A lot has been said about Mr Lee Kuan Yew since the time he was critically ill in the hospital. Honestly speaking, I didn’t believe this day would come this soon. After all, this was the man who gave his life to Singapore and always spoke with quiet confidence and laser-like focus, the one who had no fear when it comes to using strong words in expressions.
Since two years ago, I had the honour and chance to learn about the development of Singapore from a human perspective. It wasn’t just about what we learnt in the textbooks (as what some cynical people would call ‘’propaganda”) but also how his decisions impacted people from different walks of life.
Let’s be real here – there would definitely be some people who hate him. Those who didn’t live up to his standards, who didn’t stand on his side, who were implicated because of his decisions. I’ve never been that victim and I’ll never understand their pains.
But as a 90’s kid, I had my fair share of love and hate for him.
Yes, he is a founding father, the first Prime Minister, the one who exchanged his life for this country I call home. At the same time, I couldn’t tolerate his strictness and lack of emotions, as what I would call “people up there who only know how to go by the books”.
But there are two things I was taught as a kid, from the Chinese culture.
- Gratitude and respect
Maybe he succeeded because he was born at the right time. Maybe he succeeded because he took measures that were considered extreme. But either way, no one can guarantee that Singapore can be what it is now, if not better, had someone else been a leader or if he hadn’t made certain decisions.
It isn’t fair to judge him based on what we know and believe today. As Mr Lee himself said, what the people want in the modern age is very different. We know what we know today, because we had lessons from their time. Of the things we do today, the future generations would also say it could have been done in a better way. That doesn’t mean we weren’t good enough. That’s just natural human evolution and human ego to believe we are better than those who lived before us.
For people my age, I’d say, he did us no wrong or harm. We were born in an era where he taught us not to belittle ourselves and that discipline is more important than freedom. For that, we have to be grateful.
He gave his life, and maybe even his family sacrificed their personal time, to give us the many things we enjoy and take for granted today. He is an elder. He is a well-respected leader to many leaders all over the world. For that, we have to be respectful of him.
- The people who are gone, deserve utmost respect
If you read the papers, you’ll see that in any case where a victim passes away, there would be paragraphs, more or less, of how important they are to their family, or how they actually are good people who took the wrong paths.
The thing is, in the Chinese culture as I believe, we have to respect and remember the good of those who left us behind. As a child, I once thought I’d laugh at a funeral of a horrible teacher someday. I’d applaud that he can no longer do the youths anymore harm.
But that’s when I was a kid. If you think about it, he still took the time to mark our papers, stayed back till 9pm to teach me even if he thought I was dumb. For that, even he deserves respect at his funeral.
To put it more personally, every one of us has done wrong in our lives. I’ve laughed at a primary schoolmate for being fat. I’ve hurt some people to get into a leadership position, intentionally or not. But those are not the things you talk about at their funeral. Funeral is about honouring people and igniting hope for those they left behind.
Being respectful doesn’t make me ignorant. Respect is about being matured enough to look at the big picture and know what is the right thing to do. For all I care, this is the time to thank Mr Lee for what he has done for us. Maybe I don’t know enough, but I know I can never do even a quarter of what he did – that’s worthy of respect.
For the past week, I saw many friends posting articles on things we didn’t know about Mr Lee and the television was airing documentaries about his hard work towards success and independence. I was a little angry.
Wasn’t this something important that should be shown on our official channels, not only when he is gone and we realized it’s too late? Why only now? 7 days is too little to thank someone who made such a difference in our lives.
I’m one of those people who have no guts to queue up at the Parliament House. I didn’t even dare to read the many articles my friends are posting up. Not because I don’t want to, but because I cannot bear to.
To me, Mr Lee is like a giant pillar of our country and I thought he’d always be around. His departure doesn’t even feel real, because I was still waiting for the next election when he’d stand with his Tanjong Pagar team and be harsh about the opposition who didn’t make it to the nomination centre on time.
He doesn’t deserve all the cussing from cynical people and those who claim “they know too much about what he did to have any respect left for him”. He is, after all, a man. Even a teacher would kick the joker out of the class when he wouldn’t cooperate during lessons. If he hadn’t encouraged sticking to Mandarin and English, can you imagine how much worse the new generation would be? With just two languages, they already need CL B. With dialect? How?
I don’t care how much wealth people think and rumour he is accumulating. He gave us all he could, such that we could all survive, and there is nothing more I should expect of him. If there is one thing the new generation politicians could learn from him, it’d be the willingness to work hard behind the scenes and worry less about claiming credit.
It would always be my regret, never having a chance to meet him in person, even if it means being looked down as a journalist, a non-uni-graduate and someone who hasn’t made full use of my child-bearing prime years.
I am someone who is surviving against his beliefs but I’m okay with his decisions. It doesn’t mean I have to protest or hate him, or agree with him. People can actually co-exist as long as we respect boundaries. Those oppositions you couldn’t take seriously? They understood respect and put their political grounds aside for Mr Lee’s final chapter with us.
Don’t be blinded by hate or knowledge. You may have a lot of “could have” and “should have”, but just like how I’d never understand those victimized by his policies, you’d never understand the whole situation based solely on what you read and know.
The past should bring us knowledge, not hatred. Take away lessons from his rights and wrongs, leave him respect and move on with greater clarity for the bigger good. Don’t stoop as low as to deny everything he did, and cause pain to a family grieving the loss of their father figure. That doesn’t help with anything.
To PM Lee –
People have made comparisons between Mr Lee Kuan Yew and you, Sir. In my eyes, the two of you are uniquely different, each destined to lead this country of different eras with different styles.
Thank you for staying strong and composed as our PM and expressing gratitude for those in queue and at work this week even if you’re probably more exhausted and broken than anyone of us now.
May you find strength and comfort in our love and respect for your father, forever and always.
Edit (something else I’d like to add)
6 years ago, my lecturer in polytechnic told us to each prepare a topic to speak about. He told us not to begin the topic with “Singapore should” because Singapore isn’t someone, and if anything, we should be the ones taking actions. So our topics should begin with “Singaporeans should”, “We should” or “Students should”, etc.
Now I see what he meant. We can grumble all we want, but at the same time, it’s up to us to take charge and be the change we want to see in our country. Not the PM, the MM or your MP. Don’t blame them because you cannot do something. If it’s something you really wanted or are capable of, you’d get it done. Just like how Mr Lee Kuan Yew did with Singapore.