berthahenson

Our stolid young people

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 29, 2014 at 12:07 pm

I asked my class of undergraduates this morning if they knew about the happenings in Hong Kong. They knew there were demonstrations but didn’t know what they were about. Nor did they know that the demonstrations were student-led. So I had to tell them that the young people of Hong Kong were unhappy that they were unable to pick their own leaders or rather, they had to pick them from a slate of Beijing-picked candidates.

I got to asking them if they would ever do what their peers in Hong Kong were doing – skip classes, get out on the streets and agitate for a cause. They looked flummoxed at the question. None could come up with a cause that could galvanise them. So I suggested: What if a neighbouring country decided to block access to Singapore? The answer:  the people should do nothing because it might bring more problems for the G which already had to deal with another government. Well! That was extremely thoughtful!

I pressed the issue and one undergraduate thought they would be moved to act if, say, a “bumiputra’’ policy of sorts implemented here, in the form of quotas based on race. The rest of the class nodded sagely. So, I asked, that’s because it affects you directly I suppose….They agreed.

They also agreed that they were more concerned about studying and stability than agitating for any kind of big picture cause. There was some laughter about being “brainwashed’’ and focusing on the immediate; about being brought up to value peace and stability. There was also talk about whether protests and demonstrations would lead to anything at all. In other words, we should do a cost-benefit analysis first. What a practical group, I thought. Lost cause, I thought. Then again, even in my time, some time ago, there was little “political’’ activity on campus. It was mightily discouraged and the one time an attempt was made by the students’ union to convey a sentiment on a political matter – selling tee-shirts saying no to the since-rescinded graduate mothers policy – the university administration came down on the undergrads like a ton of bricks.

Given that the class was talking about protests, we of course went on to talk about another protest – the Return Our CPF lobby which created such a ruckus on Hong Lim Park over the weekend.  They didn’t realise that the lead organiser Han Hui Hui  is all of 22 years old, their peer.  They were shocked. They wondered why she had “so much time’’. After all, they were studying so hard. Plus, it is not likely that she had any CPF to collect. They saw the video of the little altercation Ms Han had with the authorities. They blanched and pronounced her “immature’’. As for her motivations, she was an “attention seeker’’. I said she was a student and another undergraduate immediately went online to find out that she was a “full-time political activist’’. They wondered what she lived on.

I don’t agree with Ms Han’s near-anarchic antics and I wouldn’t want to hold her up to her peers as a model to emulate. I marvel at her energy and wish it could be directed to better use than working up crowds. Then I looked at my class of stolid undergraduates and wish they were more interested in what’s happening around them, rather than what’s before them. I told them about the Population White Paper protests and the rage against the 6.9 million figure by 2030. I said the supporters were mainly old(er) people, when it was actually an issue that should bug the young(er) people. (By that time, I hope to be resting by the beach…)

Is there any way we can build a young generation of people who are in between the stable/stolid and the hysterical/anarchic? Should we? Or should we make sure they burrow into their books and don’t get too interested in other matters in case they feel the urge to get “involved’’ in the “wrong way’’? By the way, I am NOT fomenting revolution. And I am very sure people will argue that youthful ideals need not be channelled into political activities. In other words, we should get them involved in the “right way’’, like join the Youth Corps and do good.

But I am aghast at how ill-informed and un-interested (much less uninvolved) our young people are in the issues of the day. “No time,’’ is what they cite as a reason. I always retort that they should “make time’’ if they want to be citizens engaged in the life of the country. What is the point of being a person if you care about nothing bigger than yourself? No need to demonstrate; but at least KNOW what’s happening.

I read today ESM Goh Chok Tong pronouncing that the jury is “out’’ on young Singaporeans. He cited that old saw about the first generation building something good, the second generation maintaining it and the third generation squandering everything. Hmm, I think I belong to the second generation….I catch myself agreeing with him and then wonder if I am being “ageist’’. The older people said the same thing about my generation too, and I guess we will do the same for the younger lot, like calling them “strawberries’’.

Maybe I’m too pessimistic. Maybe I’m being unfair. I don’t think I was very interested in current affairs when I was their age. I too wanted to study and get As. I suppose I am hoping that they will reach the age of enlightenment (not entitlement) earlier than I did.

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  1. I’m one of those ‘stolid young people’ you mentioned. I read your blog but have never left a comment. Thank you for all your posts, they have been a delight.

