Looking at these three words, “Happy New Year”, I wondered aloud to myself - there isn’t much to celebrate about in 2018. Going back to school simply means taking on a heavy load of responsibilities and trying to come to terms with my perpetual anxiety and nervousness. I hate dealing with expectations and the worst ones are usually self-imposed. Which brings to mind my lack of progress in the planning for Sociology Field Trip. But am I the only one who feels this way?
Again, I am reminded of the difficulty in engaging my peers in intellectual discussion without ever feeling ill-prepared. Aside from asking the right questions, I have to also consider the appeal of the selected field site. The chasm between you and I in terms of the degree of interest and appreciation in recognizing the relevance of the topics to be discussed, showed me just how tiring it is to get everyone onboard to share an idea built upon a common vision. Feeling alienated and underappreciated, the natural response would be to stop trying.
Yet more than ever, I wish to explore how it means to feel different by just being true to yourself and why there are some occasions when we consciously try to suppress our personal voices within. Does that then make some groups in society which do not make themselves heard, deserving of their marginalized status? Given the attention that nations around the world are paying to the implications of ‘fake news’ – essentially mired in myths and aggrandized for their political and commercial functions, why should it be the case that as citizens, we desensitize ourselves to communities whose needs are real but remain hidden from the dominant narrative portrayed in the media? Just like ‘fake news’, we might not cross paths with these communities but they exist as signposts for the preparation of a new social milieu, of which we play a part in shaping.
After watching the debate between Prof Chua and Prof Mahbubani, and being posed a question by Yu Heng, a visiting student from Peking University – would I choose to have a plethora of voices in civil discourse, or sustained economic growth led by the governing elites whose beliefs and principles become the blueprints for our city planning and administration – my belief is that as an accidental nation, we are only able to collectively reach a middle ground when we learn to disagree with one another based on mutual understanding about the various sociopolitical issues at hand. Ideally, there should be contestations amongst the various stakeholders but not to prove who is right or wrong. Sure, not of us have noble goals of empowering others or lending a voice to the marginalized but I believe one definite advantage in contesting is the potential to generate a new perspective and in the process, exploring possibilities beyond the current status quo.
At the heart of the debate is the question how we can arrive at consensus-building without polarizing the masses and letting serious cracks emerged from the fault lines in our social fabrics that hold the tenets of our multiracial society. As someone who prefers thinking alone in solitude, rather than participating in leadership conferences or political dialogues as part of a consultative process, I would like to learn more about inclusive civil activism using design-centric thinking. But even before all these can happen, I quote Prof Cherian George
“we need to believe there’s a we in the first place.”
Harking back to a divisive year in 2017, race and social stratification are 2 topics that emerged from the presidential (s)election and IPS survey on social capital, surfacing the undercurrent of change in our evolving relationship with one another with regards to our social selves and identity as Singaporeans. If we really believe that sociology is more than being subversive, should we not take up social causes and change the rule of engagement with one another without fear of upsetting the current status quo while doing away with unnecessary label of others?
I believe now is an opportune moment where youths like us hold the power to determine the terms on which we could create a fairer and more inclusive civil society. We are the dots that need to be connected but the terms of engagement cannot be arbitrarily decided by any one single member; rather the social glue that ties us together should be our respect for the differences that exist amongst us for it is precisely these differences – shaped by each individual’s history and living environment – that will lead to negotiation with our social structures that will carry us to the future. In the words of Prof Cherian George “we won’t make Singapore more complete by homogenizing it, but by creating space for the diversity that is our defining trait and our organic strength” (2017), we should all recalibrate our choices and work towards consensus-building while embracing the myriad of voices in civil society. With that, I suppose I should make it a point to convince someone to share these mixed feelings of mine at the start of this new year. Would you take up my offer?