There is always something that I can learn from world leaders. And the recent interview of LHL by BBC hardtalk presenter Stephen Sackur is one of such moments of learning.
Make no mistake, Stephen was deployed as an agent provocateur in the interview. That is his job. His insignia. His imprimatur. He wears that badge of honor with pride.
But LHL rose to the occasion rather admirably with some quick comeback worth one or two reflection.
In essence, he played the role of a paternalistic tribal sage rather well, one who knows the heartbeat and culture of Singapore intimately. It is like a sort of "we know what's best for Singapore" stance, but with a touch of modesty to it of course.
At one point, he was asked about Section 377A, the raw torn in the legislation's side, and he said that "this is a society which is not that liberal...Attitudes have changed, but I believe if you have a referendum on the issue today, 377A would stand."
Lesson? Three. And I take my cue from LHL's quotes. But there will be a slight twist here. Like shadow to light, my reflection on his quotes is a form of shadow-thought where I try to discern its objective undertone or undercurrents.
1) LHL: "I would not say it is one-party rule. The Government has only belonged to one party but there are many parties in Singapore. The elections are fiercely contested."
Shadow-thought: "Well, you get the feeling that his "many parties" expressly excludes Sentosa's foam party during the New Year celebration.
But levity aside, Singapore started off as a cauldron of diverse ideological parties fiercely competing for control with one party emerging to take the helm with an iron grip.
So, our beginning years were definitely a rule of one. I call it the Lord of the Ring-side seat - that's the best view.
But to give credit where credit is due, yes, our one-party-majority government became less authoritarian and more consultative, open and collaborative over the decades.
We listen more, invite ideas, build a groundswell of consensus, integrate diversity, and encourage sensible dissent. It is a tweaking and tinkering process, and it is far from the ideal...as yet. Hopefully, the best is yet to be.
2) LHL: "If Singapore were such a miserable place, you would not be interviewing me. You would be going down the streets and getting "vox pops" (interviews with members of the public), and all sorts of people would be saying terrible things about the Government and some of them would have emigrated.
But the fact is, Singaporeans are happy, they have chosen this Government, we are governing the country and the people to the best of our ability. Millions more would like to come if we allowed it."
Shadow-thought: "Actually, Einstein was right...it's relative. In certain quarters of Singapore, you can still hear people "saying terrible things about the Government" and some have emigrated because of it.
And about that happy part, I am hard-pressed to put a happy spin on it. Maybe, LHL should have used the description "generally satisfied" notwithstanding the price hike, the train breakdown, the high cost of living, the perceived FT treatment disparity, and the economic sluggishness.
But one truth here is anti-relative (meaning there is a general consensus), and it is in this statement - "we are governing the country and the people to the best of our ability."
Alas, we have come a long way, 50 years and still celebratively counting. Truth be said about us, and it is this: You can always find pock-marks in a face, but stand farther a bit, and the face comes to better view with security, hard-fought peace, multiracial harmony, economic prosperity and efficient civil service as her symmetrical features.
So, the vox pops on the street is that most would not say terrible things about the govt. But they are not a happy lot either (unless happy means foam party kind of happy).
At best, from the general undercurrent of sentiments, we are a hardworking lot, united by a common multiracial creed, and moving forward towards a shared down-to-earth goal, that is, ensuring that our next generation will lead better, more fulfilled, lives; whose yardstick is beyond the economic.
3) LHL: "The world is a diverse place. Nobody has a monopoly of virtue or wisdom. Unless we can accept that, and we prosper together and cooperate together, accepting our differences - differences in values, differences in outlook, differences even in what we see the goals of life to be - it becomes difficult."
Shadow-thought: "This quote makes the most sense to me. The shadow and light merge with this quote (truth in right angle). Here, I recall this Harvard's mantra: "Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae" - that is, ‘Truth for Christ and the Church."
For government, our government, the truth takes Christ's lead. It is about others first, the acceptance of differences, diversity's flourish, and the hope of growth and cooperation despite our language, race and religion.
If you read the history of great empires and their eventual collapse, the root cause of their rise and fall is for the same reason - how successful they are in encouraging, managing and harnessing diversity in peoples, ideas and cultures. The successful ones thrive and the paranoid ones fail miserably. Unavoidably so, and this truth is universal, united we stand and divided we fall.
Let's hope LHL put this mantra to prudent use - "Veritas Imperium et Orbis" - that is, Truth for government and the world. Cheerz.