I cannot help but feel a sense of pride as I watched the National Day Parade on TV. It is a joyous occasion, a grand celebration of our past successes. We have come a long way from very humble beginnings. At the same time, birthdays also present an opportunity to look forward and project our aspirations for the future.
Here are my three wishes for Singapore.
1. I wish that the level of financial literacy for all Singaporeans would increase.
The bedrock of Singapore’s success lies in commerce and finance. Yet, for a global financial outpost, the financial literacy of Singaporeans leaves much to be desired.
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Let me qualify. When I say financial literacy, i do not mean the ability to comprehend the Black-Scholes model. Leave that for the geeks, the majority of us get through life unscathed without any of that.
What is essential though, are fundamental and essential stuff such as sound saving habits, proper retirement and insurance planning, and the ability to identify a money scam when we come across one. Singaporeans would also do well to understand the magic of compound interest, and how a sound investing strategy can do so much for us over time. We cannot survive, much less prosper in a capitalist society without a working knowledge of money.
The Government is coming to this realization and have started moneysense.sg many years ago as an initiative to help us understand money better. Anyone looking for a basic exposure to money matters in Singapore would do no wrong to start off from that platform.
But I would go one step further to suggest that a top down initiative can only bring us this far. As individuals we must take it upon ourselves to find out more and never stop learning. Furthermore, as financial bloggers and writers, we have our own platforms to reach the masses. We have a responsibility to expose and educate everyone within our reaches. It is only when a movement kicks in from ground up will continued success be possible.
It has never failed to amaze how as Singaporeans we very seldom or almost never talk about money (buying toto and 4d does not count, I mean serious conversations about money!) with our friends and family. It is almost as if the subject is taboo. Before the entire nation can become more financially savvy, this toxic environment has got to change.
I wish that everyone in a position to help would take it upon themselves to be change agents for that.
2. I wish for Singaporeans the space to fail.
We have come a long way since independence. On more than one occasions Lee Kuan Yew has labeled Singapore as an improbable nation, the most recent being an interview with the International Herald Tribune in 2007.
to understand Singapore, you’ve got to start off with an improbable story. It should not exist
But exist we did and not only that, this little improbable island nation has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations. To achieve that we have paid a price. The price of continued success is that we no longer know failure.
An entire generation is bought up thinking that we can do no wrong. We have been conditioned to believe that any form of failure is unacceptable, and that the sky will fall if and when we do fail.
Yet that is furthest from the truth. Failure is a good teacher. It is a character builder. And more importantly, to have never failed means we have not tried hard enough to reach far enough. To have never failed indicates that we have never ventured beyond our comfort zone or that we have never dreamt big. To have never failed means that we would never have a perspective for our successes.
My two little kids will be the ones writing the Singapore story in time to come. I wish them blazing successes in life. Yet I also hope that society and they themselves can find space for their failures.
3. I wish for more tolerance (and even celebration!) for all the differences within our ranks.
In the very first speech he made in Parliament, Opposition Member of Parliament Chen Show Mao quoted from the very man he defeated to win his seat, ex-PAP MP and Foreign Minister George Yeo. (who in turn recalled this story from his encounter with a Roman Catholic Cardinal.) (Full speech here).
The Cardinal had prepared a paper in which he wrote ‘and even though we are different because we speak different languages, we are one’. The late Pope John Paul the Second corrected him to say that the converse is true. ‘Because we are different, hence we are one’, he suggested. George Yeo spoke of how profound and beautiful he found it.
To be a human being is to be different. The whole logic and driving force of biological life is diversification. An imposed unity is a false unity; it’s a contradiction in terms. To me, that is a core position, and Singapore is an expression of that core position.
We live in an increasingly diversified society, one that has been subjected to a huge population influx in the recent years. This injection has strained our human eco system to the very max.
BigFatPurse is apolitical, and this is not the forum to discuss whether our population policies are sound or justified. I simply want to highlight the fact that people are inherently different. We all have different worldviews, upbringing, different motivations. We have different preferences, fears and aspirations. For Singapore to grow, we need space to foster and allow these differences to flourish.
I wish that every single person in this country, from the people running it to the man in the street, can be as wise as Messers Chen and Yeo in understanding this axiom. Unity cannot be imposed. Real unity must be nurtured and cultivated. Only then will we be able to move forward as a nation.
Happy 49th Birthday Singapore!