• Yong Teck Meng, National Director

Lessons from our forefathers



August is the month when all of Singapore will be decked out in the red and white, colours of the national flag of Singapore. This is due to the National Day on August 9th, with the nation coming into independence in 1965. Some HDB flats which are located in prominent places, e.g. at major traffic junctions, will be covered completely with the flags. The odd thing is that these flags are typically put up by the town council or relevant authorities, and not necessarily a result of the voluntary effort of the residents.


A more accurate reflection of the display of national pride, or the lack of, could be seen in private condominiums and private terrace houses. A simple survey of such places will expose the fact that only a small minority, perhaps even lower than 10% of the residents care enough to display national pride via the display of the national flag. This has not always been so.

I was born before the nation's independence. I remember growing up during the early days of Singapore's nationhood, and people enthusiastically put up the national flags everywhere during National Day. My late father in particular would hoist a flag outside his shophouse, and all the neighbours did the same. There were no organizing committees, town councils or anyone going around persuading people to do so; they all just naturally and spontaneously expressed their joy and pride of being able to call this little red dot their home. They were people who solved their own problems, instead of being a problem to be solved. With affluence and many other complicated social factors in play, many Singaporeans have taken their nation for granted, so much so that the late founding prime minister Mr. Lee Kuan Yew frequently declared that Singaporeans are number one in the world when it comes to complaining. He was not far from the truth. Perhaps affluence is a natural sibling of self-centeredness, leading the nation and society towards a cold existence where everybody essentially just takes care of themselves and their family. I think there is a lot we can learn from the founding fathers and mothers of this nation, from the politicians to the common folks. What I have personally learned from them is the fact that they have demonstrated that with tenacity, integrity and ingenuity, a tiny red-dot of a backwater island can be transformed to be the envy of much of the world. There is no need to keep lamenting that we do not have enough resources, we are too tiny, we have too many problems, etc. What is needed is for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work, and keep working at it until we arrive, and even after that, continue to strive. This is the attitude we need when we face the never-ending challenge of poverty-fighting. The work of poverty-fighting is enormous, as even Jesus Christ said that the poor will always be with us (Matthew 26: 11). Yet, with determination and hard work, we can continue to be a blessing to the many people who desperately need help. May we be counted among those who provide the solutions, rather than be part of those who are part of the problem.

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