Saturday, 11 April 2015

Ho Kwon Ping: Singapore Society and Identity

Singapore must 'embrace diversity as its strength'
Ho Kwon Ping sees nation becoming increasingly diverse in next 50 years
By Charissa Yong and Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2015

SINGAPORE'S sense of nationhood and unity has never been stronger than in the past weeks when hundreds of thousands of Singaporeans came together to mourn the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, said businessman Ho Kwon Ping yesterday.

But in the next 50 years, post-LKY, the country will be increasingly diverse in ways that run up against rigid expectations of racial and social attitudes.

Singapore's challenge is to embrace this diversity as its strength and as an integral part of itself, said Mr Ho in his fifth and final lecture as the Institute of Policy Studies' (IPS) S R Nathan Fellow.

In his 50-minute address, he examined how this openness and acceptance of Singaporeans who may be different from the mainstream can be a defining characteristic of Singapore's identity.

He said Singapore is ethno-culturally more similar to New York City - where culturally distinct neighbourhoods coexist cheek by jowl - than to the homogeneous cities of Tokyo or Shanghai. "New Yorkers, for all their amazing diversity, all love their city. Like New Yorkers, Singaporeans must also embrace each other as individuals and not as categories."

For one thing, the traditional racial categories of "Chinese, Malay, Indian and Other" oversimplify Singapore's diversity, he said.

Immigrants or foreign workers from China and India, for example, fall into the Chinese and Indian categories respectively, but hardly identify or interact with Chinese and Indian Singaporeans.

Traditional norms of heterosexuality also do not adequately describe "people of different LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) affiliations, or alternative family norms such as single or unmarried parents, or same-sex couples", he said.

Mr Ho suggested abandoning these stereotypes and viewing people as individuals. "Everyone is unique, everyone is quirky, everyone is rude and kind at different times, and everyone has to simply respect and even appreciate the other's difference."

In an ensuing hour-long question and answer session, Mr Ho was asked how a diverse society should be organised. He said: "You cannot change human nature. People find affinity among their own kind... But we should try more consciously to break down barriers to allow people to have more cross-cultural interaction."

His lecture, attended by about 560 people including civil servants and students, followed four others on Singapore's politics and governance, economy and business, security and sustainability, and demography and family.

Mr Ho also addressed two other social challenges: mitigating divides between different classes of Singaporeans, and having a more collaborative style of governance.

Education reform can help level the playing field and prevent Singapore from ossifying into a static meritocracy with only children from rich families making it to the top. He suggested re-looking the system of priority Primary 1 admissions based on distance from homes, as many elite schools are in wealthy neighbourhoods.

As for having a less paternalistic, more participatory democracy, the Government can involve more civil society activists and citizens in decision-making, and give them information to debate issues.

Closing the event, IPS director Janadas Devan said the next S R Nathan Fellow is Mr Bilahari Kausikan. The Ambassador-at- large will research public policy and governance issues.


Was America ready for a black president? The jury's out. But I think the fact that America has a black president (for the first time) says a lot for that society...

I actually believe we are ready or will be ready soon. I do not think the Singapore of tomorrow is going to differentiate on the basis of race or colour. They will be, clearly, making differentiations on the basis of views and so on.

However, I'd be also realistic enough to say that if you had two persons of roughly equal calibre and one was Chinese and one was Indian or Malay... you probably have to recognise that there will be racial affinities.

But if a leading party like the PAP were to put up a non-Chinese prime minister, would the country accept?

I think yes.

Would the party lose its power simply because it had a non-Chinese prime minister? I'd honestly believe - and I hope to be naive enough to believe - that if that person was of calibre, we would accept him.

We already have a deputy prime minister who is not Chinese, who is extremely popular. That says something.


I do not think it was necessarily bad for the Government to indicate we have now consciously got two Malays in Cabinet.

I think we should blur the CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) categorisation in our own minds and how we define people so that we have more richness of definition of ethnic diversity.

But the danger here, in blurring CMIO, is that it becomes an excuse for a majority race to no longer be cognisant of the fact that minorities have to be very consciously supported in terms of their presence in Cabinet, leadership positions elsewhere and so on.

Because the flip side is to say, race doesn't really matter any more, so does it really matter that we have Malays in Cabinet? No, it does not. Does it matter that we have Malays in Parliament? No, it does not. The fact that they're all Chinese, it's all okay because race doesn't matter any more.

So there's a flipside and a real danger that we must be very clear about.


