28 August 2005

On Values and Rainy Days

Mr Wang has just read this article from Channel News Asia. Why, it's almost as annoying as the Straits Times.
What has a heavy downpour at the National Day Parade in 1968 got to do with Singapore's success story?

In his National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who himself took part in the parade that year, recalled that even though everyone was drenched and cold, nobody broke ranks.

It was a people determined to succeed and spoke volumes of the spirit and resolve that bond them together in difficult times.

I'm going to excuse PM Lee for these platitudes. It -was- his National Day speech, after all. So he needed to inject a double dose of the the feel-good factor.

PM Lee's Plan B for injecting the feel-good factor was
vetoed by his more-politically-experienced dad.

I just want to point out that back in the 60s and 70s, the kampung kids always loved to play soccer in the pouring rain and get themselves all muddy. Kids these days just don't do things like that any more. I don't think this necessarily shows that the kampung kids were more determined to succeed in life and had more spirit and resolve.

Also, I think that if a parade took place today and it began to pour, no sensible NSman in the parade is going to walk off and get an umbrella either. Who would want to risk being charged for a military offence and possibly being thrown into detention barracks?
Just before the parade started, it began to pour.

But Colonel John Morris, the parade second-in-command recalled, there was no fidgeting on the parade square at the Padang.

He said: ".....it was raining cats and dogs, but because the decision was to carry on, we stood firm. Nobody fainted, as far as the army contingents were concerned."

Duh! What a silly comment. Of course no one fainted. No one ever faints in a parade on a rainy day. Everyone who's ever done NS knows that fainting happens on hot, sunny days. Fainting is due to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Not to getting wet in the rain. A heavy downpour is the best assurance that no one is going to faint during a parade.

"Yes, I am feeling fully conscious. And annoyed."

Asked for his views, the Minister Mentor felt the 1968 generation seemed more rugged than today's and that's because of the progress, material comfort and the way children are being brought up.

MM Lee said: "You look at the covered walkways. You look at the MRT, the LRT and you cast your mind back to our children going to school wet with umbrellas. So, it's a different milieu. It's a problem that all societies face once they have reached a certain level of physical comfort."
I found the above comment somewhat offensive. The comparison is also grossly simplistic. It simply fails to take into account how much society has changed between then and now. One could just as well say:

"Oh, children in the old days were such total wimps! They took only 5 O-level subjects and struggled to pass. School was only half-day! These days, children take nine or ten O-level subjects and are expected to aim for nothing less than straight A's! On top of that, they have to do compulsory CCA! Their school day lasts from 7 am to 7 pm, and then they go home and study till midnight! Young Singaporeans today definitely show a lot more determination, focus and discipline than the older Singaporeans did."
So what will it take to see Singapore through the next forty years?

MM Lee said: "It depends on how you bring up your children. If you bring up your children the way that your father brought you up with that same resolve, the same set of values, honesty, hard work, not trying to skive off people, I think, there is no reason why we can't make it".

But it is with respect to the above quote that Mr Wang really wants to say something. MM Lee suggests that there is something superior about the values that older Singaporeans have, and that we urgently need to imbue young Singaporeans with those same values. However, Mr Wang is VERY suspicious of this kind of thinking.

You see, Mr Wang does not believe that old is necessarily better. Mr Wang believes that while one particular set of values may have served society well in the past, that set of values may not necessarily serve society well in the future. Society is a complex thing, always evolving, and Mr Wang believes that the most successful societies are those where values have successfully changed with the changing times as well.

"Yes, I should've gone warm-blooded
and taken up subsistence farming."

For instance, MM Lee talks about the importance of hard work. While diligence is still a virtue today, I think we should not regard it in quite the same hallowed light as the older generation used to. The older folks came from a generation where the phrase "working smart" did not exist yet. They operated in times where much more depended on manual labour rather than skills or creativity. They worked primarily to earn money and survive, and while that remains critical today, many young Singaporeans also rightly aspire to a career which they find genuinely interesting, fulfilling and meaningful.

So diligence remains important, yes, but the equation has grown more complex, and if you look in the Classifieds today, you will hardly find an ad where the employer says he wants a "diligent" or "hardworking" person. In terms of personal attributes, it is much more likely that the ad will mention requirements such as "strong interpersonal skills"; "able to work independently"; "dynamic personality"; "creative problem-solving" etc. More than MM Lee's words, these ads reflect what your children really need to be, in order to survive tomorrow.

MM Lee says that you should strive to bring up your own children the way your father brought you up. Mr Wang warns you that the world has changed. The old formulae, applied without adaptation, are an almost-certain route to disaster. For your children's sake, look to the future - now - and break free from the patterns of the past.

