Suddenly, a Singaporean spirit
The year was 1987. I was then a librarian with the National Library. That year, the Government began to introduce ‘national songs’. I cannot remember the exact rationale for doing so, but what I remember that this was something which would help us bond as a nation, engender some kind of ‘national identity’. I took part in something called “Sing Singapore”, a campaign which aimed to get groups of people, including civil servants, performing various community songs.
For a long, long time, these songs felt cheesy to me and my friends. Perhaps because they were so unabashedly pro-Singapore; they were a bit touchy-feely and we Singaporeans are not used to touchy-feely stuff about our country. We are the practical-minded, get-on-with-it type of people . We have no time or inclination to wax lyrical about feelings about our country.
Years later, during the SG50 weekend, I sang the song “Home” no less than three times. And I found myself singing lustily, with heart and feeling and such gratitude.
What happened in between? My son remarked to me this and I agreed. We never thought we had a national identity or spirit. But suddenly, imperceptibly, mysteriously, this spirit manifested itself strongly and certainly and clearly. Maybe it was precipitated by the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew earlier this year. Suddenly we could cry as a nation; we grieved as one.
And during the SG50 weekend, our celebrated as one nation as well. Our hearts welled with gratitude and pride. We had a shared past and a future which we all have vested our lives into.
This article is not a debate about whether or not we should have social defence or whether our national songs are cheesy or nice. My point here is that it was all part of an effect to forge a national identity of sorts and it took decades for that to happen, maybe longer even.
When it happened, it seemed to have sprung up overnight but truth is, it didn’t. It was a seed planted, watered and nurtured over the years to become the ‘tree’ we saw at our SG50 celebrations. I experienced the truth of what I heard at one seminar: we often over-estimate what we can do in a year, and under-estimate what we can do in 10 years!
The next time I scorn at any effort to achieve something great, I am going to remember this. As a Singaporean born just before Independence, I had never thought we would be THIS Singaporean and this united but today, I feel like we have really become one people, one nation, one Singapore.