IHL students and working adults believe that open-mindedness is key to a more harmonious Singapore

We don’t have to change the world at once. Instead, learn slowly and educate constructively.

Shannon Kuan

Weird talents include playing the violin, but with a ukulele and a clothes hanger.

Published: 4 July 2021, 9:12 AM

Inclusivity and empowerment are topics many youth are advocating for.

Be it through racial harmony or mental health awareness, being kind and respectful to everyone regardless of background is a paramount value among most youth.

But how should we act when encountered with insensitive and offensive remarks? What are the best ways to properly educate someone about social issues?

These were some of the points discussed on Jul 3 during the final Zoom session of the four-part series about Conversations on the Singapore Spirit attended by 90 students from institutes of higher learning (IHL) and working adults. 

Organised by the National Youth Council (NYC) in light of Youth Month, it celebrated stories of youth making an impact, and provided a platform for youth to share about how they view and hope to further shape the Singapore Spirit.



Comedian Rishi Budhrani hosted the last panel dialogue which featured Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and Second Minister for Law Mr Edwin Tong, senior vice president of People (Group) at Lazada Mr Brian Liu, host and personality from The Smart Local Mr Fauzi Aziz, and actress and singer Ms Annette Lee.

Building up the Singapore spirit by being considerate and understanding

Throughout the past four sessions, multiculturalism has been a key discussion point among youth.

With Singapore being a multiracial society with laws like the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) set in place to integrate different races and cultures together, the youth and panellists found it disheartening to see that there are many ongoing racially discriminatory incidents.


Mr Tong said the EIP ensures there is a mix of different ethnic groups residing in a HDB block to discourage racial enclaves. PHOTO CREDIT: GALEN CROUT VIA UNSPLASH


The participants brought up the importance of taking initiative to understand different cultures, having opportunities and platforms to be educated, and being an open economy that is more open to global talent — especially during the COVID-19 period.

All these factors could help build the next generation to be future-ready, and be even more understanding and inclusive to people of different backgrounds, not just race and culture.

Bridging the generation gap

A point brought up by Ms Lee during a breakout room sharing was that with the resources and opportunities readily made available for us, the types of struggles we face now are vastly different from what our elders have faced in the past.

However, the different experiences faced across generation gaps tend to bring about varying viewpoints and ideals — especially when it comes to topics like racism, mental health and the gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Panellist Mr Brian Liu brought up how most of us have probably heard our parents make insensitive remarks and can often come off as “a little racist”.

To that, he said: “The filter (with racism and mental health) is very thin when it comes to our parents’ generation. We are a lot more aware and informed. That’s a huge difference between our parents and us.”

Social media has allowed us to spread awareness and learn about the struggles minorities face that we may not be exposed to — something the older generation did not have.


There has been an influx in Instagram pages dedicated to social activism and raising awareness through concise infographics. PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@LET_WOMEN_LIVE


Ms Lee also chipped in: “The older generation can sometimes say something without meaning to be malicious. They’re probably just ignorant and really don’t know.”

Don’t fight fire with fire

You may be familiar with the term ‘cancel culture’, a modern form of ostracism against those who have said or commited disrespectful acts. While it has been used to call out individuals in the wrong, it is sometimes done in a way that gives the people little opportunity to apologise and learn from their mistakes.

Mr Liu said: “As youth today, we are a lot more confident. We need to be confident to call out things… but do it respectfully. Expletives are not constructive. Call it out responsibly, tactfully and constructively.”

Referring to the recent case of the racist lecturer’s behaviour towards an interracial couple, Mr Tong said: “Calling someone out can be done very constructively. What Dave Parkash did… was immensely measured. If your girlfriend is being called names and the nature of the relationship is being challenged, (instead of being) riled up, he was very respectful. 

“That incident taught us all a lesson. Not only in the behaviour the lecturer exhibited, but also in Dave’s own reaction.” 


While we may instinctively want to lash out in anger, oftentimes it will lead to an unproductive conversation. PHOTO CREDIT: FREESTOCKS.ORG VIA PEXELS


“When someone says something hurtful… just talk to them about it. There’s a chance they didn’t intentionally try to hurt your feelings, they were just ignorant about it. Don’t be angry and start an argument. Be respectful (both) when asking questions and correcting people. Be slow to anger,” Ms Lee advised.

Communication is key

Panellists agreed that when it comes to understanding one another, active communication is a salient factor. Not everyone goes down the same path, we all face different types of struggles — be it with race, religion, mental health or personal identity.

With regards to mental health, Mr Fauzi Aziz said: “Most of the time, those suffering… feel alone like there’s no way out. You need to start having conversations and be comfortable talking about it. There is a big stigma, it is not a switch we can just turn off. It is a work in progress, something we need to educate ourselves about more.”

As for LGBT issues, Ms Lee shared about how she better educated herself by having in-depth conversations with people from the community.

“Ultimately, it boils down to understanding people on an individual level because everybody’s different. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I’ve had so many deep conversations with people of different cultures and sexualities, and I’ve been able to understand them so much better just because I spoke to them one-on-one.”

She emphasised how important it was not to ignore or dismiss the issues others bring up, as it may be tough or awkward for them to discuss it.


If someone has felt hurt by an insensitive remark, their feelings deserve to be validated. PHOTO CREDIT: JULIAN TAY


Mr Liu stated: “Youths are focusing on the right things. We’re going in the right direction. I love that youths are confident and vocal to speak up and that’s why there’s more progress and understanding.”

Inclusivity should be the heart of Singapore

Singapore is nothing short of diverse. But as per a point brought up by Mr Tong, merely tolerating those different from us is far from embracing them.

He shared that we still have a ways to go to reach a completely inclusive and understanding community. But, we can always start with ourselves first. Step by step, we can eventually reach the whole of Singapore.

Mr Tong said: “If we had a friend who was from a different race, gender, age profile or sexuality… and we understood and knew that person better, I think we will find ourselves a lot more tolerant, a lot more accepting, and eventually a lot more embracing of these differences.

“I encourage Singaporeans from all ethnic communities to make use of common spaces to forge stronger relations; to be a little bit less insular. The more we assert our own space, the less common space there will be; and when we have less common space, it is much harder to embrace diversity.”

Mr Tong also reflected on the kinds of qualities he hopes his children will have as they face the future in Singapore.

He felt that beyond being resilient, adaptable and innovative, having a caring Singapore is key as it will be “the new glue that will bind our society. It will make us stand united as a society”.

Find out more about the other sessions of Conversations on the Singapore Spirit here:

Madrasah students share what the Singapore Spirit means to them

Polytechnic students: Multiculturalism is our defining Singaporean trait

ITE students share their hopes on making Singapore an inclusive place for all

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