As a mother-to-be and eligible voter, I am, for the first time, considering a) who to cast my vote for, and b) ‘my child’s future’.
This is the PAP’s ongoing mantra – vote for us, think of your children’s future and your grandchildren’s future, not to mention your assets and property values and job opportunities.
Well, I have been thinking hard about my child’s future, and the sort of Singapore I would like him to experience and fully participate in as he grows up. I have also been thinking about the norms that he will be exposed to, that will have the ability to shape his formation as a young adult. I have also been considering what sort of lessons our current socio-political landscape will be teaching him (and it discomforts me greatly).
I would like my son – yes, it’s a boy, says the doctor – to respect leaders for their integrity, dedication to service and commitment to justice that is not bereft of compassion.
I would like him to be steered by courageous leadership, one that does not succumb to easy appeals to greed and fear in order to secure votes, but inspires him to rise above self-centredness to support decisions that may, potentially, cause him some temporary discomfort, but may ultimately result in a more humane alternative to the current ‘catch up or die’ development model.
I would very much like my child to be able to speak his mind respectfully yet fearlessly if he disagrees with the status quo, without having to hover in the background to remind him: ‘Be careful, son!’ (And then give a long and somber lecture about the existence of the Internal Security Act and how it has been abused in the past to silence and intimidate persons who disagreed and tried to challenge the system.)
I want him to grow up learning that loyalty should be earned, not bought. That if he was ever to become a politician, or even a team leader in his school or manager of a company, that his key strategy should not be to induce obedience through a coercive combination of threats and bribes. If my son wins – a competition, a promotion, an election – I would like to be proud of how he won it through a ‘clean fight’. That he won the respect of others who have selected him because of his capabilities, his potential, his sincere desire to serve others.
I would like my son to appreciate humility and its power to move others. Genuine humility, that comes from admitting to human frailties and mistakes and taking responsibility for them. Humility that is demonstrated by listening with sincerity to others with differing – even opposing – views, without being dismissive, patronizing or bullying them into silence.
I would like my child to grow up in a country where the ‘good life’ is not merely characterized by GDP growth, but by the measure in which fellow citizens protect and care for each other, particularly the most vulnerable amongst us. I look forward to him being part of a country where he could, without being a Presidents Scholar, or even a degree holder, be recognized and valued for whatever skills and talents he possesses. I want him to work in a country where he could excel in a trade if he so chooses – e.g. carpentry, bricklaying, horticulture – and be paid a decent, living wage for an honest day’s work, a wage where he could afford to get married, buy a comfortable (not necessarily luxurious) home and raise a family.
I want my child to be convinced that in this society, there is no shame or crime in being different, that it is important to think critically, imaginatively, and boldly – that the road to success is not through memorizing model answers or mindlessly filling in the blanks with droll answers provided by judicious instructors. I hope that he can flourish within an education system that genuinely fosters creativity, spontaneity and sparks of harmless mischief, and doesn’t kill enthusiasm for subjects/curricula not perceived as ‘profitable’ – e.g. philosophy and literature, as opposed to engineering or accounting.
I want my child to grow up with a healthier understanding and experience of democracy than I have. I want him to experience a Singapore where it is not accepted as ‘normal’ for Members of Parliament to hold on to their positions for years – even decades – without having ever been voted in; where ‘live’ debates between politicians of different parties over pertinent policy issues are a regular feature; where civil liberties such as freedom of assembly and expression and the right to information are not treated as ‘luxuries’ but recognized as the fundamental rights of mature citizens.
I want him to be able to experience the dynamism of an egalitarian society at its best – one where persons fight fearlessly to protect the principles of truth and justice, yet never forget the beauty of mercy and gentleness.
But most of all, I do not want my child, when he is 21 and no longer a child, but an adult about to vote himself, to ask me, perhaps with some measure of disappointment, maybe resentment, or possibly despair: ‘Mom, why didn’t any of you do anything?’
I am 38 years old this year, and I can finally vote.
And because I’m thinking of my child’s future, I know exactly what I want to say come 7 May 2011 at my local polling station.