An irrational fear of speaking up
●By Leo Khee Lew
At a recent wedding dinner of the daughter of an old friend, I met some former colleagues whom I had not seen for ages. Like me, they had also retired from the civil service. We had a good time catching up with one another. But in addition to trivialities, we also talked about the more serious issue of pension.
As it was a matter of personal interest, the discussion drew enthusiastic comments from many. A suggestion was made for Li to write to the Forum page of the press on the financial status of retired civil servants and make a case for the monthy allowance to be adjusted.
Li had no objection to writing the letter - on condition that he would not have to put his real name to it. He was afraid of repercussions and getting more than he had bargained for. Here in Singapore, he felt, the wise thing to do was not to make too many public views.
On my way home, I pondered what Li had said. Is the fear a leftover from history that still haunts people or is it a self-created suspicion?
The ruthlessness of politics in human history can leave one terror-striken. But even if the feeling is as nerve-wracking as coming face to face with a "ghost", the question is: "Has anyone really seen a ghost?" Ghost stories are just hearsay, not backed by any scientific evidence.
And history tells us that there have been rulers who, at critical times, deliberately created a "ghostly" atmosphere, to control the minds of the people and consolidate their gains and power.
There are, of course, those who are "ghost-fearing" and those who are not. But it is the latter, who, with great drive and determination, and a conviction that "science will prevail over superstitions", who have created the civilisation we have today.
Unfortunately, this has not diminished the "fear of ghosts". And people are still wary of "political repercussions." The power of this paralysing sense of fear has driven some to a blind spot where they cannot see matters in perspective.
They believe that by expressing views critical of the government, their behaviour will be labelled anti-state and anti-government. Furthermore, this mistaken notion has swung the pendulum to the other extreme - they are convinced that keeping silent and keeping out of trouble is the safest way to live.
Even now, many are still worried about "saying the wrong things" on non-political issues, preferring instead, to sit on the fence. It is an urgent task to help them break out of this self-imposed mentality of remaining "silent".
This "irrational fear" is a result of being over-sensitive. It is also the legacy of a particular time and situation.
But to build a more vibrant and dynamic society, Singaporeans must overcome this feeling of needless fear.
(The witer is a retired civil servant . Translated by Yap Gee Poh.)