In an uncomfortable reminder that certain habits of mind do not change among some even in a special year, there is news of SG50 Lego sets given to students being traded online. Demand for these is gratifying but, of course, it's in bad taste to sell anything received as a gift, which is meant to signify a special relationship between giver and receiver and is not an ordinary transaction.
The 244-piece Lego sets are not just any gift: They are a present from the nation to the young to mark 50 years of independence. The symbolic value of the sets lies in their recalling the physical building and transformation of Singapore embodied in three emblematic structures - Cavenagh Bridge, Changi Control Tower and the Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay. The authorities are right in hoping that students will treat the gifts as a unique keepsake, something that will remind them of their own childhood and youth when they are older. Indeed, the sets could become a memento that is passed down from this generation of the young to their children. Trading in the sets defeats the entire purpose of a commemorative exercise to mark the durability of the Singapore city-state.
The larger issue is that the sales exemplify a mindset that turns sentiment into commodity, and degrades value into price. The point is not how many students have been lured by the prospects of easy money - perhaps only a small percentage has been. The point is to reiterate the normative need to treat certain objects as things invested with personal meaning.
In the final analysis, Singapore is much more than a convenient place in which to make a living, to buy and sell. It gives citizens a tangible sense of their place in time. The Lego sets are a small part of that process. Parents need to convey to their children, as convincingly as only they can, that these Lego sets are special in the history of Singapore. When it comes to the nation, value is priceless.