We should get rid of the Gifted Education Programme and replace it with a programme that recognises the special needs of every student.

We should create a lot of secondary schools in a geographic area to be a cluster, each encouraged to develop its own area of excellence, (such as in) sports or performing arts.

So students with special needs - we should define special needs as those with special talents and those who have problems like dyslexia or autism - can fulfil their potential.

We should aim to create a system whereby truly we walk the talk and every student who has a potential to be reached - whether it be a talent or a disability - will get that special attention. That's something to be proud of if we can achieve it.

Keeping the Singapore Dream alive
The writer grapples with how to keep this dream a meaningful aspiration for all Singaporeans for the next 50 years
By Ho Kwon Ping, Published The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2015

IN THE last two weeks, the unprecedented and spontaneous outpouring of grief and gratitude at the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew has been a national catharsis. We have learnt that even in his passing, Mr Lee's final contribution was to bring all of us together in ways never done before, to realise that in our grieving, we rediscover our common identity.

But is it possible to more specifically define our identity, besides knowing that we have one? I jotted down a few sentences and asked some friends to identify the country which I described as follows:

We are an immigrant society, and therefore persistence and resilience are the hallmarks of our identity. We've been open to the world, but in recent years have turned more inwards and even somewhat hostile towards foreigners. We take pride in our egalitarian ethos, even though income inequality is worsening. We squabble among ourselves, but to foreigners we close ranks. We have a can-do attitude which can be perceived as being arrogantly proud of our exceptionalism. We tout our meritocracy as a core value even though it is starting to fray. Above all, we love to celebrate ourselves and our achievements, and how the best is yet to be.

Who are we?

THE Singaporeans I asked unanimously said, of course that's us, Singaporeans.

Interestingly, another group I asked replied: Of course, you're describing our USA and the values behind our American Dream.

So here you have two countries, worlds apart almost in every possible way, from population and geographic size to historical origins; from political and social culture to current and future challenges; and yet the American Dream and the Singapore Dream are almost interchangeable.

Upon reflection, that is not so strange. After all, once you strip a dream of its specific cultural context, many societies aspire to largely the same things in life. The common element between the American and Singapore dreams is simply that both societies are audacious, brash and young enough to believe that whoever you are, and wherever you come from, this is your land of opportunity. This is where you can achieve your personal and family dreams, and pursue a life of meaning and purpose.

But this is more the immigrant's dream of Singapore than the Singaporean's dream, simply because many citizens do not now feel that they can achieve anything if only they just tried. Yet it is crucial to Singapore's continuing survival and well-being to maintain, nurture and polish this dream, both in terms of keeping its borders open to the outside world, as well as maintaining social mobility within.

So, in tackling this final lecture, I want to ask a simple question: How do we maintain the Singapore Dream as a meaningful, purposeful aspiration for all Singaporeans for the next 50 years? What are the most critical things we must do to overcome future or already emerging challenges to this dream?

After some deliberation, I've consolidated the various challenges and must-dos into three major, overarching tasks. They are:
- First, to strengthen the cohesive diversity which underpins our identity, against a climate of increasingly narrow rigidity;
- Second, to improve social mobility and a culture of egalitarianism, in the midst of a fraying meritocracy and worsening income inequality; and
- Third, to build a collaborative governance style and an information-rich civil society.
Let me now deal with each of these.

Cohesive diversity

FIRST, strengthening cohesive diversity. Our immigrant origins have created mechanisms for harmonious racial and religious cohabitation, but the traditional fault lines, which were successfully held together, are facing unfamiliar, non-traditional pressures which may result in new cracks.

There is increasingly vocal social diversity from people of different LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) affiliations, or alternative family norms such as single or unmarried parents, or same-sex couples. In addition, there is intra-ethnic diversity from immigrants or foreign workers who may belong to the same race as defined by our traditional CMIO (Chinese, Malay, Indian, Others) categories - but hardly identify or socialise with each other. For example, new residents from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong all form their own cliques which also largely exclude Chinese Singaporeans. The same is true or even more fragmented for South Asians, whether foreign workers or new citizens.

At another level, the HDB heartland world-view, with its kopitiam and roti-prata stalls, is being assailed by the slick and slightly intimidating globalisation represented by Marina Bay Sands and the billionaires' cove in Sentosa. In other words, race and class and a consensus on social issues are becoming increasingly complex and intertwined in Singapore.

