President Halimah Yacob said that these conversations need to be conducted with "restraint and mutual respect".
It is a positive development that more young Singaporeans are preferring to discuss sensitive issues “more candidly and openly”, said President Halimah Yacob.
However, these conversations need to be conducted with “restraint and mutual respect”, she said, as race, language, and religion will always be visceral subjects.
The President made the comments in her address at the first session of the 14th Parliament on Monday (Aug 24). She noted that Singapore’s multiracialism, a core element of the Singaporean identity, is still a work in progress. She also pointed out that everyone, regardless of race, language, or religion, must have an equal place in society.
However, as there will be different life experiences and perspectives for different generations, some will want to discuss sensitive issues afresh.
“Younger Singaporeans prefer talking about these issues more candidly and openly, which is a positive development. But the conversations need to be conducted with restraint and mutual respect,” she said.
“If each group pushes its own agenda to the extreme, we risk eroding the common space, and fracturing our social cohesion.”
The President also said that Singaporeans must “work even harder to listen to and understand one another” so that emotive issues and sensitive matters won’t divide us.
More can be done to strengthen the sense of togetherness in our society too, she added. This is crucial in the long run, as Singapore’s successes depend on its citizens’ sense of shared identity.
“Singapore can endure and secure her place in history, only if Singaporeans feel passionately about our country, and put our hearts and souls into making this a better home,” said President Halimah, adding that since independence, the country has built a distinctive Singaporean culture and identity.
“Regardless of race, language and religion, we all think of ourselves as Singaporeans. You can see this in our attitudes, memories and experiences… You can see it in the way we gladly identify one another in an unfamiliar foreign land, and the way we have each other’s back in a crisis. These are emotional ties that are strengthened over the years.”
To further strengthen the sense of togetherness, Singapore has to shape the multicultural instincts early in children’s lives, while the country’s approaches and methods must evolve with the outlook and attitudes of the young. This mindset must then be practised in the community and workplace.
But there are “larger forces at play” that may divide Singaporeans and threaten our solidarity. These include social media platforms that have amplified contending voices and views, or exposure to causes, attitudes and values from other societies that may not be relevant to our social context.
Economic distress arising from COVID-19 or social inequality may also breed a sense of insecurity amongst different groups of Singaporeans.
Another potentially divisive issue the President brought up was the sense of competition for jobs from work pass holders, which she said has become a “major source of anxiety”. However, she said that Singapore must not turn away from the world.
After all, the Singaporean identity was not formed and strengthened by excluding those who arrived later, but by successive arrivals that added to the richness of our society. Imploring Singaporeans to have confidence in the rights and privileges of our citizenship, she said that the strong education system and training pathways will allow Singaporeans to compete against the best in the world.
But at the same time, Singaporeans “must keep our hearts open” to foreigners who come to Singapore and integrate those who can contribute so they can help improve Singaporean’s lives, as well as the future of the next generations.
“We must break out of the echo chambers that form so easily online, and make genuine attempts to bridge the gap with those who think differently from us. We must strive to obtain greater insight, build shared understanding and use our diverse perspectives and ideas to achieve better outcomes for all,” said the President.
Amidst the COVID-19 world, the key for Singapore to progress is to evolve in a way that engages the aspirations and creative energies of Singaporeans.
The President noted that Singaporeans have interesting and diverse ideas to pursue and this can be a source of strength for Singaporeans to navigate the challenges and possibilities ahead.
“To realise this strength, we need a sense of common purpose, a readiness to act to make a difference to causes we care about. Singaporeans must come together, in partnership, to pursue the greater good, united by a belief in Singapore and a desire to turn our vision into reality,” she said.
“This is the spirit of Singapore Together.
“We must continue to command confidence and respect in the world, and emerge a stronger and more united nation.”
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