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'Focus on heart' in next phase of nation building: Ng Chee Meng

Singapore has come to be known for its "head", but Mr Ng Chee Meng said he was moved by the swell of emotions Singaporeans displayed during the state funeral of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Singapore has come to be known for its "head", but Mr Ng Chee Meng said he was moved by the swell of emotions Singaporeans displayed during the state funeral of Mr Lee Kuan Yew.ST FILE PHOTO

Ng Chee Meng urges people to draw on inner strength of 'Singapore heartbeat' to stay united

In a speech sprinkled with feel-good anecdotes, Acting Education Minister (Schools) Ng Chee Meng yesterday spoke of the need for Singapore to have an inner strength to stay united and be a caring society. And the source of that strength is founded in what he called the Singapore heartbeat.

But in the pursuit of economic development in the past 50 years, Singapore has come to be known for its "head" because of its pragmatism.

However, last March, the former defence chief saw - and was moved by - the swell of emotions Singaporeans displayed during the state funeral of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. He was in charge of organising the funeral.

The Economist magazine, he said, had called it "an improbable patriotism".

It probably was the reason for Mr Ng's call to Singaporeans yesterday to also focus on ways to keep the heart beating strong into the next phase of nation building.

He said: "In a fast-changing world with growing diversities and forces that could pull our society apart, Singapore will need a source of inner strength to keep us united. I call this the Singapore heartbeat."

Mr Ng, who is also Senior Minister of State for Transport, spoke at length on how to unite the society and nurture deep bonds of kinship to strengthen the heartbeat, even as the country beefs up its economy and security. "The idea of the Singapore heartbeat is that all of us are indispensable and complementary parts of a living system," he said, likening Singaporeans to organs that have to work together to keep a body healthy.

He urged every Singaporean to find a place to be part of the nation's progress while the country needs to provide the opportunity for everyone to discover and develop his strength.

To that end, education plays an important role in ensuring all children get equal access to opportunities in schools, have multiple pathways to success and reach the fullest of their potential.

Social nets will also be strengthened to ensure social mobility because "the strength of our social fabric lies in the spirit of mutual support within our society".

The heart, he added, is where people hold the things they cherish. Hence, a strong heartbeat is forged by the bonds of kinship and the pride of being Singaporean.

But these are not fleeting feelings that arise from an occasion - as these will not anchor a nation.

What endures is Singaporeans showing their love and care for their fellow countrymen "on an ordinary day and in ordinary ways".

Mr Ng described how a cabby left his taxi by the road to take a wheelchair-bound passenger to the doorstep of her high-rise flat.

Such small gestures form the basic rhythm of the Singapore heartbeat, he said.

Another heartwarming story was about an initiative that involved around 80 Chong Pang residents trained to help people with dementia while patrolling their neighbourhood.

Then there were the two young men who started The Hidden Good movement, capturing secretly on camera the everyday kindness of Singaporeans - from reaching for groceries on the top shelf in the supermarket for another person to a commuter giving up a seat on the MRT train.

"Our Singapore heartbeat is about such altruistic acts but it is also much more than that," he said. "We must build the Singapore heartbeat to forge our collective core strength, our collective resilience and our social cohesion."

That, he added, is the path to an "exceptional and enduring Singapore for our children and our children's children".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2016, with the headline ''Focus on heart' in next phase of nation building'. Print Edition | Subscribe