Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness

Rice
Can We Please Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness?
Grace Yeoh
27 March 2018

In May 2017, I left the public service after two years of being a public servant.

It may have been a brief stint, but it was long enough for me to get comfortably acquainted with both the copious amount of red tape and the consequences of fighting it.

Besides mere inconvenience, this bureaucratic nightmare often hindered creativity and innovation. It also enabled those of higher status to wield their authority by turning down ideas from ‘lower-ranking’ staff.

This, in turn, exposed me to the pervasive fear of speaking up that exists within the public service.

Till this year, I’d thought perhaps I was overthinking the situation and that the fear I witnessed was inconsequential or perhaps even misunderstood.

Then in February this year, as part of his Budget speech, MP Louis Ng shared that he’d spoken to fellow public servants and learnt that they were generally afraid to speak up for fear of getting into trouble, thus essentially turning themselves into ‘Yes’ men. He then urged Parliament and senior management in the public service to ensure public servants do not fear speaking up against status quo.

In response, Minister Ong Ye Kung, who leads the public service innovation efforts, said that these generalisations tar the entire service with the same brush.

Despite Minister Ong reiterating that public servants can speak up without fear of getting into trouble, many netizens saw the irony in him ‘calling out’ and ‘chiding’ Mr Ng for his feedback.

Over email, I express my gratitude for Mr Ng’s courage to speak up for public servants, even if it may affect his political career.

Mr Ng shares, “My father always taught me to speak up, to question, and to always focus on solutions. When I entered politics, I said that I’m here to listen with my heart and ears and to speak up from my heart.”

He also believes the fear of speaking up is “mythical”.

“As a civil society activist for the past 17 years, I have actively spoken up and have never gotten into trouble. I became an MP! Some activists have, however, gotten into trouble, and I think this has created a culture of fear of speaking up.”

Nonetheless, he is adamant that constructive criticism is the way forward, and that speaking up should be encouraged and supported.

When I was a public servant, I created a group dedicated to memes and jokes about being a public servant on the public sector’s private Facebook Workspace. The group took off—finally there was an avenue for public servants to ‘complain’ about their jobs with humour.

While Mr Ng and Minister Ong’s views are well-intentioned, not everyone is able tap on their courage so easily, especially when they already internalise the exact opposite behaviour and convince themselves to ‘go with the flow’ for everyone’s sake.

To empathise with the public servants Mr Ng spoke with, we must first realise that humans generally experience two main types of fear.

First, there is the overt fear of specific consequences. This fear doesn’t bother disguising itself. It exists to keep one in check, because crossing the line will likely manifest in dire, tangible repercussions such as a reprimand, being passed over for a promotion, or getting into someone’s bad books.

Then there’s the constant, albeit unwitting, fear that we learn to keep at the back of our minds. In our heads, we grossly exaggerate the perceived consequences should we ‘cause trouble’, even though nothing imagined has remotely happened. Possibly the most obvious (if not the only) outcome of this strand of fear is excessive self-censorship.

But fear in itself is neither the be-all and end-all, nor does it exist in silos.

As a result of both the aforementioned variations of fear, learned helplessness starts to breed. We get used to being treated a certain way, even if we don’t like it.

Learned helplessness also stems from selfishness. We don’t want to bring unnecessary trouble to ourselves, so we resign ourselves to an unhappy situation, unaware that this selfishness also harms us in the long run.

In any case, public servants are already accustomed to taking top-down directives from senior management. Using this existing culture to enforce positive change would be making the best of a worrying situation.

This group on the public sector’s Facebook Workspace was my way of speaking up and showing that there is nothing to be afraid of. I never got into trouble. In fact, I was invited to talk about innovation in the public service as part of Public Service Week, an outcome that was equal parts absurd and hilarious.

Because of the hierarchical structure that learned helplessness needs to thrive, I get the sense that nowhere is this behaviour more prevalent in Singapore than within the public sector, an industry that ironically requires one to be selfless.

This deep-seated learned helplessness becomes clearer when I speak with several public servants. All of them request to remain anonymous, a fact that they all also coincidentally point out supports the fear of speaking up and its perceived consequences.

For a start, pulling rank seems to be a common occurrence in the public sector.

The first public servant I speak to, who only wants to be known as HC, manages her organisation’s website and content updates. She once raised her concerns with the way a project was handled by a senior staff.

She says, “Even though I had experience in the subject, he insisted he knew what he was doing. He raised his voice at me in front of everyone, and cornered me into answering whether I was going to do the work. I merely disagreed with the direction and tried to explain my reasons for disagreeing. Almost immediately, he shot back rudely and said they would get someone else to do the work instead.”

From HC’s perspective, many of her colleagues would rather “leave the decision making to those [of a higher] pay grade”, since dissent would “hamper their own plans to move up the chain”.

Similarly, Melvin, who is currently serving his scholarship bond, has experienced instances where both him and his colleagues don’t dare to oppose bad ideas raised by someone senior.

For the most part, he is satisfied with his job. Nonetheless, his contentment doesn’t blind him to the flaws of his organisation.

“There were numerous times when working-level staff, like me, thought an idea wouldn’t take off, because there was potential for bad PR, it was ambitiously out of touch with 21st century sensibilities, or it was simply obsolete. Often the ideas are raised by someone senior, such as the Executive Director or his equivalent, so no one dares to refute them at meetings. These bad ideas are minuted and taken as confirmed,” he says.

