A toast to the SG spirit, but don't get drunk on it for the GE

What a vintage this is turning out to be. 2015 is the year the Singapore spirit is being heavily persuaded into prominence.

The distillation process of said spirit has, so far, included so many SG50 red-letter days that they have coalesced into a big red dot. With the election season in full swing, and political parties roaring away at rallies, the fizz and excitement of spirit-building continue.

What can all a year or more of this intensive and extensive flag-waving and navel-gazing do for us?

Take us to a warm and lovely rediscovery of what makes us belong to this country? Turn us into die-hard patriots? Harden jingoistic positions?

I think it can leave some of us tipsy from the genuine excitement of coming into our own, and tee us up for people to whack us to exactly where they want, and give them the power that they want in this general election season.

A toast to the Singapore spirit, but be careful of getting drunk on it.

For here is a recipe that can be subverted for disaster: Take 50 local things we love and put them in an oven on high heat from media and event saturation for almost a year; add transportation breakdowns and a cost of living that people aren't happy about; take the boiling brew out of the oven, pour it into a pot over a stove, turn on the tze-char-style big flames of an election season, and then, some crafty people will be standing right there trying to stir it.

Stirring things up on the more extreme end with cries of "Go home, (insert xenophobic slur here)!" On the milder end, "Keep/ put us in power so we can solve your (insert list of problems that we have and even problems that we never knew we had)".

Beware of drinking a good thing - brewed from a growing sense of a Singapore identity and love of our country - and then spewing out things that we are not sure that we mean while high on it. Beware of people taking advantage of our heightened emotions and pushing us into making impulsive decisions.

Thankfully, Singaporeans are a fairly pragmatic, down-to-earth lot. We can sort of tell when it is just a load of wayang up on stage, and I am not talking about getai during this Hungry Ghost Festival month.

But we should flex that muscle for filtering out wayang more often. Many of us already have that skill. Anyone who has had the unfortunate pleasure of reading the comments section of online articles would have built up pretty useful skills over the years: mentally filtering out the verbal diarrhoea of trolls, and reading with intellectual detachment the comments flogging extreme views.

Use such skills more often during this election season. Coolly listen to what all sides have to say, whether it is about town council or population issues. Always remember that politicians are doing what they have to do - while making pitches for our votes, there are pressures for them to make promises that they may struggle to keep just so they can stand out from their rivals. They probably know that in the absence of enough information, in the presence of ambiguity and complex problems, voters might reach for anything that reframes the situation into an easier problem to solve.

So we are presented with polarising subjects and buttons to push - vote this way and our headaches go away, vote that way and we are asking for it.

It is not necessarily some plot to funnel us into making decisions, it could be just about taking advantage of the timing, it is just the way the world rolls. Enjoy how it rolls - the SG50 celebrations have had many warm, wonderful moments, and the election season has such a buzz about it - as long we understand that we are vulnerable to being swept up blindly in the election fever.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'A toast to the SG spirit, but don't get drunk on it for the GE'. Print Edition | Subscribe