There's a time for pragmatism and for idealism

Professor Kishore Mahbubani commented that young people in Singapore lack idealism, and suggested that the strong prevailing culture of pragmatism here has led to the diminishing presence of ideals among the young of today ("In search of Singaporean idealism"; Feb 20).

It is important for us to take a step back to understand what we mean by idealism, and to look at the context in which idealism should and should not exist.

The pursuit of idealism refers to an attitude in which we place a high regard for a sense of morality and self-actualisation when deciding what actually needs to be done.

This suggests a need for action and the hope for making an impact.

By this definition, the seeking of idealism in the young of today is not a matter of creating challenges for them, but building pathways for dreams.

Like Prof Mahbubani, I had the opportunity to represent Singapore and have travelled to various countries to witness how young people around the world are advocating change.

I saw young Singaporeans making waves on the international stage, challenging conventions and following ideals.

However, everything was different when they came back to Singapore. They were told that they were "back in reality".

What we need to do as a society is nurture such budding innovators, and allow them to have the avenue to continue pursuing dreams.

Yet, it is equally important for us to recognise that the pursuit of idealism involves a certain degree of risk.

Individuals would have to make seemingly impractical choices and take a chance that the outcome may not necessarily turn out well.

Thus, we should deliberate when we should encourage the pursuit of idealism, and when we must shy away from it.

For example, in matters related to the country's home affairs, are we ready to face the risk that comes from pursuing idealism?

To be idealistic about our national safety and take chances in areas related to security put actual lives of citizens at risk, and give rise to social tension and unrest.

Such matters should never be compromised for the sake of pursuing dreams and aspirations.

All in all, rather than saying that our young lack idealism, I would say that society needs to start accepting idealism in young people and, under possible scenarios, recognise these "unwise, impractical and idealistic" dreams as unpolished gems, ready to change the world if given the chance.

Goh Jia Hao