Even though this doesn’t happen all the time, when terrible ideas are executed, the departments play ‘hot-potato’ to get rid of the project later on.

The convenience of pulling rank also creates other equally harmful workplace behaviours, such as the paranoid need to cover one’s ass.

“A colleague I know would save screenshots of informal Whatsapp chats to prove that a certain idea was suggested by someone else in the organisation, so that he could dissociate himself with it in the event that it wasn’t successful. Fortunately, he never needed to use the screenshots,” says Melvin.

While this particular anecdote might be extreme, it reveals a fundamental distrust of one’s colleagues, which can be ultimately unproductive.

Unfortunately, this distrust is not unique to Melvin’s organisation.

As a true creative, I hated anything that forced me to deal with GeBiz paperwork. Luckily I was blessed with bosses who understood and supported my dark sense of humour—as long as I still completed the paperwork.

One public servant, Kevin, who is from the education industry, tells me that at a recent meeting, one of his colleagues explicitly admitted she never dares to speak up, for fear of offending senior management by saying something wrong.

This fear runs so deep that this particular colleague doesn’t trust their boss’s word, even if the boss specifically asks for honest and candid feedback in order to “co-create solutions”.

“Our boss said it was sad if our small team wasn’t able to be honest with each other. In the end, she spoke up first about her shortcomings. I could tell she was gratified when more people started speaking up after that,” he says.

Two of his other colleagues, Frank and Rachel, brought up the issue of workload, despite being afraid their thoughts would be misconstrued as “complaining” or “attacking other teams”.

On one hand, Frank could tell that voicing his opinions created a sense of openness within the room, and helped him see that he was able to trust his colleagues and boss with his feedback.

However, Rachel realised there are greater issues that her boss might not even be able to help with. For example, she laments the lack of resources and manpower as the root of the frustration with her workload, which isn’t something she knows will be solved anytime soon.

She adds, “We also fear speaking up because we know our bosses fear criticism.”

Rachel also readily admits to her own “learned helplessness”, even before I suggest the concept.

In a state of learned helplessness, many of us adopt a defeatist mentality. We don’t just convince ourselves that the ‘every man for himself’ mentality inherent in most Singaporeans is what it is; we also convince ourselves that we should embrace it. Eventually, we stop pushing back altogether.

At the same time, amending internal policies can go a long way to facilitating broader and deeper change, no matter how tiny the initial start. When public servants witness their feedback being taken seriously, there can only be less uncertainty about speaking up in the future.

Outdated HR policies may just enable the current culture, especially in comparison to more enlightened practices in the private sector. At present, because obedience is rewarded, people move up by not rocking the boat.

33-year-old Daniel says, “Sometimes, in fact, it’s counter-intuitive to work very hard. The annual opportunity for promotion means that you have to wait another year if you miss it. Hence, many opt for a slow and steady approach, instead of a revolutionary one. The latter approach in the private sector, however, can get you promoted twice a year or two years in a row.”

Daniel adds that certain HR practices, which “aren’t very transparent in the first place”, result in ambiguity about how individual performance is assessed, as well as how one’s potential is derived and evaluated. This contributes to a culture of uncertainty and fear.

Granted, it’s necessary to implore individual bosses to embrace and implement change within their own teams. Yet, to address overarching policy that affects an entire organisation would truly be living up to the effectiveness and efficiency that our public sector is recognised for.

Several times, I got into trouble with Admin and Finance for forgetting to send an approval email or two, before I’d gone ahead with my purchase. I can’t say I ever learned from my mistake. I still continued to do things without asking for permission.

That said, if the public sector doesn’t want to risk losing some of its more bold and capable employees, then radical change needs to happen soon.

At this point, I recall how Melvin, the aforementioned scholar, recounts his frustration (with the system and with himself) whenever he fails to speak up.

“It usually feels like a mixture of losing my individuality combined with a hopeless resignation to the incurable malady of a conservative bureaucracy. Due to the herd mentality of not confronting anyone or going against a boss’s opinion, doing what is most effective or most conducive for growth will almost certainly offend others.”

According to Melvin, after he was vocal against a particular policy in manpower planning, “they bore a grudge and would bring it up to senior management as a black mark against me”.

The only silver lining is that his candid opinion may have helped future colleagues, since the implemented changes had positive outcomes.

Unlike Melvin, however, former teacher Laura’s insistence on speaking up hasn’t been as successful. The 28-year-old used to work for the Ministry of Education.

“My colleagues and I were victims of two upskirt incidents, where students took videos and photos of us. Back then, my principal discouraged us from reporting it to the police and told us to give the students a chance. I don’t know whether it was shame on our part or reluctance to ‘disobey’ the principal, but the students got away with light punishment,” she says.

Laura was also bothered by the seemingly better performance bonuses and promotion for her male colleagues, as well as the injustice of covering for colleagues whenever they took MC during crunch periods or to travel overseas.

Even though she regularly brought up these issues, she was told that they would be dealt with “during appraisal” and that she should be “more understanding”. In the end, nothing got done.

Then Laura adds something that I believe most of us wish we had the guts to say: “I think the only time I felt like I was appreciated was when I threatened to leave [after my bond].”

I know Laura doesn’t say this lightly. For one, the public sector is an incredible paymaster. After living with an iron rice bowl and being able to afford certain luxuries in life, almost anything else feels like a step down.

In addition, no matter her struggles with her school’s management, she remained passionate about teaching and loved her students.

While the option to extricate herself from the situation may seem like the easy or ‘cowardly’ choice, Laura realises she did what she could, but that the public service is far too entrenched in its own culture of fear and learned helplessness. It isn’t an issue that will be solved overnight, let alone within a few years.

Like me, despite her stubbornness to enact swift and bold change, she also didn’t hold enough authority to make it happen.

And so, she did what I did when I realised my love for public service was quickly being eclipsed by a growing fear of speaking up, and an inevitable, creeping sense of learned helplessness in the face of unyielding rigidity.

She quit.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

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Stop Denying Our Public Sector’s Culture of Learned Helplessness

Lou Engle in Singapore

Rice
Lou Engle: An American Threatens a Christian-Muslim Divide in Singapore
Benjamin Lim
25 March 2018

On stage inside the Singapore Expo hall, a Christian leader from the US proudly addresses the 2000-strong crowd: “The Muslims are taking over the south of Spain. But I had a dream, where I will raise up the church all over Spain to push back a new modern Muslim movement.”

I’m at Kingdom Invasion, a mass evangelism conference that is in its sixth year running. On its website, the event is described as a platform to activate believers and churches to “take up the Lord’s mandate” to “bring the Kingdom of God into our world”. The conference also “acts as a catalyst for the prophetic destiny of the nations around Singapore”, fulfilling the prophecy of prominent American evangelist Billy Graham that Singapore would become the “Antioch of Asia” – the theme of this year’s conference.

In simple words, it means that Singapore is destined to be the base from which the words of the gospel and humanitarian aid would spread to neighbouring countries.

A ticket for the three-day conference costs $220, with the night sermons open to the public. On Tuesday night, March 13th, during the first sermon before the event officially begins the following day, it’s full house inside the hall.

Teenagers, young adults still dressed in office attire, families with young children, and the elderly have all congregated here, all eyes and ears on the American who has come to deliver a jolting message from God.

The man in the spotlight is Lou Engle, co-founder of the Christian organisation TheCall which advocates political change through prayer and fasting. Over the years, he has been embroiled in controversy after controversy for his homophobic and Islamophobic comments. He once spurred the Detroit base of his movement to pray all night long “because it’s when the Muslims sleep and all over the world right now Muslims in the night are having dreams of Jesus, we believe that God wants to invade with His love Dearborn with dreams of Jesus”.

He is also known for using his influence to galvanise the anti-abortion movement in the US.

I have come to Kingdom Invasion to investigate whether Engle’s speech would be as controversial as the ones that have cemented his reputation, and especially since he’s featured prominently on the conference’s website as a guest speaker.

The crowd at Lou Engle’s first sermon on Tues night, March 13th. (Photo from Kingdom Invasion Singapore’s Facebook page)

Sitting in the audience, I cannot believe my ears when it actually happens.

Immediately, it occurs to me, “Isn’t the mention of other faiths at a religious event sacrilegious in Singapore?” If an imam had made comments about Christianity at a Muslim conference, no doubt there would be an uproar.

Last year, an Indian imam was fined and deported to his home country for making offensive remarks about Christianity and Judaism during a Friday sermon. Yet here is Lou Engle, aggressively stoking the emotions of the audience, almost spitting as he singles out ‘Muslims’.

The context is incredibly suspicious; he seems to suggest that Islam is a threat to Christianity, and that there needs to be an urgency to curb it.

Attendees, many of them Singaporeans who have pledged themselves to be one united people regardless of religion, applaud to show their apparent affirmation for this need to counter Islam.

Engle’s contentious viewpoints do not end here. Two days later on Thursday afternoon, he urges the audience in another sermon to be united in their endeavours to end abortion, again to rousing applause.

Engle first came to Singapore as a guest speaker for last year’s conference, which has been held annually since 2012 by Cornerstone Community Church (CSCC). So surely, he has been briefed by his hosts on the strict laws pertaining to religious harmony here?

In fact, he seems fully aware of the restrictions of religious speech here, and skirts around them by recounting his experiences overseas without directly mentioning the state of affairs in Singapore.

But extremist views, sandwiched between Bible verses and interpretations, are still fundamentally extremist views, and there’s no mistaking what I hear.

He does not appear to restrain himself either, delivering his sermons in a booming, gravelly voice while rocking back and forth vigorously on stage, as though a powerful divine force has taken over him.

It’s one thing to do so at regular sermons, where such a tone of voice is often used to invoke love, compassion, and Jesus’ name. But to bring Islam into the picture is something else.

I email Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong, senior pastor of CSCC and main host of Kingdom Invasion, to clarify Engle’s comment on pushing back “a new modern Muslim movement” in Spain. Did Engle try to put down Islam at a Christian conference, in the same way he has unabashedly incited Islamophobia in the US, or had I missed something?

A spokesperson for the church replies that the American was referring to the rising ISIS propaganda that has become an increasing threat in Europe, including Spain.

Yet if this was indeed about ISIS, Engle should have said so that night in the Singapore Expo hall. If a “modern Muslim movement” represents radical Islamic fundamentalism, then Engle is either making a gross oversimplification or a targeted attack on Islam—both of which, I would argue, are equally dangerous.

Engle’s admission into Singapore also raises a curious question: how did someone so radical in his religious beliefs slip past the rigorous vetting processes of the authorities and land on our shores for a second year running?

You only need five minutes on Google to open a Pandora’s box of Engle’s tendentious exploits, including supporting a bill in Uganda authorising the imprisonment of homosexuals and the death penalty in some circumstances.

