When it comes to politics, DPM Tharman is a force to reckon. He recently gave a talk and had a dialogue with students in the very first Q&A session at NTU's Majulah lectures.
His nuanced and consummate skill as a politician is that he doesn't speak at the people, or speak pass them. But, on the contrary, he speaks to them, with them and for them.
Tharman confronts tough questions not with a jig and a roll, avoiding most of its relevant probe, but he says it as it is, or drops it while its hot.
If anything, Tharman practises politics with a touch of humanity or with heart, and he did all that while still managing to defend the establishment (or Govt) with a deft touch, or a soft back-paddle.
In other words, at one end, he doesn't patronise the people, neither condescend, and at the other end, he humanizes the Govt, shedding off that we-know-best uppity attitude.
When asked whether PAP played "gutter politics" during the Bukit Batok by-election, when Murali won after David Ong stood down for personal reason, he "dropped it as it is" and said that "he does not agree with every tactic by every one of (his) colleagues" but he insisted that character still defines the Party.
He said: "So, just bear that in mind, that's one of the colours of the PAP - that emphasis on character."
I guess that is why David Ong and Michael Palmer had to step down graciously.
Critics may call it playing to both sides, and thereby neutralizing the two at best, or at worst, coming off as hypocritical, double minded.
But, alas, we can always find fault in everything a leader does, yet the one thing I believe we have to give it to Tharman is his sincerity. He is one apple that falls a little farther away from the establishment tree as compared to the other leaders.
And on that character part, I believe that he is right - at least based on what is apparent to us as Singaporeans.
Thus far, our leaders are trying their best to keep the nation together. Needless to say, they are far from perfect. Tharman readily admits that they have fallen short of the bar they had set for themselves.
One most glaring example for me is not so much the recent Lee siblings' feud, which was clearly a regression on the character part or the fallen short part.
However, what keeps me thinking is what the Lee siblings said about their brother, the commander-in-chief.
They said that there is so much bad blood that their brother invited all relatives to the CNY reunion dinner except them, and I presume, their families too were excluded.
For a Chinese, this is a big deal since one of the shared values of our nation is the family unit. The stability of the country thus depends very much on the stability of the family.
If this is true, and bearing in mind that we are only hearing one side, the personal feud only demonstrates how fallible our leaders can be.
They themselves are struggling to make ends meet and to hold the nation together. They have a lot on their plate so to speak.
And Tharman brings that human side of leadership to the fore, not as an excuse, but as a bridge to deeper understanding and empathy.
In the end, no leaders we know ever met the ideal or golden standard square on.
Gandhi beats his wife, Martin Luther King Jr was a preacher and an adulterer. Mother Teresa supported a dictator, the Duvalier family, and gave Christian baptism to dying patients without their consent. And Krishnamurti had an affair.
As such, and after all is said and done, what really counts in leadership is a never-say-die attitude, that is, one where you are expected to fall, and fall at some time, and over time, but you learn from it and determinedly advance forward to serve with renewed perspective, thereby becoming wiser and more humane.
Let me end with what Tharman said at the Majulah's lecture:-
"We should avoid the extremes of either uniformity or rigid differentiation, and avoid paths with dead ends. Every path must be porous, allowing you to move from one path to another."
I believe that is the flexible middle road where we keep a balance of all views, while holding firm to timeless principles of character, integrity and hope, and persevering with undimmed passion even in the worst of times towards a nation-building and nation-uniting goal with all and for all. Cheerz.