Friday 27 March 2015

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's final gift: One united people

By Jaime Ee, The Business Times, 27 Mar 2015

I DON'T feel so good. The chest is tight, the air feels too warm and I'm prone to tearing at the slightest trigger. Am I coming down with something or am I just really, really, really sad?

Such unprecedented emotion is pretty much stamped out on every person lining up outside Parliament House to pay their last respects to our founding father, Lee Kuan Yew. I dare say that in every heart right now, the same movie is playing: that of the prodigal son/daughter who leaves the home of an authoritarian patriarch in a fit of rebellious pique, returning to the latter's deathbed only to realise how all that enforced discipline; the "my way or the highway" dogmatism; the "you want to quit law to study the trombone?!" pragmatism and the unexpressed love were all for a greater good that we could not, would not appreciate. And we are all now caught up in that emotional climax - of seeing just how much he truly cared about Singapore, and the extent he would go to protect it, and us.

Is it a case of "too little, too late"? It was always more cool to embrace outsiders' opinions of Singapore and join the "haters" when it came to railing over our pet peeves. But as more is revealed about Mr Lee and his motivations, there's an increasing impatience with haters and their relentless quibbles, and an irritation with Western media which almost always prefaces references to Singapore with the words "authoritarian" or "nanny state". How do you question his argument when he says that after 30 years of building up a country, he knows a little more about Singapore than a Western journalist who flits in and out for a few days?

Even as we've been reading about a less-reported side of Mr Lee these days, what is also eye-opening is that we're also witnessing a different side of Singapore we never thought existed.

For those who say that Singaporeans are spoiled, selfish, always complaining and mercenary, what would they make of what's happening now: tens of thousands, soon-to-be hundreds, and possibly a million before the week is out, queueing for hours in the hot sun without a peep of disgruntlement. No one told them to do it. There are no freebies at the end of this queue. There are no goodie bags to be had, no fancy aerial displays, no ballot sheets to tick, no certificates of participation awaiting.

Yet there is nothing but stoic contemplation, a people united by sadness but at the same time, an amazing, totally unscripted display of goodwill and community. People are chipping in to help with free water, flowers, food and general kindness for one's fellow man. Without any expectations of reward or publicity - just plain human decency.

Maybe what we are seeing now is the emergence of the silent majority - the ones who aren't stirring the pot of discontent in cyberspace and are in this current mood likely to take a swing at anything they deem as inappropriate behaviour - as some bun makers have quickly discovered.

While the "champion grumblers" whom Mr Lee described have largely taken the spotlight, this groundswell of affection and fierce loyalty is something no one may have actually noticed before - people who don't make a fuss, are generally pragmatic but will not stand to see what Mr Lee has built knocked down. With luck, they'll be making themselves heard more now.

This may well be Mr Lee's final gift to us, rallying together the one united people he pledged to create - people from all walks of life who are starting to take ownership of their country and are a lot more protective of it than others may expect. He wanted us to go from third world to first world, and we can see it in this one display of cohesion and sense of community spirit. We may be bonded in grief now, but we're in good stead to write that next chapter of the Singapore Story.

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