“More broadly, a good relationship between the 4G leaders and youth is key to a strong 4G mandate. After all, the 4G can take the country into the future only if the actual future generation stands with them” (How the 4G Political Leadership Can Build Trust With My Generation of Youth, Ng Chia Wee).
While well-intentioned, the question of how the government can build trust with the younger generation (ST, May 23) and its emphasis on “consensus” as an answer still result in disproportionate deference to the government, thereby disregarding the ability of (young) Singaporeans to independently advocate for policy change – reflected by the many movements and organisations across a variety of socio-economic causes which already exist – and even their democratic ability to shape the government which represents them. In addition to the Youth Conversations, for instance, other groups have had no trouble organising their own forums or programmes to solicit views. Of greater interest and further independent of governmental involvement, it would appear, is facilitating the continued accommodation of diverse community voices as well as nudging uninvolved or lethargic individuals to be a part of these broader discourses.
There is irony in desiring to move away from an antiquated hierarchical government-citizen relationship on the one hand, and in binding “the fourth generation political leadership” and the “younger generation” – both generalisations which mask aforementioned diversity in perspectives and beliefs – to an interdependent relationship characterised by a principle of mutual respect. Absent from this conceptualisation is the autonomy of youths to rally around issues in spite of positions held by the government or by the majority of the population, even if nascent advocacy among youths is just gaining traction. In this vein, it is not a given that youths will or should trust “that the 4G leaders will steer the Singapore ship properly, especially when it hits turbulent waters and even when they disagree”, and they may not necessarily agree that “the current political leadership is the best available right now to lead Singapore”. Present and future results, not personalities or historical narratives, should guide how individuals evaluate the government of the day.
Which is why an over-reliance on “consensus” could stifle diversity and the important need for (young) Singaporeans to take a stand. Those engaged in community work or socio-political discussions, moreover, have recognised that articulating an opinion is but a start: Much more work is needed to reach those who disagree, to organise sustainably in more diverse groups, and to execute endeavours with the potential of changing public opinion. That is not to argue that the younger generation should eschew working with the government or making use of the resources made available. Rather, those of us in the younger generation looking to make a difference should prioritise working with a wide spectrum of Singaporeans and groups over clamouring for “trust” from the get-go, so as to build a track record of complementary rhetoric and action. If accomplished ably, this “trust” from the government and others in power will naturally follow.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.