OPINION | Why it is important to listen without pontification… and more of other stories in review

In the aftermath of the passing of Her Majesty, The Queen, many people, ranging from random members of the public to statesmen, have shared stories and anecdotes about her.

What was observed most seemed to be her willingness to listen without judgment or opinion. In her Christmas broadcast in 1991, the late Queen notably said: “But let us not take ourselves too seriously. None of us has a monopoly of wisdom, and we must always be ready to listen and respect other points of view.”

This week, Workers’ Party (WP) politician, Nicole Seah shared via social media the importance of house visits as such visits were opportunities to reach out to each resident and listen to their issues. The two things that stood out were that every resident mattered and that it was important to listen.

This ability to reach into the grassroots and listen to sentiments on the ground has been a large part of the WP’s success – the ability to listen without pontification.

Very often, people just want to be heard – they don’t need lofty opinions or be given high-handed advice on how to live their lives. They want to feel genuinely understood and in her Facebook post, Seah has highlighted that she understands this very thing that people want – to be “listened to”.

The People’s Action Party has been the only party that has ruled Singapore thus far. While they have mostly done a good job (praise must be given when due), a common criticism by the general populace is that people do not feel like their thoughts or feelings matter because the government was going to do what it was going to do anyway.

Yet, the Government should be serving the public and in reality, the Government is the servant of the people – so, of course, public opinion matters.

At this juncture, let me draw the distinction between genuinely engaging the public and populist actions. The former requires genuine listening, discernment and thoughtful follow-up, while the latter is made up of short-term actions for short-term gains that may not benefit the country beyond boosting the immediate popularity of the politician in question.

The PAP Government has had its fair share of criticism over the years for not listening. For example, in 2020, the PAP was criticised for not listening to people after the Cabinet was announced. At that time, Singapore-based senior director with the BowerGroupAsia consultancy Nydia Ngiow was quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying that the cabinet was constructed “within the same PAP mould.”

Ms Ngiow also commented that there were no women among the newly-promoted ministers, saying that this “leads us to question whether they really are listening and reacting to sentiments on the ground.”

Perhaps the more seasoned PAP politicians can be reminded of their first duty as a politician by the much younger Nicole Seah. They can also draw some inspiration from the wisdom of the late Queen. It is never too late to learn, and it is certainly never too late to change. It is also OK to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.

This might well be something that national swimmer Joseph Schooling is coming to terms with at the moment.

Marathoner Soh Rui Yong has praised beleaguered Olympic medallist Joseph Schooling for how he has been handling recent controversy. Mr Soh who is, himself, no stranger to controversies has publicly shown his support for Schooling who has been keeping a low profile since admitting to having tried marijuana while overseas. 

While some members of the public have indicated that they felt disappointed or angry at Schooling for his actions, I do wonder if it is really fair for us to have projected our expectations on another human being in this manner. It also exposed a certain penchant for judgment and punishment within our society – almost like children needing to be parented at all times.

For what it is worth, and unfortunately at Schooling’s expense, the public can learn a lot about what it means to be human. As human beings, we are capable of great feats, but we are also prone to mistakes. Should we simply be torn down because we make mistakes? Is it more courageous and indeed more beneficial for all humankind if we can stand up from mistakes and do better? We should be encouraging each other to do better, as opposed to judging and criticising.

Schooling’s stellar achievement and public fall from grace are testaments to the greatness and frailties of humanity all at once. It is honest, and it is real, and Soh said it well when he said “A true role model for us all in managing the ups and downs in life”.

Life has its ups and downs, and we should be authentic about these things. Schooling is a role model not just because of the medals he has won, but because he is an imperfect person trying to do his best.

What he should be judged on is not his error but rather, how he comes back from them. And for us, as members of the public, we should also take heed and ownership of our own harshness and why that is.

OPINION: When does the Government listen to your opinions?

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