Friday, 11 December 2015
When I was very young, I asked my mom, what religion is the best? And she said, all ways lead to God. Each religion teaches you to do good. End of. And I remember, when I was very young, knowing that this was the answer which I wanted to hear, although I did not really understand it. As I grew up, I realised that each religion could also teach you to do bad. But there was NEVER a doubt in my mind that ALL religions were valid. ALL faiths demanded respect. In Singapore we learned to grow up like this - we learned, from the youngest age at all races and religions were relevant and required EQUAL treatment and I knew that this was critical in creating the place which we have today.
People wonder at how come Singapore did so well economically. It was because that despite its flaws, this tenant was enshrined, sometimes imperfectly, at its core. Imagine if the race card was played? Actually you don't have to imagine it. Look at all the countries where it was played - look at them. Torn apart by civil war, people needlessly punished over nothing at all. Often RACE was used to cover up CORRUPTION. As a Singaporean I learned at a very young age to ask, when people stoke race and religion, what are they trying to hide?
As a Chinese Singaporean, I could learn Malay as a second language, which I did. Although I was ethnically Chinese, I was culturally closer to Malay. My sister, sadly did not have that choice. She learned Chinese because when it came to her turn to go to school, a Chinese person had to learn Chinese.
Really it was not about what second language you learned - the point is that you could choose. Identity was a fluid thing. It was something which you could mould. You could have an Indian face, but speak fluent Hokkien, which many Singaporeans did. You could be Chinese and speak Malay. And most Chinese people did.
Everyone had a liminal identity - and we all knew this. We all knew that at the edge of empire, we all were picking and mixing, as we pleased. And because we were all miscegenated, all of us were centres, all of us were the periphery. Each person learned to navigate the shoals and banks of culture without even thinking. We could tease each other about our cultural stereotypes and knew how far it would go before it became racist. Looking back today, it seems like a sort of a miracle.
We were truly colour blind - in fact I remember my mother saying, when I was seven, children are born colour blind. This is true.
This tolerance is then extended to other parts in our lives - to different ways of thinking, to different ways of doing things. The child who has a mixed outlook on life, I believe will naturally be someone who is open to new influences, new ideas. Someone who is willing to keep an open mind. To not be afraid to say, hey, what I did was wrong. To correct what they did. To learn from their mistakes. They will adapt and they will change. They will, hopefully, not only flourish but also survive.
Contrast this to the fundamentalist mindset - someone who lives in a monocultural world. They will keep asserting their superiority and identity over everyone else, insisting that everything they do is right, even when it is wrong, constantly denying reality and in so doing, the seeds of their failure are built into the ideology and eventually it will bring about the end - either of themselves or their way of thinking. We are right and everyone else is wrong, is a desperate person's cry. Someone who has nothing else to cling to, apart from their loneliness.
When I listen to a fundamentalist - and one can be an extremist anything, not just in religion - you can be a cultural chauvinist, a economist who believes only in the rape and pillage of the Earth, you could be a judgemental bitch - the first thing I think about is, who hurt you? Who hurt you so much that you had to build this citadel of thought where no one is allowed in? Then I think, how much must you hurt, so that you want to hurt others so much as well.
The truth is that the person who TRULY benefits from your tolerance is YOU, not other people, but YOU. You are unburdened and free. You are free to love everyone, free to go anywhere and do anything. Tolerance and love is your passport to infinite possibilities. You are saying to yourself, there are no limits, there are no horizons - but in a really, really good way.
Imagine, from the youngest age, being told all the time that you were the best of the best, that your way of life was the best and the most rightest, and that your God was the most correct and that everyone else's is wrong, and that your way of living was the right one and that everyone else was going to hell... and as I write this I can feel my chest tightening - imagine having that tightening in your chest all the time, just like this. Being unable to breathe.
Then if you are in position of power, you inflict this upon someone who is not in a position of power. What happens then?
It is not rocket science.
Thankfully, as human beings we can choose. We are not confined and tethered like animals to our habitats. We can adapt, we can say, well that does not make sense, I am not doing that any more. We can choose choice, we can choose love over hate, courage over fear... and we can also choose to be colour blind.
Posted by Stephanie Sim at 07:01