Sunday, 15 April 2018

Dr Tan Lai Yong's two requests of God.

At his solemnisation ceremony held in Bethesda Frankel Estate Church in 1991, this was Dr Tan Lai Yong's wedding prayer taken from Proverbs:-

"Two things I ask of you Lord; do not refuse me before I die. Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, "Who is the Lord?" Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God."

Since then, Dr Tan has been living a Proverbian life as per the scripture. At the time the article was written about him in 2014, the Singapore doctor has no home to his name. 

He lived at NUS's College of Alice and Peter in a modest space "like a storeroom crammed with camping gear, bicycles and emergency rations, a habit from 15 years of living in China's earthquake-prone Yunnan province" as a missionary doctor.

Dr Tan came back in 2010 to bring up his two children in Singapore, and his parental advice is this: "Your No.1 job as a father is to help your children build friendships. Your No.1 job is not to send them to tuition centres."

This life of a "wandering saint" led me to today's front page news entitled "Doctors warned against overcharging, overtreating."

Parliament is concerned with insurance claims overload when doctors overdiagnose, overtreat and over-prescribe. 

It reports that "all 13,500 doctors in Singapore have received a circular from SMC which indicated that it would not hesitate to act against any doctor found flouting the guideline against overcharging and overtreating patients."

SMC has warned doctors "not to subject patients to unnecessary tests or treatments that are not clinically required, just because a patient wants them."

SMC further clarified that "there is no prohibition against hospitalising a patient for what is normally a day surgery. But it sent out warning: "Doctors must not recommend hospitalisation where there is no clinical justification to do so and for the primary purpose of charging higher fees."

Even SMS for health Chee Hong Tat weighed in and told Parliament earlier this month stating, "some of the examples of over-consumption and over-servicing are - to put it plainly - disturbing."

Chee said that one case saw a patient, "fully covered by his health insurance, made claims for 12 nose scopes in a year, without clear medical need."

One doctor said that the problem of overcharging goes beyond just doctors. He said: "Private hospitals rent out rooms where rates are pegged to the amount of business you bring in. There is a tendency to over-service."

Another doctor admitted: "We tell ourselves, with a tinge of envy, not to be lured to the "dark side"".

Lesson? Just one.

We try our best to cure ourselves of sickness, viral infection and fever, but who will stand up to society and cure it of avarice, greed and gluttony?

Our system is screwed up and nobody wants to admit it. 

We measure growth by strict economic metric. 

Anything that consumes, produces and reaps in the income is growth. Overconsumption is growth. Overproduction is growth. Income inequality - the richer for some is better - is growth.

That's not even the worse part.

On the consumption side, what is growth? This is: When you buy cigarettes, that's marked as growth. When you visit prostitutes, that's growth. When you gamble at our famed Casino, that's value added, that's growth.

How about production? What is growth then?

Well, let's talk about healthcare and the millions they are raking in for themselves - for the more unnecessary tests you perform, that's growth. Yup, that includes 12 nose scopes for one year. 

Here's more....the more hospital beds occupied for illnesses that you can recuperate at home, that's growth. 

And the more prescription you issue, the more pharmaceutical products they entice you to buy, the more insurers' coverage you pay to practise defensive medicine, that's right, they are all growth - although they add little or nothing to our health and mental well being. 

And lastly, the income side. Who cares how you earn your money? Who cares how you reap in the profit at the expense of the environment? Who cares how many mansions and sports cars you buy while many are struggling to make ends meet? 

They are all growth in the economic metric of life in a market-driven society underscored by who dies with the biggest toys. 

Alas, the invisible hand of the market doesn't value housework, nurturing children, breastfeeding, someone giving up his work to take care of his elderly mother at home, or his terminally-ill wife or his son who is suffering from depression. 

You can give up a lucrative job because you resolve to prioritise the more important values in life like spending more time with your children, sacrificing to teach children from poverty-stricken homes, or healing your marriage, but they are definitely not growth or deemed value added or appear in the GDP as positive numbers that contribute to the bottomline (or the economic wellbeing of the country).

Growth (in the economic sense) only rolls with anything that consumes blindly, produces overindulgently, and earns disproportionately. 

The poor can scrap the bottom of the barrel for their daily sustenance while the rich can flaunt their incredible wealth that lasts them many generations after, and our GDP will still be hailed as a First Class, First World Economy. 

Income inequality is thus a good buddy of economic growth just as long as someone is paid extraordinary rent while another can't even afford the next meal. 

Alas, maybe, we should consider Proverbs again and return to what truly matters in life (that is, with eternal value) when it comes to growth. 

On consumption, it is not about what you eat, but what eats you. On production, it is not about what you make, but what you are made of. And on income, it is not about what you possess, but what possesses you. 

Indeed, the two things we ask from God is to remember this "momento mori" - for we should never forget that we too will have to die one day as we stubbornly and hopelessly hold on to what is transient, earthly. 

And to pray that He gives us neither poverty nor riches, but only our daily bread which will be more than enough for us. 

For this daily bread is for the day, and not one that is franatically stored up in storehouses to the end of time that far exceeds what we will ever need or want, and we thereby risk becoming inextricably identified with our material possessions (losing sight of what we truly are before our loved ones, before God). 

At the end of the day, Dr Tan enunciated well the principles of what matters in life. 

It is not so much the tuition, but the friendship. It is not the size of the house, but the people living in it. It is not the money in our bank, but how we use it for others. 

It is not about fame and fortune, but love, hope and resilience. It is not what we can get out of a life, but what we can give to that life. And most importantly, it is not what divides us, whether income, class or status, but what unites us in sacrifice, trust and devotion. 

So, if our society takes the path down this road, towards ever-increasing consumption, production and income, we will remain lost, never satisfied, and perpetually fractured. 

But if we take Dr Tan's lead and follow the precepts of Proverbs, we will not only find redemption for ourselves, but contentment, meaning and hope. 

We will also never be planted by an arid, parched land of endless wants, defined by our possessions and ambitions, but by the stream of fresh water, never thirsty or hungry, and always grateful and satisfied, for we have all that we will ever need and want in this brief life of ours. Cheerz.

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