Home > Appropriate Responses, Singapore Scene > Appropriate Responses, S’il Vous Plait

Appropriate Responses, S’il Vous Plait

By now the incident is well documented. All ofSingaporehave heard.

A PhD student from NTU asked, “Given the big influx of immigrants here in a short time, and a dilution of national identity, what can we do to create a sense of belonging and foster social cohesiveness?

Bear in mind she is doing a doctorate in Biological Studies. Instead of answering her, Mr Lee Kuan Yew decided to engage her. She was asked her age, when she would graduate, if she was married, had a boyfriend. He proceeded to lecture her about the biological clock of a woman and a woman’s child bearing years. He ended with a friendly advice not to waste time, expressing hope that she would get her PhD and a boyfriend.

My daughters, both in the university were flabbergasted. They were indignant.

“What’s the link, mum?”

I used to loath watching President Bush Jr giving press conferences. The journalist would ask one question, and he would first look a little blank, then give an answer that is totally unrelated to the question. Maybe that was his tack, to confuse. It sure worked for me, and it turned me off completely. I never knew that this is something that is beginning to happen here too, with uncomfortable regularity.

When my leaders are challenged or questioned, I expect them to comprehend and respond appropriately. Just think of the following incidences:-

  • MP Penny Low caught on national television fiddling with her phone during the singing of the National Anthem. An appropriate response is a straight apology. Instead the public who criticized her were told that if her “enthusiasm” had offended us, she is sorry. I mean..would we have faulted appropriate enthusiasm? A school child would have been sent to detention for weeks. Here was an MP who aggressively defended herself, with absolutely no public consequences from higher authority. Is this a role model we want? It could have happened to anyone, and I would have been annoyed yet amused at this faux pas. With this non-apology, which someone called a papalogy, I became outraged.
  • The curry incident. The public was appalled by the fact that a local Indian family had settled a dispute in a way deemed unreasonable – to restrict the cooking of an almost staple Indian dish to only when new migrants were not in. The response – they (ie the Chinese family and the Indian neighbour) came to the compromise themselves. We in the Mediation Centre did not force anyone into this solution. It took place seven years ago. Excuse me. The grouse was not about fault finding, nor was it about when the incident took place. It was about insensitive handling of a situation by someone who should have known better. The appropriate response should be an admission of a lapse of common sense, an opportunity to promote social cohesion wasted.
  • The on-going annoyance over the People’s Association who claims to be apolitical, yet is obvious to most that it promotesPAPcandidates and MPs. The response: the PA is to promote government policies, and hence a member of the government has to be in charge. Definition of government is not given. This response will not satisfy. What the public is complaining about is the exclusion of their elected opposition MPs from being actively involved in the PA. The PA disburses funds for many activities that benefit the local community. Yet the sugar daddy’s name on every banner is always the PAP MP/candidate in his capacity as the Advisor. The PM himself is already the supreme advisor of this association. Do we need a PAP cadre in every constituency? The PM used the example of the MOE, where the Minister of Education is in the lead, while the work team comprises civil servants. If this model is to be held true, then why can’t we have the government, led by the PM himself being in the management board, with civil servants running the show at the grassroots level? Why can’t the local MP, whether from the ruling party or not, apply to PA for funds or grounds for neutral activities that will benefit the entire community? Can we also not credit any activity or greetings to the PAP MP or cadre?
  • Then there is dear Ms Tin Pei Ling. Did any one ever hear her apologise for her missteps? She just moved right on as if we should forget her bungles. I am all for forgiving and moving forward. But to be a leader demands that you admit mistakes. To err is human… by not admitting error, many of our leaders seem to wish to portray themselves as being almost divine.

I am sure many readers can think of more incidents.

Coming back to this infamous incident involving a PhD student. I can understand that Mr Lee is very concerned about our birthrates. He has said so many times. His concern, in a general context, may not be misplaced. However his response is totally inappropriate.

I mean, my daughter said, “If any one asked me that question, I would have told the person to mind his own business”.

Indeed, relationships are personal. Relationships can be very sensitive. He would not know if she just had a break up, or if she were a lesbian. How sensitive is that question, when you know nothing about the girl apart from her course of study, relationship status and age!

If it were someone catty, and if the poor girl had not been caught off-guard, a defensive-aggressive response might well be to ask him a reciprocal question. “What about the girls in your own family, Sir? “That is really far below the belt, and not something I would ordinarily do. However, if you provoke with such embarrassing pain, the defensive attack might be as hurtful. Can you take as much as you give?

The question is a good one – given the recent Currygate. It demands an appropriate response. Lecture us, if you like about our not producing the no. of babies that you want to see! But do it LATER – after you have at least attempted to answer the question. By choosing not to answer an earnest question, and by choosing instead to lecture a biological student on the biology of the best child-bearing years is a superlative insult.

PAPseems to be losing the ability to answer appropriately. If they continue to take this route, just like the boy who cried “wolf”, they may find themselves becoming less and less heard.

When there is noise, you need to turn the right dial to tone the volume down. You do not change channels!

  1. KMT
    September 11, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    You must understand why most PAP members speaks that way, it is in their culture and the way they are brought up over the years. High and mighty never felt sometimes they do make mistakes. “Sorry” or “we made a mistake” seems to be the most difficult word and phrase in their vocabulary. What is famous is this phrase ” I STAND CORRECTED”. Sometimes you cannot differentiated whether they down to earth human beings or god. You go there to listen to his lecture and thought you could ask him a sensible question but instead he gave you a personal lecture in front of a large audience. I wonder whether he would lecture his daughter that way publicly.

  2. Blindingly Obvious
    September 11, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    1. The PAP government has been unable to solve this fertility problem for more than 30 years. And still there are 60% daft Singaporeans voting for them. More spurs needed for a wake up call.

    2. The other unspoken area is the number of abortions being carried out here in Singapore.

    There were 12,222 abortions in Singapore in 2008.
    LKY mentions 20-25K new immigrants per year as being politically acceptable.
    Can anyone do the math here?

    3. It’s pretty obvious LKY and PAP are unable or unwilling to solve Singapore’s fertility problems. Or the immigration-assimilation problem.

    Do we really need a PhD to figure this out?

    So I’m not really sorry for the poor girl.
    Hopefully she learns a valuable life lesson on where not to go for a solution.

    4. For anybody planning a child. Please check out the resources or lack of resources if your child is born special. Do this before you plan a baby.

    Also, the discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace.

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      September 12, 2011 at 12:06 am

      True that – the discrimination etc.

  3. Not a PAP fan
    September 12, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Singaporeans needs to learn how to immunise themselves against BS.

    Start by googling “Ponzi Demography”.

  4. September 12, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    The crux of the matter is EQ ! Those PAP MPs – majority from the govt or public sectors do not seem to have that EQ! They are used to their arrogant ways – not knowing how the commoners have to struggle to make a decent living! Just study and observe our very high IQ and EQ Chen SM fr WP. He doesnt talk nonsense. He is always standing back or aside for the other senior members eg Silvia Lim and Low TK. He knows he is still new and so try not to steal the limelight and score points! Recently he sat on the hard court with residents and children in a Moon Cake event. Now I say that is the type of politicians the arrogant PAP should recruit – Not retards like that Tin ! I feel sorry for the PAP. Their downfall is imminent. They will go down the path like the KMT in ROC. When KMT came back to power under the present President Mah, KMT totally changed and became very humble. Arrogant PAP should be kicked out of power to hamper the message into their head! They have not seen their coffin so they will still remain arrogant and will never shed tears – unless and until the coffin is presented to them! When so many hate the PAP, the end is near!

    • SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
      September 12, 2011 at 11:38 pm

      Absolutely right on Chen Show Mao. My family were talking about him – he’s so endearing and politically smart. His sitting on the hard court brought him close to the residents, and his photo got taken, not because of msm journalists or paid photographers – but by ordinary people. if he only did it for political reasons, that makes him brilliant – whether sincere or not. However, his absorption and encouraging smiles captured during candid moments paints the story of someone who cares and will pay attention. Brilliant. BUT – i still want to hear what he says in parliament.

  5. Sean
    September 13, 2011 at 1:03 am

    NOT being able to say sorry. that is a prerequisite to join the PAP. one word of sorry you the ass gets the boot so fast….

  6. Made in Singapore
    September 13, 2011 at 3:19 am

    did u guys notice that there’s no ST coverage on opposition members celebrating mooncake festival with the members of the public? Yet, there were a couple of coverage on the govt-one of which is TT celebrating at the Singapore Zoo!

    His choice of celebration is a cause for consternation-the location is way out for the average Singaporean not to mention all the fees involved! How could he be a unifying figure!

  7. million$ministar
    September 13, 2011 at 4:21 am

    I remember writing an email, a colleague, formerly from the civil service, screamed that we should never apologise…. can’t remember for what but pretty minor stuff…

    So it could be their training….

  8. Dennis
    September 13, 2011 at 5:58 am

    It takes a strong and humble person to admit that he is wrong. A person who has done wrong and is unable to be repentant is not a great person notwithstanding what other achievements he may have. The inability to admit that one is wrong and be repentant for it becomes a great flaw that a great leader should and will not have. This is a matter of integrity. Nobody is perfect and we all know that.

    And PM’s apology does not count. It is a vague and general apology. What exactly did he apologize for? Was he truly repentant? If so, have we seen any of the hated policies done away with? Any justification retaining any such policy only shows the lack of sincerity with the apology, as we now have begun to see.

    It looks like Aljunied was not a sufficient lesson. I and many other SIngaporeans look forward to 2016 now. It is only a matter of time for the core, though rotten, does not want to change. We have to be patient but we will live to see the day PAP loses power and start learning to be humble again.

    September 13, 2011 at 7:41 am

    I thank the writer for a very constructive article. It is so sad to note that, while the writer’s argument on the incidents highlighted makes a lot of sense, the PAP and our dear senior statesman has chosen to react otherwise. Is it really so hard to say sorry, or, as we say, do the right thing? How much longer would it take for them to realize that the Singapore public is no longer as naive as they thought?

    I will be really sorry for the ruling party if they continue to think that they can continue to lead the public by their noses, and assume that they can get away with policies and practices that benefit no one else, except their own party.

  10. SpeakSpokeWriteWrote
    September 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Apologies to comments submitted on 13th sept and approved only now – donno why it was not in my inbox til now…strange – or more likely, must have been my oversight. Sorry!

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