The average Singaporean is anxious and confused by this onslaught of what is becoming a divisive diversity. That anxiety - what social psychologists call cognitive dissonance when reality increasingly diverges from our expectations - arises when the traditional racial lens of CMIO or the traditional norms of heterosexual orientation no longer seem adequate to describe a rapidly changing Singapore society.

One way to resolve cognitive dissonance is to abandon our stereotyped presumptions and expectations and simply treat people as individuals and not categories. We should consciously blur or even abolish the CMIO model's simplistically rigid racial categories, and welcome the multiple identities and more complex sub-ethnicities which are increasingly the real Singapore of today.

The CMIO model, created out of necessity in the aftermath of a racially charged road to independence, has helped to create common ground between those of different tongues and dialects, but it also has the effect of oversimplifying the diversity that is our social mix. How we define people often shapes how they behave, so the less we pigeonhole people, the more chances we have for a cohesive diversity. Just thinking about a post-CMIO model already seeds a future paradigm shift.

Under a post-CMIO model, people will have more time and space to replace old stereotypes with more nuanced complexities, reflected in more varieties of socio-ethnic identities. This is a strategic imperative not just for enriching the Singapore identity, but also to continually attract the world's best talent and make this island, in the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, "the best city to live, work and play".

Another way to strengthen cohesive diversity is for the majority race in Singapore to consciously overcome what one insightful non-Chinese blogger has called the mindset of Chinese Privilege, which is the attitude of a majority race towards minorities where it does not see itself as racist but acts on assumptions which are based on privileges which only it can have as the majority race. It can manifest itself in small ways, such as speaking in the majority-race language even when foreigners are part of the gathering, or making jokes which are racial slurs but justifying them because they are light-hearted and not malicious.

A final building block for cohesive diversity is recognition of the marginalised people whom my research assistant Andrew Yeo compared to composer Claude Debussy's famous dictum that "music is the space between the notes", meaning that there is equal importance in what is unseen or unheard. It is the voices of the foreign worker, the single mum, and the many other silent spaces between our national notes which make our Singapore song complete and more interesting.

Even though they are neither citizens nor permanent residents, the 1.5 million "permanently transient" semi-skilled foreign workers and domestic helpers cannot be an invisible community overlaying the visible Singapore, with uneasy points of contact which can become flashpoints. A society measured by the height of its skyscrapers and size of its shopping malls is, in my view, the ultimate Dubai-style dystopia; far better that we measure ourselves by how we treat the marginalised and voiceless in our midst.

As the cacophony of strident voices increases in the future and the people in the silent spaces between the notes struggle to even make a small sound, we should not be worried, and should perhaps even pause to listen. It is just a new Singapore song in the making, not commissioned for a famous performer to sing, but created by the people themselves, from the ground up.

Social mobility

SECOND, improving social mobility and the egalitarian ethos.

The path to success in Singapore has largely been through academic merit in transparent national examinations.

But having already achieved 50 years of continuous growth from Third World to First, over time the Singapore model is in danger of being a static meritocracy, which sieves people based on only a narrow measure of capability in single snapshots of time - examination results basically - and from there on creates a self-perpetuating elite class. Ironically, the original social leveller and purest form of Singapore-style meritocracy - our education system - may perpetuate inter-generational class stratification rather than level the playing field. The warning signs are clear:
- Only 40 per cent of pupils in the most prestigious primary schools live in HDB flats, in contrast with 80 per cent of all primary school pupils residing in HDB flats.
- More than half of Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship recipients live in private housing, compared with only 15 per cent of the general population. And 60 per cent of PSC scholarship holders come from only two schools - Raffles and Hwa Chong.
- Sixty-three per cent of university-educated fathers, 37 per cent of those with secondary school qualifications, and only 12 per cent of fathers with primary education or less, had children with university degrees.
No doubt, the index for social mobility is still higher in Singapore than in many other countries, including some of the famously egalitarian Nordic countries. This is comforting but no reason for complacency, especially against a background of worsening income inequality globally.

