Developing our national identity and values


Yesterday, Ang Peng Hwa the Director of the Singapore Internet Research Centre at NTU, and president of the Singapore chapter of the Internet Society wrote in the Straits Times (5 Oct 2012, pg A32) about learning from Bhutan in how Singapore can go about developing its own identity. He stated that Bhutan’s concept of GNH is not about replacing GDP and is not just about happiness. It is something designed to distinguish Bhutan from their neighhours and from the rest of the world.

I had spoken about Bhutan’s GNH in my maiden parliament speech as well (see link). The GNH concept is to also ensure their culture and environment are preserved for the benefit of future generations. It is as much about leaving a future for the next generation as it is about current economic growth. It is centred on collective happiness as a society, rather than individual happiness. Hence, preserving its culture, ensuring sustainable development and having good governance are as important as measuring economic development.

Many Bhutanese may have also gone out to the world to study and work. However, ask any Bhutanese where he/she would like to spend his/her last days, and it will be in Bhutan. Their identity has remained strong over the years. Singapore has been building a global city, but it is weak on building a nation with its own identity and culture. As our people study, live and work overseas in an increasingly globalised world, how can we root them back to Singapore? How do we build an identity with the constant influx of new migrants into our society? What do we want to leave behind for our children’s generation? Let’s hope we address this as we talk about what we want Singapore to be 20 years from now.

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10 comments on “Developing our national identity and values

  1. You need to go and ask the farmer. But at a time when we are all supposed to be having a national conversation. And this man is just writing his love stories like there is no tomorrow. I think that more or less sums up what he thinks about this whole idea of a rooting a national identity along with other things mentioned here.

  2. JJ, you’ve mentioned something that was on my mind last night. My nephew’s daughter was selected to be photographed and included in the trailer for CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting) in Perth last year. When interviewed, my nephew’s wife, Joyce, mentioned “Our family misses the local food back in Singapore…. We love our lifestyle living here in Perth, though – it really allows us to enjoy time together as a family.” I am happy for the quality of life that my grandnephew and my grandniece enjoy, spending their childhood in a laid-back society, in contact with space and with nature, not having to rush from one enrichment programme to another.

  3. Have written a letter to ST Forum on SG Converation puiblished today. But today’s Business Times has also an interesting report on a survey on emigration. 56% of Singaporean responded with a desire to leave Singapore to spend their last days in another country vs what you wrote about the Bhutanese. So much for our ‘dollars and cents’ progress. Append herewith my email just despatched to ST Forum an hour ago.

    “Dear Forum Editor,
    Thank you for publishing our letter on SG Conversation. As though to emphasize the point on ‘Identity and Values’ I read Mr. Mark Ho Sum Chai’s ‘Future Shock: 3 choices, pick 1’ today. He was commenting on Mr. Mark Yuen Teen’s letter ‘F1 reveals ethical dissonnance’. Mr. Ho shared Mr. Mark’s sentiment of desiring ‘to see beyond dollars and cents’ ‘however’ he thinks we only have 3 choices : to progress, stagnate or regress. He concluded actually there is only 1 realistic choice — to progress. I certainly concede that life means growth and to stagnate or regress is not a life choice. However, this is where having the right value system is vital to the kind of growth one nurtures. You see, to progress in the wrong direction only means you go further down misguided. Being in the first batch of graduates commissioned as SAF officers from SAFTI, we learn in topography that once we get our compass bearing deviated, the further we go, the further away from the endpoint we become. That is why our value system must be agreed on as to what kind of Singapore society do we want in 20 years from now. Mr. Ho seem to take for granted that economic progress must be the goal when SG Conversation should be focused on socio-economic issues. To slant completely to dollars and cents will take us down to the path of materialistic well-being and not nationalistic well-being. Today’s Business Times published a revealing survey that 56% of survey respondents have a wish to emigrate because mainly on economic factors. REVERSE Co-operative in helping the seniors cohort proposes that we can progress economically while not sacrificing the ‘do good’ aspect of real advanced civilisation. We urge a Change/Reverse/Paradigm-Shift in mentality from ‘using people to acquire things’ to ‘using things to help people’. We the VER (Valuable Experience Retirees) have learnt more about life and what really matter and therefore can contribute to practical ways of how to see beyond dollars and cents. Life is a complex and interesting undertaking that it is not a ‘no-choice’ exercise. That is why we feel SG Conversation will do well to have more input from seniors.

    Thank you and best regards,
    Geoffrey Kung
    Secretary, REVERSE Co–operative Ltd
    Re-Enage Valuable Experienced Retirees to Serve Elders
    REVERSE thinking (from old to young); lifestyle (from senile to active) and values (from things to people)

  4. I am currently doing a PhD overseas and is in two minds over whether to return. From a practical viewpoint, SG economy is not set up for doctoral holders. And no matter how high the reputation of the university is, I will always have trouble having appropriate employment. But on the other hand, I miss my parents and family and wants to with them. The sad truth is that if my parents pass away before I finish my studies, then there’s basically no chance of me coming back.

    Would Singapore miss me? From the way we are treating human beings as commodities, I think not.

    • I received my doctorate from a British university some years ago. From my encounters with Singapore’s employers, if one has a PhD from an American Ivy League university in the right discipline(s), employment opportunities are abundant in Singapore. But if the PhD qualifications are awarded by lesser-known universities, then it will depend on his or her work experience (e.g. track record in industry, research expertise etc) of the PhD holder and the job requirements.

  5. With more than half of Singaporeans expressing a desire to migrate in a recent Mindshare survey, it is really time for our government to look deep into how to make this a country where the people would want to spend their final years. And we should have a GNH index incorporated into the govt’s KPI so that they get their priorities right. That the People matters more than the economy.

  6. My own data amongst teens indicate a high propensity for young Singaporeans to think about migration, but very few indicated they will actually give up citizenship. I distinguish desire for international mobility from citizenship issues for the young people and to me, it looks a little more encouraging. The issue at hand probably is how we can keep their hearts with this nation I guess.

  7. What identity is left for us? We have sold everything away.We took the English language in the name of pragmatism, We cut our links with the very people we came from all for economic gains. And we are taught to be proud for being a prostitute.

    Yet we have to ask ourselves, are we being conned into believing those reasons.

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