Today I gave the last talk of the year, my fourth this year. The target audience of my talk had typically been a mixture of 50-50 Singaporeans and Singapore Permanent Residents. I enjoy giving this series of talks because the audience size is small and cozy and my boss is pretty flexible in allowing me to tweak my contents to suit the needs of the listeners.
After doing this same talk four times, I have come to conclude that there is a fundamental difference in the way that Singaporeans and Singapore Permanent Residents think and this is revealed through the way they absorb the information and the questions they ask.
Now, I work in the public sector and so the information I share in my talk is about policies that the government implements. Typically Singaporeans react in two ways to this kind of information – either with indifference or skepticism. The former arising from the ‘I don’t care lah, my government will take care of me and there’s nothing I can do about it’ mindset and the latter from ‘I don’t believe a single thing you say or you’re not telling me everything because you work for the government’ mindset.
Having lived in Singapore all my life, in a country where we have one ruling political party and little room for citizen involvement in how policies are shaped, I can totally understand how such mentality arose.
On the flip side, Singapore Permanent Residents provide a perspective about our policies that many Singaporeans don’t appreciate. Their reaction to the information I share is of surprise and interest. They are surprised because they find it hard to believe that our government does so much for our people freely. And they become interested to know how more they can benefit from these policies.
I can only surmise that this reaction stems from survivor instincts and a long term perspective. Singapore PRs would have uprooted themselves from their homeland, a place of familiarity and where their loved ones are, to come here and make a living. Being voluntarily or involuntarily thrown into the deep end of the pool, they develop survivor instincts and a keen sense to smell out a good deal when they see one.
But perhaps the stronger reason is because they look towards their long term. I know for certain many don’t intend to retire in Singapore. They will earn whatever they can here in Singapore dollars and then bring everything back with them to their homeland where they can retire like a king. Because of this, they aren’t bothered about the long term cost or standard of living in Singapore unlike Singaporeans. We only have one place to call home.
And this leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. We work so hard to educate our citizens about how they can benefit from what the government is doing but what we get instead is resistance and sometimes even anger. On the contrary, our counterparts the PRs are more than happy to benefit from these policies at whose cost? Knowing that they don’t see Singapore as their home in the long term makes it even more irksome.
I can’t change the way PRs think but I really wish that Singaporeans would buck up and learn from them. Instead of complaining of why it is like this and not like that, why not ask instead how can I benefit from it? Think outside the box. Better still, if you think there’s a better way to do it, say it out. I’ve come to realise that change will never happen overnight but everyone can do their part by speaking out. Like the movie Inception, plant the seeds of change. I know it works and sheer numbers will tip the balance.
Secondly, if PRs can move around, why can’t Singaporeans? I’ve always subscribed to the idea that we need to venture outside of our little island mentality to look at the world as a whole. More so now as we become global citizens with the prevalence of social media. Why do we have to trap ourselves to only what Singapore can offer you? If our island doesn’t have it, then go elsewhere to get it.
I believe that living overseas, not escaping Singapore, works to benefit both our country and ourselves. When we live overseas, we too begin to hone survivor instincts. These are skill sets that no school can teach you. We are forced to shed the ‘the government will take care of me’ or ‘the government is cheating me’ mindset and perhaps for once open our eyes to see what’s really happening.
And then when we finally return home, bring with us some global perspective. For surely Singaporeans are in dire need of that.