Two Harvard professors are teaching an online course “Unlocking the immunity to change” that supposedly helps us stick to our new year’s resolutions. According to the professors, we often fail to keep to our resolutions because we have sought to change our behavior while failing to address a conflicting mindset problem. They cite an illuminating example:
"Somebody wants to be more collaborative. They recognize they are not really listening to people, they cut people off, they insert their own ideas, and so on. So they try to be better listeners, but they can’t. Why? What’s happening is they need to be in control. They need to be the person who is kind of the big cheese. They need to be the person who is getting the credit. They really do have the goal to be collaborative, but at the very same time they have this goal which is to be the person who is getting all of the credit and having it go their way."
Sounds so familiar, doesn’t it?
In my last blogpost reviewing Singapore’s developments in 2013, I wrote about how the PAP government seemed resistant to change.
It took the trouble to carry out a National Conversation, yet while the conversation was ongoing, it wasted no time in releasing the Population White Paper and passing it through the rubber stamp parliament.
Party leaders repeatedly called for “compassionate meritocracy,” yet we see no substantial policy change to narrow the wealth gap that has sharpened our social divide.
The PAP government promised to take a “light touch” approach on Internet regulations, yet in 2013 onerous registration forced the closure of online news site The Breakfast Network.
Critics saw such inconsistencies and back-pedaling as “wayang” and evidence of the government’s hypocrisy.
The Harvard pundits offer another perspective: “I think that when people can’t change, or can’t sustain the change, it’s because they are using an improper approach. They kind of set themselves up from the start to not succeed.”
So the PAP government’s approach is wrong because it has tried to change its behavior when its mind is tuned to upholding the status quo.
Change has to start from the mindset and here’s how to do it in 2014, my dear government:
1. Be compassionate
Cut the homily and just do it.
Please don’t drop yet another bombshell on us in six months’ time when you announce changes to the Medishield scheme. There is good reason to worry about premium affordability because, in the sinister words of Straits Times, you had already urged Singaporeans to “shame those guilty of free-riding” back in September 2013.
Although you believe that there are virtually no poor people in Singapore, you cannot dismiss the possibility that some Singaporeans really cannot afford to pay the higher premiums. So cut the defaulters some slack, will you?
Ok, you’ve refused to set an official poverty line citing some lame excuse called the “cliff effect,” which has been debunked by many. But what about giving some serious thought to legislating a minimum wage?
You averred that 2014 will be a “breakthrough” year for low wage workers. I wonder what makes you so confident after you have failed to raise the pay of low-wage workers – cleaners, security guards etc. –for so many years.
Moreover, your target of raising the monthly salary of 10,000 cleaners (around 20% of all local cleaners) to at least $1,000 by 2015 is rather pathetic in the first place, isn’t it?
Especially if we see it in light of your own fat pay package.
You said, “Those of us who have benefited disproportionately from society’s investment in us owe the most to society, particularly to those who may not have had access to the same opportunities. We owe a debt to make lives better for all, and not just for ourselves.”
But until your deeds match your words and your policies really do improve the lives of low-wage Singaporeans, no amount of talk on compassion shall endear you to us.
2. Chill and loosen up
Criticisms aren’t going to kill you. Elitism and government disconnect will.
You should have learned this from your defeat in last January’s Punggol East by-election.
But apparently, you have not.
Last year, your self-professed “light touch” approach to internet regulation killed an online news site and banned it from operating on Facebook and Twitter too.
Defend yourself as you would, but to netizens the real intent of the MDA licensing framework was already revealed in a Freudian slip: “Read the right thing.”
What does it say about the quality of our education, if Singaporeans need the government to tell us what to read?
And why are you so uptight, when you already control all the mainstream media and have die-hard fans running online sites to defend you? You’ve even planned to extend the MDA licensing regulations to foreign websites this year.
A little humor goes a long way, as this Hong Kong politician demonstrated when a misaimed egg hit him on the head. He quipped that his doctor had advised him to cut down his egg intake and it was lucky he was not wearing a good suit. This won him kudos in cyberspace (watch video).
Now I am not instigating egg-throwing, just suggesting that threatening legal action is not always the best way to deflect criticisms.
Live and let live in 2014, won’t you?
3. Listen and reflect
Perhaps you find online criticisms too biting and hard to swallow.
But surely the feedback you painstakingly gathered in the year-long Our Singapore Conversation is worth listening to?
“A society with diverse definitions of success,” “a Singapore that is affordable to live in,” “a society that takes care of the disadvantaged,” “a Singapore for Singaporeans,” “a society where government and the people have a more collaborative relationship” are some of our hopes and dreams articulated to you.
These aspirations show that Singaporeans want a kinder, less materialistic and more inclusive society, and quality growth at a slower pace.
But your chorus of fear-mongering (see here, here, here and here) on the “tradeoffs” of slower growth only goes to show how disconnected you are from society.
After a fateful 2013 that began with your resounding electoral defeat, ended with the first ever riot in decades and was filled with incidents of incompetence in between, perhaps you should take 2014 as a year of introspection.
Listen more, talk less.
Happy new year.