Some people have advocated that the way to redress structural inequality is to practise affirmative action for the disadvantaged group; for example, to give bonus examination points to any student whose parents did not attain university education. This would, however, be the start of an unending process of affirmative actions which will only demean and discredit our meritocracy in the long run. I believe that further reforms of the overall education system can promote social levelling without undermining either the principles of meritocracy or the academic rigour for which Singapore is well known. Some measures, for example, are:
- Ending pre-teen streaming and the PSLE, and having all schools teach children a continuous 10 years straight through to Secondary 4, so that less academic pressure early on in life allows more time for teachers to focus on the personal development of students, which has been found to have a great influence on later academic achievements.
- Giving admissions priority on the basis of distance from homes has to also be relooked, because the most prestigious and elite schools are also located in the most wealthy parts of the island. The handful of top primary schools have five-year waiting lists and parents or their maids queue overnight to get a place for their children. When the PAP came to power, it took the then radical step of essentially nationalising the entire education system, to achieve its then socialist goals. Similarly, radical steps need to at least be discussed, if not adopted immediately.
- Replacing the rigid, narrowly directed Gifted Education Programme with a far broader, multifaceted programme which focuses on the special needs of all students, whether it be due to special talents in the arts or sciences or other academic areas, or special disabilities such as mild autism or dyslexia. There has been much talk that education must now aim to develop the full potential of every student. It is time to walk the talk. Schools in a geographic cluster can specialise in their own areas of excellence, and serve special-needs students from that cluster, whether the special needs are special talents or disabilities.
- Replacing or at least augmenting the traditional A-level results with a specially crafted Singapore version of the Scholastic Aptitude Test or SAT which, as the name implies, seeks to measure the inherent aptitude of a person for critical thinking, rather than just exam performance.
- Examples of other easier and simpler programmes include: providing student counselling services in every school, because disproportionately more students from lower-income and less-educated families have emotional and domestic problems which inhibit their academic performance; or introducing volunteer tuition services by university students for secondary schools, as part of mandatory community service modules in all our universities, which will help students who cannot afford expensive private tutors.
Yet another idea, which is already starting to happen, is the rotation of top principals and teachers among neighbourhood schools. All these and other piecemeal measures with the same intent can add up to create a powerful overall impact.

Besides reforms to the education system, the civil service needs to also lead in social levelling. Recent announcements that non-graduates will be allowed to fill positions previously open only to graduates is a good start. But only if the most elite cadre of civil servants - the Administrative Service - changes its recruitment criteria to replace academic pedigree with psychometric and other aptitude tests which create an open and level playing field, can we start to have a continuous, dynamic meritocracy where one's destiny is not already largely determined at 12 years old, reinforced at 18, and virtually fixed at 22 years old.

Collaboration and civil society

THIRD, building a collaborative governance style and an information-rich civil society.

When I first entered university some 40-plus years ago, the target of student activism was an obscure Latin expression, "In Loco Parentis" - which is a legal doctrine whereby certain institutions such as universities actually assume the legal powers of a parent.

The Singapore state has not assumed the same level of paternalism over its citizens, but it has come close, making decisions which might elsewhere be individual responsibilities. While this has been widely accepted in the past 50 years, a paternalistic governance culture may need to change to a collaborative model in the future. This is already happening with the abundance of debate about directions facing Singapore in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era. However, such a governance culture of participatory democracy can work only if the institutions of civil society can be actively engaged in decision-making.

For that to happen, civil society players need access to that lifeblood of robust discussion: freely available and largely unrestricted information. Information is the oxygen without which civil society players suffocate in their own ignorance and resort only to repetitive drumming of their causes, but without the ability to really engage with their own members, with other players, or with government. Access to information is an existential imperative for civil society to perform its functions responsibly and knowledgeably.

The currently unequal access to information is called "information asymmetry" by academics, and one of the reasons all governments are averse to sharing information is not just because of the sensitivity of secrets, but because information is power, and asymmetry between seeker and owner of information shapes their relative power relationship.

To rectify this imbalance, some civil society activists have called for a Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. This would require open access to and declassification of all government archives after 25 to 30 years, and almost unfettered access to information about oneself at any time.

So should Singapore simply adopt a FOIA? Just joining the bandwagon is not by itself meaningful. Of the 99 countries which have FOIA legislation are such beacons of liberal democracy as Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Russia, Yemen, and all the "Stan's" of Central Asia. The reputations of these countries for good governance are so questionable that one must wonder whether their own FOIA are actually devices to smoke out and track potential dissidents.

Of course, most Western liberal democracies do have effectively functioning FOIA, but while it has redressed information asymmetry, the downside is that it also exacerbates the adversarial relationship between civil society and government. While this may be the underlying basis for a check-and-balance system in Western political cultures, it does not encourage a collaborative governance style. It can even be dysfunctional for the conduct of diplomacy and general statecraft, which must often require total confidentiality between parties.