  2. ugh. well at least teens in HK know wtf is going on.. you’d never see a protest like this nor would you see so many young people standing for a concept as complex as democracy in the states.. nor do I think they could comprehend it. This movement has awakened new faith in me for our newer generations youths.

    Reading your article its very interesting how much Singapore is like the States.. That kind of passive keep my head down consumer mindset. While spending almost a year there I realized even the ego and false pride of accomplishment while still being passive, is also the same..

    Its not the people its the entire national security initiative that instills this mindset. But more importantly, I believe there is a deeper systemic issue, mass-consumerism which dictates a country’s wealth level, I believe is beginning to unravel, as intrinsic motivation for how each person chooses how they want to contribute to this world, continues to evolve. The consumer today is born in to a word of immense choice and opportunity.. That ‘climb the career ladder’ until you can get your 2 cars and 4 bedroom house idea is becoming more seen for what it is, not able to serve our basic human needs.

    Maybe I am being hopeful but I see the possibility of moving into an era where disruptive bodies of people are more worried about innovation, and solving the worlds deepest social issues while being less concerned with how much money they have in their bank accounts, as long as they changing things and each other’s lives for the better, via rapid collaboration through social technologies.

    If this era takes root I see a world where governments naturally become smaller, as these huge and slow bureaucratic top down hierarchical structures become less compatible with the rapid changing ability of leaner bottom up collaborative social groups who are bridging to new realities.

    This to me doesn’t look like revolution, but evolution. However I fear what these large establishment’s reactions may be, if they begin to deem this type of evolution a threat to its self preservation. How far will they will go, and will they join hands in an attempt to preserve their vested legacy?

    What do you think?

  3. You have to remember Bertha, the cost of expulsion from a hard earned place in university (not to mention the actual monetary cost too) is just too much of a risk to be taken. Unlike other places, there just aren’t enough alternative routes or career path once you are out of the mainstream. Add to the fact that the passing of exams, and not the accumulation of knowledge, has been the centre piece of our education policy, and you won’t be surprised all that idealism has been coached out of our young peoples’ system.

  4. I was never apathetic when it came to politics. I used to go to Worker’s Party rallies when I was eight – I have listened to Chiam See Tong, Jayaretnam and Francis Seow in person and I have known about Operation Coldstore and the 1980s Marxist plot as far back as I can remember. Living abroad opened my eyes even more to what political ideals we should really aspire too – we live in a comfortable bubble that is now being punctuated by infrastructural, population, social and leadership problems. The younger generation are sleepwalking right into what could be a total political and economical farce that could undermine their way of living as they know it. Singapore is sitting on a timebomb and I feel somewhat powerless and irrepressibly sad – the Singapore I grew up in is fading away; and will be long gone once all the Baby Boomers kick the bucket. Millennials just make me go ARRGGHHHH – I just want to pull my hair out!

  5. From post: “They wondered why [Ms Han Hui Hui] had “so much time’’. […] Plus, it is not likely that she had any CPF to collect.”

    Actually, Ms Han reminds me of Ms Lee Wei Ling — right down to the nonchalant “fashion sense” & idiosyncratic social bluntness (or faux pas, as the neurotypical population might say), but minus the latter’s fortunate privilege.

    “I have always felt strongly about injustices, or the unnecessary suffering of humans and animals. […] So from young, I was perpetually on ‘missions’ — as I saw them — to right wrongs, most of which were not my duty to right.”
    — from the eulogy by Lee Wei Ling at the funeral service of her mother (06 Oct 2010)

    The ultimate irony of this Hong Lim Park saga though is: Has anyone — particularly those so quick to launch unnecessarily personal & derisive insults at the two #ReturnMyCFP organizers — considered the possibility that one or both of the said organizers might be undiagnosed (or not publicly declared) special needs persons themselves ?