It’s not as though the authorities grant permission to anyone who wishes to speak on religious matters in Singapore. Last year three foreign Muslim preachers were banned from entering Singapore over their hardline and divisive teachings that were “unacceptable” and “contrary” to the values of Singapore’s multiracial and multi-religious society.

Two foreign Christian preachers who had applied for short-term work passes to speak here were also denied entry due to their heavily Islamophobic statements outside of Singapore.

Furthermore, such entry bans can be meted out regardless of the size of the preachers’ followings here, or whether their comments were made in relation to Singapore.

So it’s perplexing that Engle, for all his controversy, has gotten a free pass. Twice.

The Ministry of Home Affairs and police did not respond to my queries on why Engle was granted a permit to speak in Singapore, given his notorious background. They also did not clarify what the rules for speaking at religious events were.

This lack of transparency and clarity is distressing, and gives the impression that double standards are exercised in the treatment of the various religious groups, especially when the authorities have lately been clamping down hard on Islamic extremism.

The Kingdom Invasion conference attracted Christian followers from 47 nations, including predominantly Muslim nations like Bangladesh and Brunei.

Reverend Miak Siew of the Free Community Church says that strict laws may not guarantee the preservation of our multi-religious society.

“Lou Engle’s theocratic ideas are very dangerous in Singapore. You may be able to prevent someone from coming here, but ideas do not need visas, they can still spread via social media and the Internet,” he tells me.

“I think the best way to counter dangerous ideas is by encouraging critical thinking and open dialogue. Banning them only drives these ideas underground where they will fester.”

That said, Lou Engle and his audacity to say what he spoke at Kingdom Invasion represents a larger concern: the growing influence of the Christian right in Singapore’s society.

In the US, the Christian right firmly believes in a non-separation between the church and state, and advocates for the presence of religious institutions within the government and the public sphere.

While Singapore has always maintained its secularism, the voice of the conservative Christian community has been growing louder. The homophobic movement We Are Against Pinkdot and its fervent desire to block the repealing of Section 377A of the Penal Code is primarily driven by this minority segment of the population.

Last year, we also reported on how sex education in Singapore schools is still founded on conservative Christian values.

Pastor Yang, whose church has a congregation of more than 5,000, has used his position as a religious leader to propagate his views on homosexuals. Recently, he aired his support for US president Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying that it was “non-negotiable”.

With his views very much aligned with that of Lou Engle’s, it’s no wonder that the latter would be invited as a guest of CSCC for Kingdom Invasion.

And it seems the movement is gunning to wield an even stronger political influence in Singapore, emboldened by the prophecy that Singapore would become the Antioch of Asia.

More than once, conference speakers emphasised the need to “transform governments”, which seems to suggest the hope for a religious takeover of our political institutions. While this, according to the other preachers, fundamentally comprises the spread of good values and doing good for the community and society to encourage governments to follow suit, Lou Engle’s speeches are more complicated than that.

He repeatedly cites TheCall’s movements in the US to encourage Singaporeans to do the same; namely, using the power of the church and prayer to effect political change. More than once, he recalls how his prayers led to then US President George W Bush appointing Supreme Court Justices who upheld the ban on partial birth abortions in 2007.

This outright contravenes the strict laws of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony (MRH) Act which governs the separation between religion and government. In its reply to my queries, CSCC stresses that the “heart and message of the Kingdom Invasion conferences are essentially to encourage and strengthen churches and believers alike to make a positive impact on society and their communities for good”.

It adds that attendees have the “common understanding that the teachings and statements made during the conference were given within a specific and spiritual context based on sound biblical principles”, which should not be taken out of context or misconstrued.

But it did not clarify the political agenda that Lou Engle and the Kingdom Conference seem to be pushing on their congregation. This does not bode well for the integrity of religious harmony in Singapore, when religious events of such a scale like Kingdom Invasion’s are able to proliferate far-out views.

Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said in his 1987 National Day Rally speech, in the wake of worldwide escalation in religious extremism:
“Churchmen, lay preachers, priests, monks, Muslim theologians, all those who claim divine sanctions of holy insights, take off your clerical robes before you take on anything economic or political. Take it off. Come out as a citizen or join a political party and it is your right to belabour the Government. But if you use a church or a religion and your pulpit for these purposes, there will be serious repercussions.”

The need to maintain secularism is unequivocal in Mr Lee’s words. But lately, religion has seeped into the political fabric. The original decision by the Ministry of Communication and Information and the National Library Board to pulp a children’s book with supposed gay themes was in part motivated by the Christian conservatives.

More notably, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin shared a Facebook post seeking divine strength after he had been asked by the prime minister to vacate his ministerial post.

MHA’s refusal to comment on Lou Engle and Kingdom Invasion also points to the possible existence of a grey area in which religious leaders are allowed to operate.

In his essay Religion and Politics in Singapore: A Christian Perspective, Dr Roland Chia of the Trinity Theological College writes that the MRH White Paper is vague and allows for various interpretations, which does not help clarify the relationship between religion and politics.

“While the Church has no political ambitions, it is profoundly concerned with issues of justice, equality and peace. Put differently, as part of the larger political community, the Church is profoundly involved in the life of that community. The Church has always spoken out against injustices and the violations of the dignity of the human being. This prophetic act, which is a part of the Church’s witness in society, can be easily construed as politically motivated.”