One possible way to redress information asymmetry within a collaborative governance culture is to legislate a Code on Information Disclosure which is not legally enforceable but morally binding, and sets out the principles by which ministries can or should not protect information, and the importance of open sharing of information for a civil society.

Ministries would be required to employ independent access-to-information officers such as retired judges, to evaluate and give written replies to information requests. Media attention and public pressure would serve as leverage in cases of non-compliance with the code, or where there is controversy. Hong Kong, I understand, has a system similar to what I have described.

But with more information equality, there will inevitably be more and different interpretations of data, of events, of history itself. Official narratives, such as the controversies surrounding Operation Coldstore, will be questioned and debated by generations of new historians.

The young possess a certain oddly dispassionate objectivity towards history, compared to many of us for whom the past 50 years were filled with deep emotion and very personally partisan perspectives. The young don't take our version of history as the gospel truth; they want to discover the facts themselves and make up their own minds. This is healthy, because the attribute of critical inquiry and continual search for the truth will stand the next generation in good stead as they transit to becoming the leadership generation.

Rather than consider such re-assessments of history to be revisionism which has to be prevented, we should accept that information equality will inevitably lead to such questioning. But we should also have confidence that history, through the collective wisdom of time and millions of people past, present and future, will accurately and fairly assess the enormous contributions and legacies of our past leaders, including Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

We should trust in our young people enough to allow space for them to develop their own opinions. In the end, future leaders of Singapore should be bold enough to own the future rather than defend the past.

The writer is the first Institute of Policy Studies S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore. This essay is based on his fifth and final lecture on Singapore: The Next 50 Years - Society and Identity, which he delivered yesterday. He will address the issue of creating identity in a second essay from the lecture.

Many personal stories, one S'pore identity
The Singapore identity can be based on diversity, yet be cohesive, says Ho Kwon Ping, who is the first Institute of Policy Studies S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore. This essay is based on his fifth and final lecture on Singapore: The Next 50 Years - Society And Identity, delivered on April 9. An essay based on Part 1 of the lecture was published last Friday, on the Singapore Dream and aspirations.
Published The Straits Times, 10 Apr 2015

HISTORY comprises both the universally experienced, historically momentous events and the small, personal milestones of each person. In this way, SG50 is a special year of meaning for me because while we collectively commemorate Singapore's 50 years of independence and simultaneously mourn the death of the first and last of our founding fathers Lee Kuan Yew, I shall also celebrate the arrival of my first grandchild.

Such is the cycle of life, of persons dying and babies being born.

My grandson due next month, and who will be 50 when Singapore celebrates its 100th anniversary, can only say he was born a few months after Mr Lee passed away. But even for my children, who are young adults, Mr Lee was always more a legend than a real person. Few young people today have ever known him other than as the textbook father of independent Singapore. My eldest son's only memory of Mr Lee was when he and his wife visited my family on the funeral of my father, some 16 years ago when Ren Hua was only a teenager and Mr Lee was already 75 years old.

When I was detained by Mr Lee under the Internal Security Act, I was only 24 and he was already 53 years old - in his fearsome, intimidating prime.

When I joined the board of GIC, which he chaired, I was 44 and he was 72; when he inaugurated the Singapore Management University's Ho Rih Hwa Lecture series, named after my father, I was 50 and he was nearing 80.

Such is the age gap that most of the people who worked with him have passed on and those who worked directly under him have long retired. To the extent that in our initial years Singapore was almost synonymous with Mr Lee Kuan Yew, he defined our national identity and we looked towards him for signals on how to behave, to think, to view ourselves.

He said rugged society, and that was our identity during my generation's youth. As nation- building gained traction and we started to embrace ourselves as a people, a society, and a nation, we started to experiment with our own personal markers of identity. Today, I daresay, Singapore comprises multiple identities.

Identities in creation

WE COMMONLY describe a national identity as something constructed from tangible markers such as Singlish or durian or chicken rice, or intangible values such as pragmatism or tolerance, or whatever. If we put that all together to sculpt a single, proverbial Merlion identity, it will be iconic and recognisable more to foreigners than to us. This is because identity is not a static snapshot of a people, frozen in time.

It is a continual and never-ending work in progress of an evolving people. Our identity may have started more as a rojak salad than as an artificial Merlion but over time even the rojak salad will evolve further, with new and unusual ingredients, while the Merlion remains an unnatural and static animal.

