When it is good to 'forget' race, religion, government

Forget the Government.

Forget whether I worship a god.

Forget my race.

Sometimes, life is better if certain important things recede into the background, when that means no one is picking a fight over them, when no news means good news.

As 2015 draws to a close, I remember what I would rather have forgotten about through the year.

I like it when I forget about the Government.

The September General Election, along with the good political sparring and the bad of grandstanding and bloviating, gave us the chance to choose our leaders, gave us a punch of excitement. I enjoyed some of that, then looked forward to forgetting about the Government after the campaign posters were taken down because, as ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it: "A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aims fulfilled, they will all say, 'We did this ourselves'."

Looking back this year, I am thankful for whatever governmental business is humming in the background - work that I have selfishly forgotten about because a lot of hard-working people carry out the job of governing the nation smoothly without fanfare.

But when incidents like the hepatitis C outbreak in the Singapore General Hospital hit the headlines, I can't forget about the Government.

The crisis affected 25 patients, eight of whom died. The Independent Review Committee identified poor infection-control practices at the hospital. The infection was a "likely contributory factor to the death of seven cases".

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong apologised to the patients and family members affected by the crisis.

And then of the bad things we are likely to remember this year, surely we can recall an MRT train breakdown or two. Disruptions that affected 41,000 commuters here, 70,000 there and, on July 7, 250,000 commuters everywhere.

Then Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew apologised to commuters affected by the July evening's train disruption on the North-South and East-West lines.

Talking about public transport, I like it when I forget whether I am on a priority seat on the bus or train. But that's not likely to happen when some commuters gently or not-so-gently remind others to give up priority seats to those who seem to need it more.

Take, for example, a woman who publicly slammed a fellow commuter for "hogging" a priority seat on the MRT one October evening. She said he refused to let a woman take the seat. He said he wasn't well. People took sides. Some said they avoid the hot seat completely for fear of getting flamed.

Why don't we all forget where we are sitting and just remember to stand up for those in need, no matter what seats we are on?

I like it when I forget about whether I am religious.

This peace drifts over me when no one is making other people shut up and sit down in the name of who knows what, when no one is waving his or her secularity or god like it makes him or her superior. But this peace comes in fits and starts as terror attacks explode from Paris to Beirut to San Bernardino. In the United States, a global firestorm erupted this month over Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump's call to bar Muslims from entering the country.

I like it when I forget about the colour of my skin.

We try to be careful about racial harmony here. But if we had a penny for every time we heard a bit of casual racism and accepted it, we would be financially rich but emotionally bankrupt.

Haven't we heard people begin with, "I'm not a racist, but..." only to end the sentence blazing with abuse? They say they speak the truth, but I am not sure that being right about specific cases gives them the right to bash away at entire races.

As we head into the new year, I wouldn't hold my breath wondering if 2016 will be one in which we can leave behind the ugliness in our hearts. Not when we can't even make it to the end of 2015 without more media reports of our maids or construction workers being mistreated by employers.

This month, we were reminded of how cruel people can be when a supervisor, who dumped a dying foreign worker on a pavement after the latter had fallen from a roof, was jailed for six months. A businessman, who hit his maid on the head with a shower head, breaking her finger as she protected herself, was sentenced to eight months' jail, also this month. His wife, who also abused the maid, was jailed 12 weeks last year.

These stories and more remind us that if we forget our foreign workers are human, we forget our own humanity.

Actually, as the new year arrives, I am afraid I will indeed hold my breath... if the haze comes back.

l like it when I forget about the very air I breathe, for it means it is fresh like it is at the moment. From July to last month , the air sucked and we wheezed. "PSI Singapore" is our top trending search item on Google for the year so far.

But there is a flicker of hope when 195 countries reached a climate-change deal on Dec 12 at the talks in Paris. Singapore has singled out illegal forest and land fires as hindering the global fight against rising temperatures and extreme weather. The Republic has pledged to reduce its emissions intensity by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, and to stabilise its emissions with the aim of peaking around the same time.

So some things are supposed to change for the better in the distant future, touch wood - the ones that haven't been burned yet.

So let me forget each breath I take when it means the air is sweet.

Let me forget my race when it means we are free to be as richly Chinese, Malay, Indian and every other race as we want to be.

Let me forget if I have a god when it means we are left in peace to worship or not in the new year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 27, 2015, with the headline 'When it is good to 'forget' race, religion, govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe