Two sides of the coin

And so the general elections came and went. It has been three weeks since the results were announced but this little dot at the southern tip of Peninsula Malaysia is still experiencing the reverberation of this so-called watershed election.

We witnessed many exciting events over the past month. The immense public support for the opposition symbolised by the huge gathering at their rallies both online and offline, the historical and symbolic winning of Aljunied GRC by the Workers’ Party, the retirement of prominent ministers from Cabinet which includes our MM Lee Kuan Yew, SM Goh Chok Tong, Mah Bow Tan, Wong Kan Seng, George Yeo, Raymond Lim and Lim Hwee Hua, and the massive reshuffling of cabinet positions supposedly a gesture from the ruling party for their desire to change.

In the light of these political and hopefully social landmark changes to my tiny home country coupled with a few other personal endeavours in this month, I am suddenly acutely aware of the existence of two realities in my life, hence the two sides of the coin. These are my observations without going into the long of it –

1. Having gone on to read two more of Robert Kiyosaki’s books, I now have a better perspective on why the income gap is widening in Singapore. Singaporeans have been trained over the years since Independence to become great employees of multi-national corporations, to save diligently for their retirement and to invest prudently in instruments that are deemed safe by our authorities. We have been bred to be financially secure and not toe the line into worlds not within our comfort zones. However the strategy to be secure inevitably limits one’s ability to be richer beyond their own imagination.

With the advent of information technologies that puts information that was once scarce into our hands, why aren’t people more willing to explore arenas outside of what has once been the invisible boundary placed around us by our government? It is not about the lack of resources, it is about the lack of willingness. The people who are actively seeking ways to break free from the corporate rat race will be the ones who will become rich. It all begins with the change in mindset – about not working for money.

I have peeked at the other side of the coin, the side where rich people move their money around to earn the best returns (at the expense of the average investor), the side where building a business is not just about working for yourself but through a system/engine, one can create assets that earn an income, do less manual work and still benefit a whole lot more people. 

2. After the general elections, there is a sudden realisation by our ministers and top civil servants of the need to engage our citizens, not only through social media. But that because of social media, it is no longer possible to dispense information in a top-down manner but rather in a two-way feedback dialogue. One that listens first and then provide information and thoughts in the most appropriate way. That’s why corporate communication and education has suddenly become the limelight of the various ministries.

The irony of this whole thing is that, from the beginning of my time in the public sector one year ago, I have been telling my bosses the exact same message and they have always asked me to watch my boundaries. That we should not invite ‘trouble’ by opening these lines of communication. And now the exact same message is being communicated back to me! I cannot help but feel totally frustrated by this outcome. I joined the public sector because I wanted to help my people and yet because of the way the public sector is structured, it seems like the only way to effect change is from the outside – at the polling stations.

I wonder where the line is drawn between politics, civil service and active citizenry.  If I am a concerned citizen about certain issues, take financial literacy for example, would it be more effective to set up my own organisation to educate people, join the civil service in hopes of pushing out some education programme, or join the grassroots so that I can have a voice in the Parliament? Why should I continue to waste my brain cells coming up with ideas that are beyond its time in the public sector when I can probably put in the same effort in my own business and earn from it? Now that’s an interesting thought…

3. I started attending a lunchtime service conducted in a church near my workplace. I guess it is God’s way of making it impossible for me to say no to attending church since it negates the excuse that I cannot concentrate on service while tending to my children running havoc in the cozy room. 

Attending church in the middle of the work week during lunchtime is a surreal experience. It is like one has stepped through a time warp where time stands still and all layers of superficial concern is peeled off and you stand before God, just being yourself totally vulnerable to His embrace. An experience totally contradicting the hustle and bustle taking place just outside the church walls where people are rushing  to ‘chope’ seats, queue in endless lines, gobbling down their food while gossiping about their colleagues or complaining about their bosses, and then sullenly returning to office to finish the second half of the work day. 

In the presence of eternity, it is quite hard to put a meaning behind all this human stuff that we do day in and day out. Maybe that’s why in Ecclesiastes, Solomon laments ‘Meaningless! Meaningless! All this is meaningless!’ Our lives transcends beyond work, politics, power, money… all this is meaningless if we do not live in light of the eternity that God has placed in our hearts. And that is why lunchtime service gives me a perspective of all the activities of our life.

4. I just attended a two-day course in project management and problem solving. We were placed in two teams to work on different projects in the area of our work. My team is made up of many Generation Y people and one from the baby boomer era. I guess I belong in the area between Gen X and Y. What impressed me the most during the training was this colleague who to me was the epitome of creativity. He just had to do everything and anything differently and in such an amiable way. Honestly, even though I consider myself creative, I was overwhelmed by this force of nature.

The best part is that being with someone who dares to be different and outrageously questions all assumptions made me even more creative. I think as intellectual beings we all need some kind of stimuli that tells us it is ok to just let loose and let go of decorum. And this effect is actually contagious. With me supporting the open-mindedness, the rest of the team came in and started having fun, pulling out wild ideas from everywhere. And we really bonded. I haven’t felt this kind of comaraderie in a very very long time. I felt so inspired to bring this spirit back to my department.

But in our excitement, I didn’t realise that the single baby boomer sitting quietly in one corner had been extremely uncomfortable with our antics. She admitted later that she tried her best to hold her tongue because we were instructed not to criticise anything. And then added that somehow the final outcome took her by surprise. In the midst of all the so-called creative chaos, through the process taught to us, we were able to focus our thoughts into something constructive and really really innovative, if I say so myself.

I was thrilled by the experience and I think there are learning points for all of us in the team. If I had to choose one, it would be the power of human relationships. It is just amazing what happens when people with the right mindset come together with a common unifying goal… something just clicks and takes off from there. And taken in light of all that has happened this month, I think that is God’s way of telling me to focus on the things that matter – building people and relationships. Because bigger than money and power is the human spirit.

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