Progress cannot be made by advocating loudly for a single viewpoint, DPM Heng Swee Keat said in a speech at The NUS115 Distinguished Speaker Series on 13 August 2021.
Our sense of unity – regardless of race, language or religion – is our tremendous strength. It is precious but also fragile, Mr Heng said.
Unlike many other societies, Singapore does not have the ballast of common ancestry, or centuries of shared traditions, language and religion. We became a nation by accident. “Our way of life – embracing diversity and living in harmony – is not the natural order of things,” said Mr Heng.
Through determination, our founding leaders created a nation that had an equal place for all races. Today, we are not only one of the most diverse societies in the world, but also one of the most united. This was achieved through careful nurturing.
Mr Heng cautioned that our multiracial harmony cannot be taken for granted. Recent racial incidents are a reminder to us that undercurrents still exist. While such occurrences are thankfully not the norm, they have provoked much public debate and reflection, he added.
Different perspectives, different views
How can we make progress on issues of race and religion? As with most social issues, we have to recognise that there are many different perspectives and views. We should be prepared to discuss these frankly but in a sensitive manner, Mr Heng said.
In this respect, Mr Heng stressed that it is useful to appreciate that there are not only different opinions on these issues, there are also different ways to approach them.
The communal strife in the early years of nationhood is a reminder of how issues of religion and race can easily agitate and divide a society. Or worse still, get exploited by those with a political agenda.
Humility to recognise our own biases and blind spots
We live in a dynamic world where things will not stay static.
“Every generation bears the responsibility of bringing us closer to ‘one united people, regardless of race, language or religion'”, Mr Heng said.
Mr Heng told his audience that they would be able to grow this sense of unity further if they approach these issues with a sense of humility and forbearance.
Humility and forbearance
We must have the humility to recognise that each one of us have our biases and blind spots. We must also have the humility not to assume the worst of every action or comment and exercise forbearance when engaging such issues, given the deep and emotive undercurrents.
“Being mindful of our biases and correcting them is a constructive step towards progress,” Mr Heng said.
“Progress cannot be made by advocating loudly for a single viewpoint. We should instead seek out the different perspectives and expand the space for convergence. These apply not just to our youths, but to all of us.”
“If every generation – including all of us here – embrace this strength, and handle differences with humility and forbearance, I am confident that Singapore can flourish in the coming decades,” said Mr Heng.