While CSCC could defend Lou Engle by saying that speaking out against abortion is part of a Christian’s duty, it is his strong hardline push for the agenda, as well as the apparent targeting of the Muslim community, that crosses the line.

And this could set the precedence for a more politicised religious community in a secular country, especially when preachers like Engle are still allowed to spread their radical views here.

Says Dr Mathew Mathews of the Institute of Policy Studies, who has done extensive research on race and religion in Singapore, “Singapore’s government does tap the views of religious leaders and groups, as part of efforts to update or refine its policies. The contribution of religious groups to the development of good policy in some areas has been welcomed and doesn’t cross the line, for example when religious leaders submitted their suggestions to the recent Select Committee on Deliberative Online Falsehoods.

Religious groups also contribute to attempts to transform society to be more gracious – less materialistic and more conscious of values such as mercy, kindness, generosity and love.”

But more significantly, he adds, “It is not acceptable for religious groups to work to take over institutions and force a certain kind of agenda.”

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Lou Engle in Singapore

We Don’t Care About Thaipusam, We Just Resent White People

Rice
We Don’t Care About Thaipusam, We Just Resent White People
Rachel Lau
20 March 2018

Why is live music banned for Thaipusam but not for St Patrick’s Day?

This was the question on everyone’s mind when the police issued a ‘public entertainment license’ for last weekend’s St Patrick’s Day celebrations permitting the playing of musical instruments—a right that was denied for the Hindu celebration of Thaipusam just one month before.

Naturally, outrage and accusations of hypocrisy ensued.

The government’s excuse for this apparent “double standard” was that we are comparing apples with oranges. St Patrick’s day is a cultural procession, while Thaipusam is a religious one.

Of course, this explanation did little to temper online expressions of exasperation.

At the same time, the wrongful (or rightful) classification of St Patrick’s Day as a cultural celebration was never what this was really about. Rather, it was how the allowances made regarding St Patrick’s Day have been read as yet another instance of preferential treatment of ang mohs (white people) over locals.

The truth is, Singaporeans (apart from Hindus and Indians in general) don’t actually care about Thaipusam and the discrimination the festival and its devotees face.

Prior to this incident, Singaporeans have hardly—if ever—rallied against the supposed unfair treatment of Thaipusam despite the fact that musical restrictions on the festival have been around since 1973.

Even now, as Singaporeans express their indignance on behalf of Thaipusam, many stop short of calling for the reinstatement of the festival’s right to its musical instruments. Anger and effort is instead spent on denying the Irish a place in Singapore and denouncing the existence of leprechauns.

It’s no secret that anti-foreigner sentiment amongst Singaporeans has existed since the beginning of time, giving birth to terms like “AMDK” (ang moh dua kee or white people big shot) and ‘foreign talent’.

The Thaipusam vs. St Patrick’s Day debate is merely the latest incident supporting the belief that expats have it better than the rest of us average, non-Caucasian Singaporeans.

Unfortunately, such beliefs are not only circumstantial, but of little help regarding the plight of our fellow Singaporeans.

If we really want to make a difference and be rid of this inequality, what we need to do is resist making this issue about foreigners and focus instead on where the real problem lies: with the outdated and antiquated laws governing Thaipusam and religious processions in general.

Perhaps the 45-year-old ban on the use of musical instruments during Thaipusam was relevant during a time when fights between competing groups were common and would threaten to disrupt the procession.

But given that it’s been decades since a notable riot broke out during the Hindu festival, it’s high time the law be relooked.

I also believe that society has since matured enough to know that if racial riots don’t result from regular (usually Taoist or Buddhist) funeral processions and festival marches like the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, the same can be expected for Thaipusam.

One argument that Singaporeans often put forth is that most processions happen during the day and not overnight unlike Thaipusam. As such, the ban on musical instruments is necessary so as to not disturb Singaporeans.

But as one commenter on Facebook aptly put it, “When fellow Indians can tolerate a month of smoke and burnt ashes that float into our household and loud music from Getai performances, ain’t the Indians tolerating this for Singaporeans.”

This, I would argue, is the issue. Not the fact that we, as another eloquent commenter put it, “Are always opening our legs for ang mohs.”

We Don’t Care About Thaipusam, We Just Resent White People

Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?

I on Singapore
Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?
IonSG
13 October 2017

In a letter to the Straits Times, “Don’t undermine families when championing issues” (7 October 2017), Mr Christopher Goh “as a husband and a father”, expressed his concerns at the joint report on gender discrimination submitted by various non-governmental organisations to the United Nations.

Among other things, he wrote:

Similarly, the call to remove all “legal and policy” distinctions between single/unmarried parents and the traditional family nucleus unwisely legitimises broken marriages and relationships, and will impose tremendous costs on the state and society.

Such a move is the start of a slippery slope that will invariably lead to more broken families.

This drew a response from Ms Tomoe Suzuki in her letter, “Non-traditional families are different, not ‘broken'” (13 October 2017):

While Mr Christopher Goh Chun Kiat’s dedication to family is admirable, as the daughter of a single mother, I found his description of other families as “broken” deeply problematic (Don’t undermine families when championing issues; Oct 7).

That label assumes that something has failed with that family simply because of how it is structured, based on parental marital status and number of parents.

However, a family is a family when there is love. Families that fall outside the “normal” structure are not broken; they are merely different.

Contrary to Mr Goh’s assertion, I would argue that it is the presence of the legal and policy distinctions between single/unmarried parents and the traditional family nucleus that imposes tremendous costs on the state and society.

