In an emotional speech to the Parliament recently, Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong asked fellow Singaporeans to give him and his government more time to deliver on their electoral promises.

“… every country has its own challenges, and we should not always believe that the grass is greener on the other side.  We can be better off, and yet if we succumb to the urgings of those who promote envy, excite disaffection, then we will always be unhappy; no amount of good things can make us happy,” he said.

This emotional plea for patience and understanding came at a time when Singaporeans have been at their most vocal and critical. As the economy grew, and the population grows, the usual problems of overpopulation became more apparent. Public transportation became overburdened, the number of foreign workers grew exponentially, and the rich-poor gap grew further. The speech highlighted the disconnect between government policies and the mood on the ground.

As a result, people became bitter. The poor lament that it’s getting harder to make ends meet. The rich lament that they could’ve gotten richer if some policies introduced are scaled back (or scaled up). Employees lament that work-life balance has been sacrificed for the sake of growing numbers. Employers complain that employees are becoming more rebelious and unco-operative. In short – nothing’s right for anyone.

Across the causeway, Malaysians have also become more vocal. We complain about almost anything. From shortage of water and rising costs of living to traffic jams and inefficient bureaucrats. Never mind that many of these problems are beyond the government’s, any government’s for that matter, control. The cost of essential items: food, fuel and housing are rising across the world. It’s called scarcity of resources. And that’s brought about by both the change in climate as well as overpopulation.

Of course, we all know it’s easier to find faults than to offer solutions. Yet we chose to ignore it by complaining and lamenting anything and everything that’s not working in our favour. We have become a society of grumpy people. That’s absolutely fine if it stops there. But like everything else in life, one thing leads to another. As it is, these dissatisfactions, justified or not, have manifested into an anti-establishment movement, a greater outflow of talents to neighbouring countries and a racially-charged society that’s ready to blow apart at the slightest provocation.

Is this healthy for the country? Certainly not.

But years of self-conditioning that we have been marginalised, have led to us believing that it is true. And the fight or flight response gets triggered. Those who can leave, leaves. While those who stay, fight demons that don’t exist.

The problem is compounded by our not-in-my-backyard beliefs. We want bigger highways, larger cemeteries, more power stations – as long as these are not in our backyard. We want to move up in life quickly, and anyone in our way must be eliminated, never mind that they are mere bystanders. Like anxious teenagers, we must get what we want, or else someone need to pay.

Have we ever stopped and consider this: have we tried hard enough? It goes without saying that if you are coming from behind in a race, you need to run faster and harder. Yet, many of us would rather have more holidays than work longer hours. You see – the management gurus tell us that if you work smart and efficiently, you shouldn’t need to work too hard. Really? I certainly don’t think it sells too many books or seminars if the author or speaker is to tell the truth and say that the only way to move up, everyhing else being equal, is to work harder.

The reality is that there’s always countries and people who are ahead of us. And if we can’t live with the idea of coming from behind, then we will need to run faster.

Like PM Lee mentioned succintly in his speech, we can never be happy if we stop envying and being dissaffected. If you find yourself in this zero sum position – consider this: it’s time to stop the self-pity and fault finding and simply work harder.


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