More than saucy headlines, I love the sensational comments that follow most news articles these days. I find these snapshots of actual sentiment informative and entertaining.
Last week, I read an article on how Malaysia was poised to whoop Singapore’s ass (economically speaking) as it ramped up the East Coast Rail Line.
The article, itself balanced and educational, was not the highlight. Instead, it was a particular comment that followed which effectively said: YOU SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING! NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO CRITICISE OUR GOVERNMENT! WE HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER.
So, for the benefit of this individual and anyone else who is interested I have put together this arbitrary guide explaining why this perspective is preposterous and detrimental by suggesting what not to do as you criticise or hear criticism.
What not to do
1) Avoid criticism for criticism’s sake. I get it, somedays you get out of bed, you can’t get a seat on the MRT, your kopi-o is served with milk and it starts pouring just as you set off from work for your hot date.
As tempting as it may be, this is not the government’s fault in any coherent fashion.
It is possible some aspects may be tangentially related to policy — overcrowded trains, foreign workers at coffee shops but mainly these are simply the ups and downs of urban life.
I call this method of criticism: Taxi Uncle. Because no one has mastered this griping more than the disgruntled Taxi Uncle and as you are zipping down the CTE in the back of a cab while the uncle reduces every possible frustration to the “gah-men,” your eyes can only glaze over but let’s be honest we are all susceptible to it, myself included.
But in any practical sense — this sort of simple villainising is likely to be largely unproductive.
2) Refrain from personal attacks. Defamation suits aside, this tack is rather tacky.
Does it matter what a particular minister looks like or sounds like? Also, unless essential to arguments concerning nepotism, avoid dragging in the relatives of politicians.
Instead focus on the issues — for example: did the politician say something specific that demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of the society she governs?
Keep in mind
1) Understand the purpose of criticism. I believe you can accuse your government of doing a lousy job on A, B and C while appreciating other policies and most importantly remaining thoroughly and unwaveringly Singaporean.
Which means if I strongly oppose the government’s racialised work pass policies, this does not automatically mean I am sitting around hoping my country will fail.
In fact, the opposite is true — the less able we are as a maturing republic to process criticism, the poorer we will be for it.; constructive criticism therefore is really a way of showing concern for your nation and is not just an avenue for running it down.
2) The ruling party is not Singapore. This is surprisingly easy to forget but critics and their critics must keep in mind that our nation has a history, heritage and future quite distinct from that of any party — which means it is quite possible to criticise a party or the government while loving the nation.
3) Be mindful of tone and language and context. Shrill alarmism and crudeness actually undermine your argument.
Using every accident and tragedy — from car accidents to murders — to funnel invective at the government again only makes you less credible.
In short, don’t vent. I am assuming your core goal is to get as many of your fellow Singaporeans reading, listening and questioning and hope that one day this will affect change the government can’t ignore.
Isn’t that the entire point of a democracy?
Surekha A. Yadav is a freelance journalist