the worry that was spread in the past few weeks with regards to LKY’s condition.
I was always a fan of this man. It started when I was 17 and read Men in White, the book documenting the formation of the People’s Action Party and it’s evolution over the years. I didn’t become a PAP supporter after reading the book, and neither do I have any necessary political affiliation, but I definitely became a LKY admirer. I admired the ferociousness with which he had decided to take on life and the sense of purpose that drove him to make Singapore a country to be proud of. I valued his ability to be grandiose and a technocrat, while still basing his decisions on the simple value of humanity that every Singaporean deserved.
Perhaps the most fascinating and inspirational series of events for me was the simple decision to form a party back in Singapore. LKY had made friends and had conducted debates in the UK where he was studying and after much dialogue and some time in between , brought together a solid group of people, some of whom he had had such debates with, to run for government. These debates involved fantastical ideas of reforming governance and heartfelt hopes for the nation. He had essentially created a “mafia” of leaders to shake up Singapore. With that vision and clout, he essentially road-mapped the country to where he could pass it on successfully.
That to me was a powerful idea. One man had the ability to understand how to bring people together towards an optimal vision and leverage off that combined vitality to shape a whole nation.
As the week went on, I was slightly afraid of the consequences. I had started The Hidden Good to get Singaporeans to rediscover the pride in being Singaporean. I loved our unique state and wanted us to collectively protect our culture, heritage and future. We ought to be the only ones to path our future, no one else. But as much as that came from an innate belief in the good in Singaporeans, it was also a hope to persuade Singaporeans to put away their cynicisms and decide to believe in hope instead. Throughout the process of building the organisation in the past 2 years, I have been overwhelming confirmed of the fact that Singaporeans are an amazing bunch of people and have slowly put away their cynicisms. Yet, the desire to criticise without the desire to improve still existed in circles. People still wanted to throw hate where it would not do any good. This was a perfect opportunity for the country to come together or be split apart.
We would have achieved 50 years of history, come this National Day. 50 years isn’t just a story of what we had achieved, but an invitation to dream of what our country can be. We had built a nation, we had shaped history. But what’s next? That was the challenge I wanted to solve as a part of this generation.
LKY’s legacy is in this nation. It’s in our existence as a community, racially and religiously diverse coexisting . It’s in our economy, robust and immensely strategic, not overly privy to the whims of harmful agents. It’s in our safety, in our ability to understand how to leverage any possible asset to keep our asses covered. It’s also in our values, pragmatism and excellence shining throughout wherever we go.
That legacy lives on, but it need not be everlasting. It’s the start, but it need not be the end. LKY was not known for talking about compassion, but it did not mean he didn’t value compassion. He wasn’t remembered for talking about community driven initiatives , but that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary for our future. We are given, right now, the ability to decide how LKY’s passing affects us.
The truth is, Singapore surprised me. Singapore went out of the way to mourn not just the death of a great man, but to remember the journey we had made as a nation. I feel some of it came out of the fact that we just realised how much we had taken for granted the life we had in front of us. For someone to give so much of his life, almost Messianicly even, to help a nation, reminded us that we had rarely appreciated that sacrifice truly. We came out in flocks, and as I watched from the US, I was overwhelmed. We then collectively shared our experiences. We connected via social media and the news. We spoke to one another, and had discussions. We reflected and appreciated our successes and shortcomings. We then cared for one another. We gave those who needed a shoulder to cry on, a sturdy support. We gave out water and snacks to the queues that needed them , purely out of the desire to support.
We were starting to show our priorities as a nation moving forward. It was extremely unfortunate that our Founding Father could not witness the nation celebrate its 50th birthday. I remember when I witnessed The Hidden Good’s first anniversary, the immense happiness I felt at how far the organisation had come. I cannot imagine the sense of joy he could have felt. Yet, I believe it gives us the opportunity to use this 50th birthday to decide where we want to go. It’s morbidly uncanny, that his passing happens this year even, almost signifying the change of times.
LKY inspired me to want to take on the challenge of building a society. He wasn’t the only person, but definitely a major player in the series of events that made me drop my old lifestyle, and passionately chase dreams and visions. I only hope that with his passing, we don’t forget that same tenacity can be adopted by us too.
We are his legacy. Through our survival and our excellence, he lives on. We take the good , learn from the bad, and work on the rest. I sympathise greatly with PM Lee Hsien Loong, who not only was able to witness his father build a nation, but also see him have to pass. I could not imagine that for any son to his father, let alone someone as esteemed as him. But I also imagine him to be well comforted by the crowds of people who share in mourning with him. It is comforting to know that a person you loved will not be forgotten easily.
Here we are now. We see the road built, and are given the tools to pave the path forward. I cannot wait to be a part of this future. Every moment from now onwards decides what values we adopt, what culture we nurture and what society we shape. Actively decide to do good, to give back to society and to add value to those around.
I continue mourning the passing of LKY, and invite anyone who hasn’t reflected on this series of events, to truly do so and be impressed by the lengths our fellow countrymen go to celebrate our nationhood.
We’ve come a long way, and have a long way to go. But we’re here now , one people definitely united.