Spirit of listening and speaking up continues

SINGAPORE - What future do we want? How do we get there?

These questions kept me up for many nights after the Prime Minister asked me last August to start a national conversation with fellow Singaporeans.

All around us, I see the world growing more complex, with challenges coming fast and furious, and our needs growing ever more diverse. How, in such a world, can any one group of people have the answers to everything?

If we are to work together towards a future Singapore that stirs our passion and pride, we must get everyone involved.

That's why we decided to have Our Singapore Conversation (OSC). We aimed to reach out to as many Singaporeans as possible, from all walks of life. We also felt it was important to take the time to understand each other's perspectives and aspirations.

So we did our best to make this truly OUR conversation. If people wanted to talk in dialects, in their coffee shop, on any issue they cared about, we did our best to help that happen.

I don't mind sharing that I was nervous initially about such an open-ended style. After all, most of us were more familiar with very specific questions and hard deadlines.

Some threw cold water by asking, "Why spend all this time talking about things like what we hope for or what we value?", or "Why don't you deal with immediate issues rather than our future?" I think of it like this: If we are going to know how to make good policies, or decide on the hard policy trade-offs to come, we must first understand thoroughly Singaporeans' own hopes for the future. As these hopes are deep and diverse, sometimes even in conflict with each other, we must give ourselves the chance to hear each other out. Just as importantly, Singaporeans will gain from hearing from one another.

Not everyone was comfortable with the OSC's diversity at first. At the first public dialogue, a 15-year-old student asked me if he could change his conversation group. He said, "I want to be in a group with younger people." I asked him to stay in his group because the whole point was to talk to people with different perspectives. After the conversation, the student thanked me because the elderly members in his group had helped him see things in ways that he had never considered before.

Experiences such as this added to my resolve. I told our OSC team that if the OSC process could help Singaporeans to hear each other out, especially when their aspirations differ, then we would have achieved something valuable.

Our Singapore Conversation does not end here. The spirit of speaking up constructively and hearing each other out sincerely and respectfully continues, just as making Singapore our best home is a continuing work in progress.


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