Just a pot calling the kettle black

I used to liken citizenships to country club memberships.

You could think of them as fair transactions. In a way, we pay taxes in exchange for social services, just as country club members foot subscription fees for the upkeep of shared facilities. And while those of us who were born in Singapore are exempted from "entrance fees", credible investors with proven finances have every right to apply for permanent residence, and one day become citizens just like us.

Taking this thought further - that citizenship is like paid membership with measurable returns - a question that I frequently asked myself was: What would I do if the costs of this lifelong deal outweighed the yields one day? Would I leave Singapore for good?

It was difficult to arrive at a conclusion. This is home, after all, and controversial changes have only just begun. Yet, the answer always seemed clear when the analogy of a country club came back to mind.

If the majority - who could wield their votes to manipulate or replace a club's management council if they wished - manage to push through by-law amendments that affect our progressive subscription fees, disallow ownership of more than one private buggy or ruin my children's chances of being in the coolest playroom, I would leave, without a doubt.

What gives the people who increasingly demand more of others and their resources this insatiable sense of entitlement? If others had achieved and attained through their own merits, then why should their hard-earned pie be split?

There would simply be no reason to live with that. It just would not be fair, I thought.

Then again, would that really be unfair?

This contrasting notion has been stuck in my mind since a fortnight ago, when Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong told a homecoming at Raffles Institution that elitism must not be bred. The point he made was age-old, but I saw it in a new light for the first time; it struck me as a start to the answer I had been seeking.

"It is not surprising that many who have not done so well see meritocracy as a system that is biased towards those with better resources, and one which impairs their social mobility," he said.

I realised then that the root cause of my prior disillusion was a subconscious refusal to admit that I have indeed been fortunate to get to where I am today. Birth and circumstance have given me the privilege - which I did not earn - to be on the right side of social immobility. Above all, I was guilty of harbouring the belief that all "winners of meritocracy" are inherently superior and entitled to success.

There and then, it hit me between the eyes that I had attributed to others a wrongful sense of entitlement based on an equally baseless sense of entitlement myself. I was just a pot calling the kettle black.

And it's not as though I'm in a position to do so either - because there are successful Singaporeans out there who really care.

 

I recall an assignment at the Enterprise 50 Association's annual dinner in early July, when an entire hour of open dialogue with Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong ended up being focused on how the Republic can remain a "land of opportunities" for the young, and how society can continue to be pro-Singapore even as it strives for various causes and beliefs.

Awe and shame

Coming from 100 business leaders - neither in political office nor the public service - who have each arrived in their own right, that common commitment to stay involved and face up to our uncertain future left me in awe and shame.

Perhaps it was unbecoming of me to have never treasured the intangible worth of my citizenship all this while; perhaps it was cowardly of me to assume that forsaking Singapore would be the answer to all doubts.

In the first place, the question should never have been whether to leave the Republic for good. Rather, it should have been: What can I do to better understand where other groups of Singaporeans are coming from? How can I fulfil my responsibility to return the favour that society did for me to do well as I grew up?

Still, change is never easy. So while a watershed in our politics is not imminent, it would also be too much to ask of me to immediately be able to toe the line and to accept more legislated giving wholeheartedly.

But as our nation comes to a critical crossroads, I am committed to being more open-minded towards societal views, to put myself in others' shoes before jumping to conclusions, and to bravely embrace Singapore's unforeseeable future.

As my departure from the newsroom and the nation draws near, this sudden resolution may have come a little too late. But as they always say, it's better late than never - especially since I will be back where I know I belong.

The writer is a BT intern who will read law at The University of Warwick from next month


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