Three years ago, I tried to pen a reflection post on National Day, but eventually ditched it; writers’ block happens, and that National Day was one such occasion. I haven’t written much about National Day in 2021 and 2022, but I figured I should get back to writing that I have got yet another cybersecurity certification out of the way!
In geopolitically turbulent times, people ask whether Singapore will survive.
I have had the fortune of listening to Lim Siong Guan in person muse over this topic. Central to his lectures was the culture of “innovation, excellence and outwardness”.
Singapore, as a nation state, does not have a predefined mandate to exist. Our independence was a direct repudiation of ethno-nationalism. In the words of some, we can recast Singapore’s survival as “beating the odds of history”.
When growing up, we often learn of some of the cruel realities the world has in store for us. One of which is an African proverb: when big elephants fight, the grass must suffer. Another one of which is the simple saying of “big fish eating small fish”. But should small states accept their destiny of being small forever?
There has been great literature surrounding small state diplomacy and how small states should conduct business. I am a faithful student of many diplomats who have mused over these at length. But I would like to speak from my own personal paradigm as well.
This year, I decided, in my resolutions, that I would like to have more of an outward focus on what I want to do. This began with me finding a way back to my alma mater on my birthday to give a career guidance talk. Later on, I was also asked to revitalise volunteer efforts in a variety of groups. These include hardware engineering groups, as well as sustainability ones. I am happy contributing my own voice to these groups beyond just working in cybersecurity. At work, I am honoured to be the creator of a made-in-Singapore cybersecurity card game! Who says Singaporeans cannot be creative?
But it was perhaps a chat with a young volunteer who was brave enough to ask me what my life goals are that made me decide to write my own National Day thoughts. I reproduce parts of the Whatsapp chat (replies and recipient redacted)
Some people may view me as simplistic. But the nation has given me a chance for me to put my own talents to use in ways I have not imagined, or cannot imagine, in a society that does not value my own set of abilities as much. I may not have been a cybersecurity professional if I was born into circumstances that did not allow me to go to school.
Why is my own personal paradigm important for the nation? A nation’s future is simply the summation of its citizens. If its citizens find ways to create win-win outcomes, the nation will eventually benefit through synergies across different segments of society. For me, I view my own individual actions as an opportunity to create various synergies, in the hope that the nation moves towards a certain direction through the aggregate of our actions.
But an aggregation of citizens moving in the wrong direction, too, does not lead to a nation’s progress. This is where Lim Siong Guan’s points on culture become relevant.
Being “First World” in the eyes of the international audience does not negate the fact that Singapore is still vulnerable. Singapore will never become competitive on cost. Singapore also will not have an ethnic-based or cultural-based identify to fall back to given our youth. To me, Singapore’s national identity is that of hope. At an individual level, we hope that our talent can find avenues to find meaning by putting their talent to good use: good jobs and opportunities. At a community level, we hope that our people come together with a shared purpose: being a trustworthy people who others can rely on. And at a state level, we hope that Singapore continues to exert its relevance in the world, so that Singaporeans can continue to enjoy privileges that arise from our usefulness worldwide.
What can an individual like me do to keep the hope going? To continue being in touch with the younger generation and inspiring them that each generation should always do better than what their predecessors have left behind.
Happy National Day! 🙂