May PM's speech spark discussions on tough topics

I largely agree with associate opinion editor Lydia Lim's commentary ("Seeking the will to keep striving to do better"; yesterday).

The content and the tone of the National Day Rally speech this year were greatly different from those of previous years.

The previous speeches were often a yearly reflection and a platform to lay out future plans.

This year, however, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong chose to tackle challenging issues that would be considered highly sensitive and possibly taboo in previous years.

It is important to understand the context of his speech.

Britain's vote to leave the European Union and controversial tycoon Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee for the upcoming United States presidential election highlight a sense of disconnect, and even betrayal, among the people towards their respective leaders.

While this has not happened in Singapore yet, we should not take this sacred trust for granted and sweep our difficult problems under the carpet.

It is my hope that PM Lee's speech could inspire and kick-start serious discussions on sensitive topics such as race and religion, and beyond.

Acknowledging possible points of tension and addressing them are vital to ensure that our national policy of multiculturalism can continue to succeed.

Another important takeaway was PM Lee's call for Singapore society to be discontent, to constantly innovate and seek further improvements.

This is slightly different from the tone of previous speeches, which trumpeted the message for people to be content with what Singapore has achieved and to give back to society.

These messages can definitely coexist and complement each other.

The "divine discontent" that PM Lee hoped for Singaporeans will encourage us to adopt a global mindset and stay open to better ways of doing things. This will be vital for Singapore if we want to stay at the forefront of the innovation economy in the long run.

To conclude, active citizenry can be developed among Singaporeans only by their own initiative over the long run.

By directly addressing sensitive and complicated topics, PM Lee has demonstrated his hopes that more will join in these discussions that affect Singapore's future.

This will remove the possibility for groupthink and keep the people connected with the Government, rather than feeling neglected and talked down to.

This ensures that we will make informed decisions for Singapore's future.

Lionel Loi Zhi Rui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'May PM's speech spark discussions on tough topics'. Print Edition | Subscribe