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April 2014 Archives

Shutting Down or Up

There have been a number of petitions lately to shut down websites: namely to close down STOMP and another to shut down The Real Singapore.

Now I’m a fan of neither and I think the world is a better place if the type of content prevalent on these two sites were never produced. I have previously suggested that STOMP relook its function because it offers SPH a means of circumventing the need to adhere to intellectual property laws.

Asking for these sites to be shut down hardly addresses the key problems. They are merely platforms upon which content is created, and if they were removed, producers of these content would simply relocate. The counter to undesirable speech isn’t the suppression of speech, it is the proliferation of speech, particularly expressions against said undesirable values. There is a place for censorship, but it ought to be exercised very judiciously. Values considered undesirable to one may be ok to another, and force of suppression could very easily be misused.

We currently suffer a deficit of good content. We often speak of this “silent majority”, who in our minds is made up of sensible people who are able to tell right from wrong. I’m not so sure. I think we’re all a myriad of different emotions and viewpoints. We are sometimes sensible and other times irrational. What we do need very much in our society is to have some balance in our utterances. We need to be able to speak when motivated by things and thoughts that are noble and good as much as (or better yet more than) when we are angered.

We could look at this as teething problems associated with a maturing society. But it starts here. Our voices need to find a greater range of tones and colours. While it is necessary at times to tear down structures that shouldn’t be, it is even more essential to build better and more praiseworthy ones.

Speaking Out

I work in the public service and I have a fairly awesome job.

I’ve been at it in some form or other for almost ten years now. Many days during these ten years were spent focused on a vision in my head of the person I’m making a difference to: whether the father of a newborn who’s thankful that he now has one week of paternity leave to spend with his family in this very crucial time; or the student who doesn’t quite fit into the traditional academic mould, and now has a number of options because different pathways such as sports and the arts have been set up for our young ones to pursue.

My role in all of these might be extremely minor, but the knowledge that the hours I put in contributed a little towards making lives better for someone else out there is what has kept me going all these years.

I’ll be honest — recently it has grown harder and harder to hang on.

It is difficult to ignore the unkind words that are hurled at my colleagues and me on a daily basis. You need not go very far into the online space to read what people say about us public servants. We are depicted as thieves who steal money from our fellow citizens in order to enrich ourselves; or as weaklings incapable of independent thought, waiting every moment to pander to the wishes of superiors in the hope of promotion and pay. In forums you will read about how the government is heartless and blatantly ignores the plight of the poor, despite the fact so many public servants work tirelessly to take care of the disadvantaged among us.

These negative words affect us profoundly, and I’m asking that we stop this. The only way public servants can continue to serve in an environment that exposes them to constant abuse is to care less. I have seen so many wonderful people who have a heart for service leave because they no longer saw the good their work produced in the lives of citizens. It had been drowned out by hurled insults and sarcastic snide remarks. It is true that public service is a calling and requires some level of sacrifice, but the costs to personal health and well-being have become unnecessarily insurmountable.

I am not saying things are perfect in our country and nothing needs to be changed. On the contrary, we live in a world that is experiencing a tremendous rate of change in so many facets, bringing challenges at many junctures. A close partnership between the public service and the citizens it serves is our best chance at navigating the future that lies ahead and creating the Singapore we want for our loved ones.

We need to find a way to talk to each other, and discover that we have much to learn from each others’ perspectives, however different from our own. Only then can we grow together as a nation — a people equipped to comprehend the complexity of our unique position in our collective history, making decisions together that will translate into better lives for every citizen.

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