Obstacles in the path towards constructive discourse

General view of the Singapore skyline.
General view of the Singapore skyline.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

In Mr Lee Teck Chuan's Forum letter (Is Singapore ready for tough conversations?, May 17), he not only asks the question of whether Singapore is ready for tough conversations but also cautions: "But are we prepared to put our harmony and peace at stake to find out?"

Singaporeans cannot ignore these questions if we wish to progress to the next level of being a civil society.

Another Forum contributor, Mr Quek Koh Choon, said people focus too much on personal rights and ignore common good, resulting in a lack of civic-mindedness among Singaporeans (Civic-mindedness won't happen if people focus only on themselves, May 17).

He is right, judging by the number of lawsuits filed in response to family squabbles and disagreements with social media opinion pieces.

Singaporeans are largely thin-skinned and sensitive, who easily get angry when their pride is wounded, resorting to retaliation in any possible way to seek redress.

We seem a long way off to becoming a mature society.

At the same time, Singaporeans have also become too self-absorbed and narcissistic, carried away by the belief that Singapore is the centre of the world's admiration for its sterling achievements over a relatively short history of nation building.

Many expect the Government to solve their problems. They lack initiative to change unless told to.

What is needed is a reality check that humans are fallible. No one is so infallible that he is right all the time.

When people can honestly and openly admit that they make mistakes, that their beliefs and convictions, though well-grounded, can be incomplete, then we will begin to see more constructive discourse.

Then, perhaps, we would begin to see less dogmatic assertions on sensitive issues relating to race, religion, and politics.

It would be bold and encouraging if community and religious leaders, along with politicians, could take the lead in coaxing along this maturing of society.

Thomas Lee Hock Seng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2019, with the headline 'Obstacles in the path towards constructive discourse'. Print Edition | Subscribe