The married family unit with children is granted various forms of assistance by the state, especially access to housing. Single parents, however, have many obstacles to surmount in order to have housing.

For instance, the income cap for rental housing is $1,500. This is a catch-22 situation for single parents, as they cannot increase their earnings to better support their families, for fear of losing their housing.

Discriminatory legislation and policies serve to compound existing inequalities in Singapore, and low-income single/unmarried parents and their children are hit the hardest.

My mother and I were fortunate enough to be able to move in with my grandparents after my mother divorced.

But not everyone has this kind of privilege in terms of familial resources and support.

If we wish not to undermine families, then let us support them instead of invalidating them.

While the legal and policy issues are certainly important and have wide-reaching implications (which I have addressed in other posts), this post will focus only on a narrow question, namely: Are “non-traditional families” “broken”?

Two Views of “Family”

As explained in “The Family on Trial: Two views of “family””, at the heart of the debate lies two very different views of “family”.

The classical view affirms the intrinsic link between marriage and family. Marriage is regarded as a comprehensive, exclusive and permanent union, based on the sexual complementary of man and woman, which is intrinsically ordered to produce new life. This comprehensive union of husband and wife, together with their offspring, form a family. This is sometimes referred to as the natural family unit, such as under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is an inherent biological connection in the natural family unit under the classical view.

The revisionist view, on the other hand, regards the family as rooted in commitment between people. Sometimes, the word “love” is used. Therefore, this does not only include the “traditional” family structure of father, mother and child(ren), but includes those led by grandparents, single parents, and same-sex couples. Flesh-and-blood ties may or may not exist under the revisionist view. If they do, they are not necessarily relevant either.

There are good reasons to support and affirm the classical view of the family. Most fundamentally, this is the model which best protects the rights of children. Every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her father and mother, as far as possible.

As the Singapore Court of Appeal opined in CX v CY (minor:custody and access) [2005] 3 SLR(R) 690 at [26], “There can be no doubt that the welfare of a child is best secured by letting him enjoy the love, care and support of both parents.”

Are “Non-traditional Families” “Broken”?

What about “non-traditional families”, such as single mother households?

There can certainly be no doubt about the beauty of the natural bond between a mother and her child. In the case of Soon Peck Wah v Woon Che Chye [1997] 3 SLR(R) 430, the Singapore Court of Appeal had this to say about motherhood:

45 … The bond between the natural mother and her child is one of the most unexplainable wonders of human nature. It should never be taken for granted or slighted. We have all heard of the story of the mother who fought a tiger with her bare hands to save her child from the ferocious beast. Such is the love and sacrifice of the maternal instinct. Since the beginning of civilisation to this age of consumer materialism, the mother’s love for her child remains just as strong and unchanging. This court would be doing a disservice to justice and humanity if it turned a blind eye to the most fundamental bond of mankind – between a mother and her child, by taking the child away from the mother…

By equal measure, the natural bond between a father and child is a great marvel of nature and should also be affirmed and respected.

It is important to bear in mind that single or unwed mothers do not land in their position overnight.

A woman may find herself in such a position in one of three ways:

1. Out-of-wedlock childbearing;
2. Divorce; or
3. Death of a husband (i.e. being widowed).

In each of these cases, there can be no doubt that there has been a loss to the child, since a fundamental bond has been broken in the child’s life: the natural bond with the child’s father. In many ways, the mother of the child has also suffered loss in each of these circumstances.

I certainly salute Ms Suzuki’s mother and grandparents for their sacrifices, and appreciate Ms Suzuki speaking in honour of them. While it is not my place to speculate as to the reasons for her parents’ divorce, there can be no doubt (and certainly is affirmed in her letter) that great hardship is vested on a mother and child when the husband and father leaves the family.

Conclusion

So, are “non-traditional families” “broken”?

Yes.

When a child is separated from his or her father or mother, despite the natural bond that the child has with the two very people whose genetic material he or she inherits, there is a loss to the child in the breaking of those very fundamental bonds.

Likewise, whether a person becomes a single parent through out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce or death of a spouse, a deep and personal bond is broken.

Of course, this is not to demean those in single parent households. Instead, just as we treat wounds with special care, tenderness and compassion, by recognising brokenness, society can learn to restore those wounds and begin to make things right.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

Are “Non-Traditional Families” Broken?

No Free Trade Without Freedom

The Huffington Post
Without Freedom, There Is No Free Trade
Chee Soon Juan
13 November 2014

Trade agreements are often promoted as a means to keep prices down and employment up. The matter, as one might expect, is not so straightforward especially when political freedom is not part of the equation. 

The Singapore experience with free trade agreements is, perhaps, instructive. For years, human rights in the city-state have been dirty words, it was taboo to speak of them. 

This has not, however, stopped Western leaders, both in the economic and political spheres, from continuing to disregard the lack of democracy and the abuse of human rights in Singapore in favor of trade and commerce. 

In 2003, Singapore signed a trade pact with the US. At that time, the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA) was touted as a job creator and that the world needed more, not less, free trade. The US Ambassador to Singapore at that time said that as many as 50,000 jobs would be created in Singapore by the trade pact.

I wasn’t so sanguine. Without clauses to guarantee human rights and rights of Singapore’s workers, the agreement would just help the business elite in the US and Singapore to exploit cheap labour. And I said so when I visited the US then. Of course, given the might of the corporate interests, I couldn’t get in a word edgewise.

