Learn from history and guard against complacency

As Singapore comes to the end of its Golden Jubilee, it is perhaps time to throw in a word of caution against becoming complacent. Success should not be taken for granted.

There is an uncanny pattern of how empires have waxed and waned.

They derived their might from inventiveness and tenacity, making themselves the trading and cultural centres of their eras.

But as soon as they reached the epoch of their glories, they spiralled downwards out of smugness and complacency. Hubris set in.

There are two reasons for the demise of these ancient civilisations, nation states and cities.

As they thrived, they became conceited and self-serving.

Who would have thought the buzz and wealth they saw before them would end? Who could dislodge them of their superior positions, especially if they had them for a long time? How could they perish amid the flourish?

Hence, they lost touch with themselves and the very values that made them successful. They became inward-looking, if not quarrelsome. Meanwhile, the world surpassed them.

Even if they knew their values, they failed to see how these values interplayed with the external forces around them. That the land-based Silk Road could be displaced by the Maritime Silk Road attests to this. Civilisations that chose to ignore the larger forces often imploded abruptly.

No man is an island. Core values are important, as they define who we are. They are great for introspection, maybe even nostalgia. But they cannot be taken out of the context in which they operate. They must be balanced against realism.

Trading posts were created out of their relevance to the system of their time, not scholarly discussions over a cuppa.

Our skylines and bright lights may set us apart as a prosperous country. But let us not let the grandeur seduce us into inertia or even to squander all that has been achieved.

In a globalised world such as now, competitive advantages that we hold can be replicated quickly. We can be sustained only by looking far into the future and charging on with a shared vision among the men and women of this land.

To secure Singapore's ascendance to SG100, we should take a leaf from the history books and be wary of what the trappings of success may bring.

Lee Teck Chuan