New differences in attitudes towards issues such as sexual orientation and the distribution of wealth are emerging and managing them will be a critical challenge for Singapore, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.
If Singaporeans work together, such differences can be a source of strength that benefits society. But if not managed well, they could become new fault lines that polarise Singapore, he warned.
Speaking at the launch of a new non-profit organisation called Honour (Singapore), which is aimed at promoting a culture of honour in Singapore, Mr Heng said it took Singapore decades of hard work to bridge racial and religious differences.
He noted that matters of race, religion and language "are deeply visceral, and require constant vigilance". "But even as we forged deeper understanding of these issues, new differences are emerging - be it in attitudes towards sexual orientation, new migrants, social status or the distribution of wealth," he said.
"How we manage differences - to ensure that these do not become new fault lines which polarise our society - this will be our critical challenge in the coming years."
And while it is natural for Singaporeans to have diverse opinions, the challenge ahead is how to create a society that gives maximum space for people to develop different ideas.
"At some point, after we air our different perspectives, we have to bring everyone together to move forward in a fair and just way, in a way that protects the vulnerable, and that grows the opportunities and welfare of everyone," he said. "This cannot be a matter of one side winning and the other side losing."
One suggestion Mr Heng had to avoid this problem was for people to advocate solutions rather than to simply state a position.
This could turn divisions into a source of new ideas that could benefit the nation.
For issues on which differences cannot be easily bridged, Mr Heng hopes Singapore can build a culture where it will be normal to say: "I may not share your view but I want to understand it and I will try my utmost to honour it."
He also spoke about the need to honour the spirit of the pioneer generation, which the Government is doing through the Pioneer Generation Package. Singapore should also maintain the tradition of a country that is known for keeping to its promises, he said.
Honour (Singapore) will engage a broad swathe of society from schools to businesses in a series of talks to promote these values, said former head of civil service Lim Siong Guan, who founded the organisation.
Honouring the word behind Singapore’s enduring success
While people are looking to celebrate Singapore's 50 years of success next year, former civil service head Lim Siong Guan feels that not enough attention has been given to asking why the nation has managed to succeed for so long.
For him, the key ingredient is simply one word: honour.
"When you think about our success, the real reason for it is that we honour our word. Nothing else can explain why so many foreign investors place their money here," he said.
Mr Lim and his friends, like family organisation Focus on the Family's chairman Jason Wong, felt so strongly about this that they set up a new non-profit organisation called Honour (Singapore), launched last night at the Fullerton Hotel, to promote to people here the value of keeping to one's word.
"I don't think the virtue has deteriorated, but we don't talk much about it. It's not always in the consciousness of our people," said Mr Lim, who is group president of Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC.
The new group intends to reach out to groups such as schools, families, businesses and community groups through a series of talks and conferences, which will be on an invitational basis, he said.
It has also appointed a panel of 10 community advisers to give guidance on how best to reach out to these groups. The members include Lien Foundation chairman and Nominated MP Laurence Lien, and businessman Chua Thian Poh.
"I was happy to support this cause. Honour is something my grandfather believed in, and I think everyone should find a way to infuse it into daily life," said Mr Lien.
Honour (Singapore) has also developed a series of programmes to engage Singaporeans on how to lead, live and learn with honour, said Mr Lim, who added that more details will be given later.
This article was first published on August 06, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.