Identity is what you are attached to, what you would fight for, what you care about. In a previous lecture, I proposed that we develop a uniquely Singaporean human development index which would measure our overall "well- being", besides only having GDP as an indicator. These intangible markers, which measure our progress as a nation, will in part also form our identity, because it will give heft and weight and shape to what we value. We should put in place a framework for this fluid discussion to take place, to be mapped and to be expressed.

While Singapore's identity is rooted in its immigrant heritage, and that openness should always be a cornerstone of our sense of self and underpin our receptivity towards those from other cultures, we should not feel lost if we are not able to define a single common identity.

We are all identities in creation, and the end result will not be uniform. Instead, by sharing stories of who we are, we find resonance with each other. These collective stories can kindle a sense of "being Singaporean", even if we cannot articulate or pin down specifics.

Sharing personal stories

AND so I would like to close not by defining the Singapore identity but by simply sharing with you my personal journey as a migrant to these shores. My father was a fourth-generation Singaporean, with his forefathers working as boat builders in Tanjong Rhu. They built the tongkangs or deep- bottomed bumboats and barges which ferried goods and people between Singapore and the hundreds of ships which made Singapore the pre-eminent port in Asia since several hundred years ago.

But I was not born here, neither did I study nor live here. I received my naturalised citizenship by a technicality - because my father was Ambassador of Singapore to Thailand and our home since childhood became, technically, sovereign Singapore territory.

So for several years as a teenager I raised the flag every morning at our hastily erected flagpole on technically Singapore soil, and eventually I qualified to be a citizen. But my first extended stay in Singapore, for more than a week or so at a time, was at the age of 20 when I came here for national service. Not ever having lived here, I wanted to see what it was like to be a Singaporean.

During NS I was taunted by some as jiak kan tan which means "eat potato" and is a derogatory term for someone who has lost his roots and apes the West - much like a banana in Asian-American slang. Though I can do a decent Singlish by now, my natural accent is between English and American, and my Mandarin has no dialect overtones.

Although I studied at Taiwanese and American universities, I finally graduated from Singapore University. So what is my identity? I'm not sure; and I will always remember that Mr Lee Kuan Yew once told me to my face that the only smart thing I ever did was to marry a Singaporean - because he was wise to know that through Claire, I would find a sense of home.

I have lived and worked in this country since 1972: altogether 43 years. I met my wife here, my children were all born and grew up here. My simple answer as to why I chose to live and put down my roots here, is that here I do not feel like a stranger.

In Thailand where I spent my childhood, I spoke Thai but was always an outsider. In Taiwan and in America, I learnt much and made good friends, but I was a stranger in a strange land.

However, Singapore's multitude of races and cultures made me feel no longer alien. Perhaps that is also what makes other new migrants decide to settle in Singapore - the fact that they could create their own identities here.

An openness and acceptance of foreigners - and indeed, of other Singaporeans who may be different from the mainstream in various ways - can perhaps become a defining characteristic of our identity. We can create our own identities even as we inherit certain common characteristics.

Singapore is my home because whoever I was, or am now, or want to be, I feel I can be that person here.

However, this statement of pride is not universal. I am fortunate because I am a privileged, Chinese, heterosexual, male businessman. Can other persons, whose music is the silent spaces between the notes, also believe what I just said, so that we can honestly declare that cohesive diversity - this delightful oxymoron - is the unique marker of the Singapore identity? For the sake of the next 50 years, I fervently hope that we can, and will.

In the next 50 years - the Singapore after Mr Lee Kuan Yew - the line between leader and follower will start to blur; we will not just be disciplined and unquestioning followers. Our leaders will walk among and not ahead of us; they will be part of, and not simply lead, the national conversation. Other people may march to their own drumbeat and at their own pace. We may look, from the outside, to be less orderly and consensual than in the past.

After all, civil society is not a disciplined army; it is not an organised orchestra producing the soothing melodies of a lovely symphony. It is a loud cacophony of voices, of disorganised aspirations, of an exciting marketplace of ideas.

But I certainly hope that what will never change from one generation to another is the passion to make this country continue to succeed, to be proud of who we have been, are, and will be, and to revel in the cohesive diversity that makes us all Singaporeans - whatever that word means to each of us.

The 13th century Persian poet Rumi once wrote something which should speak to each of us. He wrote: "You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop."

In other words, you and I are not cogs in a machine, or grains of sand, or drops in the ocean. In each of us is the whole of Singapore. Each of us represents the collective identities and histories which make up our ocean and on which we shall continue our journey together.

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