    Some symptoms of Aspergers’ Syndrome (often called High-Functioning Autism) include:-

    • Very focused single-mindedness in pursuing a cause or argument to its conclusion as based on rules of logic, justice & fairness, even when the other party is disinterested or outright hostile;

    • Intense sense of justice — with tendency to undertake missions that aren’t within one’s purview (or within one’s means) to successfully fight;

    • Ability to concentrate deeply on activity of interest, to the point of forgetting/ forgoing meals, sleep & washroom breaks — ala “How come so much time & energy ?”;

    • Focus on very intricate details & ability to link the dots between seemingly unrelated patterns, which most neurotypical people would not notice or else find irritating/ unnecessary;

    • Social “blindness” — including failure to read social signs, body language, AND react appropriately (or quickly enough) to prevent negative repercussions;

    • Social awkwardness —including appearance of nerdiness, lack of attention to dress sense, limited social circle & support group;

    • Tendency to “rub others the wrong way”, even when it is totally unpremeditated & no ill-will is intended;

    etc. etc.

    Ultimately, special needs are neither confined to children nor limited to people with outwardly-visible disabilities. (And yes, Ms Lee Wei Ling had mentioned before that she is an Aspie person.)

    One might wish to consider the aforementioned whenever one feels righteous superiority or even outraged negativity towards another party, because the latter is perceived as behaving “atypically”, “weirdly”, “disrespectfully” or “near-anarchically” — unless the said party can perhaps be socially excused by virtue of his/her privileged birthright.

    Unfortunately though, casting judgement & deliberate ostracism — even after one is made aware of the other person’s background — is all too common in S’pore society. This is how many human beings fall (or are pushed) into the cracks — & often never get out.

  6. As for Ms Han’s so-called “near-anarchic” exchange with Director/Parks 1 Mr Chia, it is interesting to compare her outlook & style of communication with that of the bystanding Parks Manager (another young lady apparently in her mid-20s or so, directly in charge of Hong Lim Park), who said nothing at all throughout the whole incident but merely watched on sheepishly.

    Perhaps the so-described “stolid” undergrads (… so satisfied with the status quo to the point of apathy?) could identify more easily with the Parks Manager? The latter is the default person who stolidly oversees venue applications for HLP, as well as stolidly requests for setup plans (from non-establishment applicants), but who only became mindful of the brewing YMCA vs #ReturnOurCPF debacle at the very last moment — & resorted to calling her (non-immediate) supervisor to physically relocate the “non-establishment minority applicant”.

    Kudos to D/P Mr Chia for remaining relatively calm & diplomatic during the rigorous exchange with Ms Han, even though he had obviously rushed down to site (in casual wear & w/o his official staff pass) on a non-working day.

    But one can’t help noticing that he had no persuasive counter-argument to make against Ms Han’s (very logical, contract-based, albeit brusquely-communicated) line of reasoning, because he knows very well that NParks has zero case as based on common sense, fair play, as well as the Terms & Conditions attached to the booking application & email approval.

    Incidentally, Dr Tan Wee Kiat — Executive Director of Parks & Recreation Department (predecessor of NParks) between 1990 & 1996, CEO of NParks between 1996 & Feb 2006, Special Advisor to NParks from Feb 2006 till the present, & current CEO of NParks’ newest “baby” Gardens By The Bay, as well as a respected member & staunch supporter of the ruling establishment — has this to say (27 Sep 2014, 12:08pm) of the incident:-

    “The double booking should not have occurred. We should also throw the book at the offenders who yelled obscenities while protesting.”

    For those acquainted with site booking & events management at NParks venues, it is very clear that the double-booking is an anomaly, & totally against the protocol established for every other park under its purview.

    Moving forward (as per the current parlance of choice for both the G & the Public Service), one might expect NParks to adjust its oxymoronic laissez-faire policy for venue management at HLP-Speakers’ Corner.

    For instance, the application procedure, approval email & relevant Terms & Conditions would have to adhere to the following protocols already in place for all other parks open for venue-booking:-

    • No double-booking of same site at the same time period is allowed;
    • NParks is to sub-divide the sites precisely (eg. Speakers’ Corner aka Big Lawn vs. Small Lawn) at the point of application;
    • Booking applicant has to specify exactly specify exactly which site, & for what time period;
    • Successful applicant & his/her guests (invited or walk-in) are entitled to exclusive use of the booked site.

    To allow double-booking (by stolid choice or mindless oversight), as well as non-exclusive use of the same booked site (Clause 3 of the current T&Cs, last revised: Jan 2013) for HLP-SC is merely inviting for trouble to happen.

    There is no valid reason to keep indulging in passive apathy or stolid lack of common sense — even if apathy exists aplenty, while “common sense is not that common”.

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