Dear fellow Singaporeans,
I am one of you but have just lived away from the land for over 12 years now. Today I am reaching out to you with hopes of finding a solution to a problem we all face today.
When my son was much younger, we used to watch the popular kids programme, “Dora the Explorer”. In each episode, we followed young Dora and her monkey Boots on adventures. One of the routes we would always take would feature a small bridge over a river, known as “The Troll Bridge”, where a “grumpy old troll” lived under and wouldn’t let anyone pass unless they solved a riddle.
Now, my son is 14, and he hasn’t watched the show in a decade (at least), but “The Troll Bridge” has stayed with us. Every little road block or a diversion is termed as “The Troll Bridge” and we have a laugh remembering the good old times.
Today, a “troll” is anything but funny, and has instead become something that anyone with a digital presence worries about. The “trolls” or the “keyboard warriors” often sit behind the veil of anonymity and pass judgement and comments on all topics across the digital platform. Personal choices are criticized, mistakes glorified and often any opinion opposing theirs are mercilessly torn to shreds. Initially it was considered as “witty” or “sarcasm”, but as it grew so did the judgement and criticism, and has reached the extent for it to be considered bullying. Today, no one is spared from the troll. It affects everyone, specially the young and impressionable minds. I really wonder why that is. Why have we become so intolerant, so quick to judge, so insensitive and impatient. Where is our empathy? Why can’t we have an opinion without discrediting another, why can’t we have a say without giving someone else a chance to be heard. Why can’t we respect the fact that it is human to err. The worst part is – The online trolling seems to have manifested physically now. It has become a Habit.
One that has divided us. And dangerously so.
A noted filmmaker, Mr Vikram Bhatt, recently shared his views on an incident that rocked India. He said and I quote (With his permission)
“Sharing is a habit. A good one. And you will be surprised to know that the opposite of sharing is intolerance…Tolerance almost denotes an emotion where you are willing to get along with the other despite your reservations. Sharing, on the other hand, is about love. The idea is not to tolerate the ones in your world but to share it with them.
Intolerance is dangerous because it is divisive. Intolerance separates people. It is the emotion that forms the root for the need of separateness. Hence, it is my worry that intolerance is a habit that does not stop at the border. It bleeds into the very fabric of society,” and is even seen in modern day Singapore.
Our country, our home, is facing a new “threat”, and this time it comes from within. For, it has reared its ugly head in all walks of life. Not just digitally. What started as harmless comments correcting grammar or maybe making jokes has become an entire “industry”. Our spending habits are “influenced”, it has become okay to bully anyone to prove a point, and to insult anyone with an opinion that is different from ours. And maybe it always existed, but it is more rampant now. Just read any news articles on social media, all media outlets spend a lot of resources just trying to curb the insensitive comments. Internationally, a social media account covering the activities of a Royal Family, has had to put up guidelines for interactions and comments of their page. And it is all because it now has become a habit. Our Personality even. It has threatened to disrupt the very peace our forefathers fought long and hard to save. Our intolerance of what we consider “wrong” about someone or something comes at a risk of alienating certain sections of the society.
Maybe, we are a little too harsh on our own because we are disappointed. Maybe we expected more from the country and our fellow citizens, maybe we feel let down, maybe we feel that they could do better. So we lash out. Not realizing that what we are doing is creating a divide: between those who agree with us and those who do not. And as time passes by and the resentment grows, so does the divide. Because Hatred begets hatred. Intolerance begets intolerance.
My Expat Experience
I speak from experience, being an expatriate and an overseas Singaporean. We are neither welcome back home (we are the “runners” who left when things got tough) neither do we completely “belong” to our adopted nation. It seems like if we have an opinion, it doesn’t matter, because we really do not know the situation well enough (“you do not live here, you have no idea what you are talking about”). Often our issues are labeled as #FirstWorldProblems and our kids #SnowFlakes, just because they dared to show their sensitive side.
Can you imagine just how confused our kids get? We speak to them of a country that is united on all fronts yet the situation online screams otherwise. We tell them stories of how a red dot is now a force to reckon with yet the only “enemy” we seem to fight is each other! They have friends from different nationalities here, and we encourage them to co-exist peacefully yet the different races of the same nation seem to have a divide.
Yes, the world has changed over the last decade. And so has Singapore. The rapid growth has brought about an influx of people from different walks of life. Our way of life has changed. Our media consumption has changed. Digital content has now given us more “insider” access than before. Never have we been more vocal. Never have we been more heard. Never have we been more divided. But never have we been more united too.
Because, in all this divide we do have one thing in common. It has affected us all. And our children. Whether we live in Singapore, or elsewhere. Whether we are the “Expat Brats” or the “True Blue” Singaporeans, we’re in this together. Now more than ever, is the need to stay united against a common enemy that we all face. To save our children from the devastating effects of intolerance.
Parenting in an effort to instill a sense of belonging and identity
Parenting is a bigger challenge now than it was before. And who can we look at for guidance? Most families overseas do not have extended families in close physical proximity whom they can count on for support or understanding.
Never have we been more unified in facing the same problem that has divided us.
I think, us Singaporeans, whether at home or away, our deal is more or less like the “Death Do Us Apart” kinds right? Question is, how do we live till the death does do us apart. With the future at stake, what do we do? How do we counter it?
The good news is – we can counter it. It took one thought to begin the spiral and all it needs is one thought to counter it. But You can’t fight hatred with hatred.
My tenure as an Overseas Singaporean has taught me one thing. I realized (after an initial struggle) that essentially people are good. But when we judge them based on the “filter” of our conditioning, we might find them “odd”. If we were to instead change the way we think, remove our “filter”, we would realize that just like us, they have had years of conditioning themselves, their own upbringing and their own definition of socially and culturally accepted “norms”. No one is “Right” or “Wrong”, we are just “Different”. We just have to accept that and with acceptance comes peace. We then embrace the uniqueness instead of fighting it. In fact, this is the only “formula” to survive an expat life. And in the current day, to live harmoniously.
Take for instance, the Deepavali celebration held last November (our first ever) in Dubai was a complete “sell out” and it saw all races come together to celebrate a National Festival. We had more Chinese wear a saree than Indians themselves. It isn’t a life altering scenario, but it is an example of how we chose to overlook differences to lovingly embrace them instead! We have it in our roots actually, unity in diversity. Our National Flag is representative of that. Our Pledge speaks of that. So yes, maybe we faced similar struggles and that has brought us all together. But maybe we just remembered that it is “One people, one nation, one Singapore.”
And even if it takes a common struggle to bring us to this realization, so be it. Like I said, we are in this together, regardless of where we stay. Our kids are looking at us for answers and we simply cannot let them down.
Imagine that we have a piece of land and belongs to all of us, we have attached emotions to it and have called it Home. And how we grow our gardens and maintain it, is up to us. What do we feed it with? If there is a “fertilizer” (Thought) that we can use, to ensure that we have the prettiest backyard, one we would be so proud to call ours, one where the future produce is healthy and prosperous, one that has a beautiful mix of all flowers, whether they be roses, lilies or the seasonal sunflowers even. What would it be? Of course, there would be the odd weeds (I mean, this isn’t Utopia), but we deal with it with respect. So, which one would you pick?
I would go with Acceptance and Kindness. And Kindness begets Kindness. Always.
With love always,
One of you.