Don't do this to your daughter, ok?
It's just not fashionable any more.

Further reading:

What does this cute kitten have to say about the whole episode? Click here to find out. See also Merv's take on the matter. Izydata has some thoughts to share too.


Anonymous said...

Both SPH and Mediacock are equally annoying. They insult their readers' and viewers' intelligence. Oh wait, in this case I guess it's the clown who's responsible. No wonder his daddy couldn't let go.

Paperman said...

There will always be a place for honesty, hard work and good morals. They are the foundation upon which any one person's success is built. I think you have confused skills (dynamic personality, creative problem-solving etc) with character. Say you're a partner, will you hire some really bright lawyer (with all the attributes stated) who wins many cases for the firm but is patently dishonest and embezzles funds? Or say a brilliant copywriter who's hyper-talented but is lazy to boot? What is unwritten is perhaps the most important and lasting.

The old generation lived through tough times economically, and survival's what made them work doubly hard. We don't have that kind of environment anymore. Now I don't like the current school system too, but doesn't a 7-7 school day teach them perseverance and the value of hard work too?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

I can't violently disagree with you, Vandice, but my main grouse lies in the artificial political manipulation of an event (the 1968 NDP) in order to score some political points with the people.

Why not use the 1969 NDP or the 1967 NDP as an example? Probably because PM Lee wasn't participating in those years, Hrrrumph.

Why use the 1968 NDP as an example at all? Because PM Lee needs to cement his public image as a great leader who's been there since the days of long ago, serving the nation with pride.

Sorry, but I find the rain aspect very cheesy. It's just like one of those Indian Bollywood movies where the woman is separated from her beloved man, and she begins to cry, and at the same time, the dark clouds gather, and the sky begins to weep copious tears of rain.

The simple truth is that rain is just rain. We have NSmen every year doing tough training in adverse conditions, undergoing serious pain in Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, Brunei; every now and then, a few of them drop dead, and exit this lifetime without much fanfare .... Now what the hell? PM Lee's school cohort stands in the rain during NDP 1968, on a nice flat parade ground ... and it's supposed to be a big deal?!

And it really tickles me to see how they manipulate their messages. Go read THEIR other messages and they will tell you that, oh, the late 1960s were such turbulent times, there was no sense of nationhood, the society was divided on lines of race and religion etc etc. Now, when it is convenient to do so, they tell you instead that Singaporeans in the 1960s were so tough and committed that they stood together in the rain with spirit and determination, all ready to fight and die together for their little nation.

Bah. Humbug. In the 1960s, my grandfather was working hard and saving diligently, in the hope that he could fulfill his dream of leaving Singapore to return to his beloved homeland China, to die there. This was the REAL dream of the Singaporeans of those days.

Coming back more specifically to your comment, Vandice, my grouse again is MM Lee's insinuation that young Singaporeans are a rather pathetic breed; that they still have hope but they had better buck up and be like the older generation epitomised by the great PM Lee.

In my view, this is all nonsense. I don't believe you can make any sensible generalisations that way because society changes a lot. You can't say this generation is better or worse than any other generation because they all lived in different times and had to adapt to different circumstances.

MM Lee mentioned covered walkways, MRT, LRT etc and how young Singaporeans are less rugged in comparison to past generations who had to walk to school in the rain etc. Truth is that any young Singaporean today can still choose a primitive mode of transport to get to school (walk in the rain with an umbrella, for instance) but no one would think he's "rugged". Just stupid. Got MRT, walk in the rain for what?!

Anonymous said...

Good one Mr Wang, and good repost (above) too! Haha!

Anonymous said...

btw, someone from sph told me that MM Lee called them up after the rally and told them to write abt the '68 NDP, so i guess they don't have much of a choice here

Zen|th said...

Well written Mr Wang. =)

Anonymous said...

So you think young singaporeans are a more resilient bunch than the old, just because they have longer periods at school? As a nation becomes richer there is a tradeoff as people become pre-occupied with more superficial issues (ie, getting 7A1s for O levels) as opposed to life and death issues (like supporting my family at the age of 15). It is inevitable that people become soft as they become rich.

If course the young are not useless, it's just that they have the potential but not the determination and hardiness that a survivor of poor times has.

and there will always be people who solve problems creatively, and people who doggedly word hard instead of smart. There are pros and cons to both methods, and not only the former is necessary for success.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"So you think young singaporeans are a more resilient bunch than the old, just because they have longer periods at school?"

No, I am not saying that either generation is better than the other. I think that the very attempt to draw the comparison is silly. It is like comparing apples with oranges and saying that one fruit type ie better than the other.

kite said...

Muahahaha... Came upon this when I was re-reading your old entries. Cannot help laughing.