That was in 2003. Ten years have since passed and the results are in:

According to the International Labor Organization, Singaporean workers have worked more hours than in most countries, and, perhaps unsurprisingly it has resulted in the workforce being the unhappiest in the world.

  • Income inequality in Singapore is higher than that in the US. While the city-state has the highest proportion of millionaires in the world, nearly 5 percent of its workforce have an annual income of less than US$5,000.
  • Despite the Economist Intelligence Unit ranking Singapore as the most expensive city in the world, there is no minimum wage law in the country.
  • It’s not just the lower-income workers who are getting pounded. A recent study showed that almost 50 percent of Singaporeans subsist from paycheck to paycheck.
  • We have a pension savings system that is broken. An entire generation of workers is in danger of not having sufficient income to retire on. 
  • As for the younger generation, there is significant underemployment and limited opportunities for graduates. 
  • The rich in Singapore, in contrast, have never had it so good. The island, out of 23 economies, ranks 5th on the Crony-Capitalism Index compiled by The Economist.

It is clear that the benefits of the USSFTA have not accrued equitably. One reason for such a skewed outcome, at least for Singaporeans, is, as I’ve mentioned at the outset, the lack of democratic rights of the people. 

The labour movement is under firm state guidance (the umbrella National Trade Unions Congress is headed by a cabinet minister), the print and broadcast media are owned by the government (Singapore ranks 150th out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom index — even Myanmar is higher at 145th), the ranks of the political opposition and civil society have been decimated through decades of state harassment, and fundamental freedoms of speech, assembly and association are severely proscribed.

More free trade in the pipeline

The European Union (EU) is about to sign its own FTA with Singapore. The proposed agreement makes extensive provisions for the protection of the rights of businesses, but almost nothing in it speaks of the protection of the rights of workers.

The US has also embarked on the expansive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which seeks to, among other things, “support the creation and retention of jobs.”

I understand the importance of trade. Without it, modern world comes to a standstill. I also understand that in an imperfect world, no one expects perfect equality. 

However, extremes in income inequality does not conduce to society’s well-being. Without freedom there can be no free trade; without democracy there can be no workers rights’ and without workers’ rights, FTAs are only tools for exploitation. 

If we are going to ensure that trade remains sustainable, then we must strive to make trade pacts beneficial for all — from the lowliest worker to the mightiest CEO. For this to happen, free trade agreements cannot continue to ignore human rights.

Read the comments to the full article on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chee-soon-juan/without-freedom-there-is-_b_6149966.html

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #CheeSoonJuan

No Free Trade Without Freedom

Countless Rape & Death Threats

Her World
Nicole Seah: ‘I got countless rape and death threats’
9 June 2014

In Her World’s May issue opposition party member Nicole Seah spoke to writer Ankita Varma about her year of self-doubt, physical exhaustion and death threats.

Nicole Seah story from her world magazine may 2014

“A friend once told me that your 20s are like walking in the wilderness. You have enough idealism for ambition but not enough experience to know right from wrong. That statement couldn’t be more true of the last four years of my life. My walk in the wilderness is more poignant only because, for years, everyone around me assumed I had my life all figured out.

Perhaps it’s because I got into politics at 24. You would assume I have stellar academic records and a successful career, right? In fact, I have none of these things. I was a mediocre B-average student throughout my school years. When I graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS), I got a job at a public relations consultancy only after a six-month internship, during which I bought office supplies and made coffee runs.

Most surprisingly, I was apathetic about local politics until I enrolled at NUS. Politics wasn’t actively discussed in my household. I only knew that my parents had always supported the opposition. My mother had been against the government’s Graduate Mother Scheme in the 1980s, having raised three well-educated children despite being a non-graduate herself. (Editor’s note: This scheme provided financial benefits for mothers who were university graduates and school enrolment privileges for their children.)

The seeds of my political awakening were planted when I edited an independent online newspaper in NUS called The Campus Observer. I wrote about controversial topics like student complaints about private dormitory housing and the xenophobia foreign students faced. I was struck by how students remained apathetic to such issues and did not rally for change. It sparked a new consciousness in me. Shortly after graduating, I joined the Reform Party, where I stayed for two years before leaving to join the National Solidarity Party (NSP).

“You look like a mei-mei”

I worked largely behind the scenes at the NSP. Having studied communications at NUS, I advised the party on how to deal with the media. But when the party heads offered me the opportunity to run in the 2011 general elections, I gave it serious thought. My family was concerned about how it would impact my life and career. Still, I decided to go for it.

Somehow, the idea of campaigning in Marine Parade – a constituency that hadn’t been contested since 1992 – appealed to me. The nine days of campaigning were a firestorm. We didn’t have the time or resources to prep or train. The days before the election were a mad dash to raise money, print flyers and get campaign materials ready.

I was forced to go from a wallflower to addressing hundreds of thousands at political rallies. I remember rewriting the speech of my inaugural address over and over again, and practising to make sure it was clear and impactful. I felt intense pressure to keep my guard up. One slip could cost me my reputation or lead others to brush me off as naive and inexperienced. I didn’t want my youth to be thought of as a handicap.

But I was affected when people left nasty comments on my Facebook page attacking my age (“She looks like a mei-mei!”), appearance (“Her forehead looks like a horse’s!”) and intellect (“She’s probably a bimbo”). Having strangers bash you is something you never get used to. Friends and family encouraged me, but I became a harsher critic of myself in a bid to prove the naysayers wrong.

“I saw my future in five-year blocks”

2011 was a watershed year for Singapore politics. Many Gen-Yers were voting for the first time and there was a presidential election the same year. I was fired up to see people interested in politics. But I also knew how much more had to be done. Campaigning had exposed me to those who were falling through the cracks in society and this made me determined to run again for the 2016 elections.

Politics is all about staying relevant, so I jumped at every opportunity given to me post-election. I spoke at events, sat on panels, went on walkabouts and discussed policy at the grassroots level. I clocked 16-hour days on average. Days were spent at my advertising job. Evenings I filled with talks, forums or walkabouts. Afterwards, I’d head back to the office to finish up work.

By 2012, I was pulling all-nighters, sometimes working until 6am. I had a never-ending to-do list. Even cab rides were spent furiously thinking up talking points or planning speeches. If I had time for lunch, it would be a 10-minute affair at my desk.

Harder still was the emotional toll. I had relatively no policymaking experience and felt out of my depth. I remember being invited to a panel session where I spoke alongside another opposition party member, a minister and an academic – all much older than I was, and more experienced. I forced myself to appear confident, but I thought I sounded superficial compared to the other panelists. I felt like a fraud.

I was so bent on proving myself that I allowed no room for mistakes. I guilt-tripped myself into working all the time. More than anything, I felt so alone. I found out that people whom I had thought were friends were gossiping about me. I didn’t know who to talk to. It came to a point when I could only see my future in five-year blocks. My only thought was: Am I doing enough to stay relevant for the next election?

“I was stalked”

And then there were the death and rape threats. They started right after the elections – every Facebook post I made was followed by vicious emails, with comments ranging from the mean (“Were you drunk when you wrote that?! You’ve just lost my vote”) to the frightening (“Are you still alive?”).

Even my personal Twitter account wasn’t spared. I lost track of the number of threats I received daily. Netizens posted my office address and contact details, along with the time I usually got off work. I was paranoid when I left the office, knowing that someone could be watching me.

The worst incident was a call the office receptionist unknowingly put through to me. I picked it up and heard breathing followed by two minutes of maniacal laughter. I should’ve hung up but I was so shocked; my arms were covered in goosebumps.

Early last year, I began noticing that a piece of pink tinsel would be tied to my gate every day. I also received illegible notes, left at my door. When I left my house in the mornings, I would see a woman in her early 30s lurking around my estate, often staring at me from behind a pillar. But I couldn’t confront her without evidence. The “gifts” at my door continued for weeks until she finally wrote her name and address in one of her notes. I went straight to the police. I still periodically receive tinsel now, but much less frequently than before.

I didn’t share all this with my family as I didn’t want them to panic. I bottled it up and maintained a brave front. But soon, it would blow up.

“My body shut down”

The day I got my first anxiety attack started innocently enough. I was at work when my family SMS-ed to say my grandmother had been diagnosed with third stage stomach cancer. Something inside me snapped – my hands shook and I had trouble breathing. I got up to walk out for fresh air but ended up blacking out for a few minutes in the hallway. When I came to, I shrugged it off as a one-off thing.

A few weeks later, I contracted dengue. I spent nearly a month in and out of the hospital for IV drips and blood tests. Even after I recovered, I felt sickly and fatigued. After a month and a half of deteriorating health, I had to quit my job.

Two months later, in April last year, a friend introduced me to an entrepreneur who worked with technology companies in India. He offered me a position where I’d help acquire business for the company. I accepted his offer as it came at a time I was desperate for a clean slate.

But I would soon realise that the job wasn’t for me. There was a cultural mismatch with the way companies over there do business. My forward personality was not taken too well either, in fact male clients often ignored me when I was speaking. In September – four months into the job – I was asked to leave.

By this time, my health and emotions had taken a real beating. Friends and family began commenting worriedly about my appearance, which had been whittled to skin and bones. On Oct 1, a family friend checked me into a hospital, where I stayed for 18 days, cut off from the world. I turned off my phone. I spent my time sleeping and reading, and saw only close friends and family.

After I was discharged, I kept my phone off for three weeks and stayed off social media. I never sought professional help, relying on my family and friends for encouragement. Only their opinions mattered – everything else was just noise. Perhaps the meltdown was for the best – for the first time in two years, I was forced to take a break.

“Starting from ground zero”

I know now that much of the pressure that resulted in my breakdown was self-imposed. I didn’t let myself enjoy the opportunities I was given, choosing instead to doubt myself. The drive to prove myself was the most destructive. I’ve realised that the public scrutiny will never go away. After I shared my story on Facebook, a picture I uploaded of my then-partner sparked speculation that I was dating a married man.

Instead of supporting me through the ordeal, he left me to deal with the aftermath alone. Concerned about his reputation, he distanced himself from me. Though I would have struggled silently in the past, this time I refused. I ended the eight-month relationship, and I’m now single and happier than before.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from 2013 is to be kinder to myself. I spent two years telling myself I wasn’t good enough. Now, I know it’s okay to fail. You know what’s great about starting from ground zero? There’s nowhere to go but up. I’m excited about 2014, including my move to Thailand for my new job at an advertising agency.

Will I stand for election in 2016?

Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll still be very involved in the NSP during the elections and my goal will always be to serve Singapore – but whether I do that as a politician remains to be seen.”

Taken from http://www.herworldplus.com/lifestyle/women-now/nicole-seah-‘i-got-countless-rape-and-death-threats’

#Sg #Singapore #GE2011 #NicoleSeah

Countless Rape & Death Threats