tsunamiThere is no doubt that Singapore has done well economically. We have transformed ourselves from a third world, to a first world country in just over 4 decades, in spite of our lack of natural resources and many other challenges. Our strength is in our ability to transform and adapt to the ever changing environment, both regionally and internationally. Besides making Singapore economically strong by constantly upgrading and restructuring our economy, there is also an urgent need to make Singapore strong socially, by building up social resilience among Singaporeans. However, we are currently still far from the ultimate goal of being a socially resilient Singapore.

Let us go back to 2011, where the last GE introduced a new word into the political vocabulary of Singaporeans – “a new political norm”. We had witnessed several milestones in the political arena, both in the ruling party, as well as in the opposition. After the elections, everyone – politicians, society, people, agreed that there is a need to forge a new social compact based on this new political norm. One, where the government is more receptive, more consultative and more engaging. One, where the populace is more vocal and more aware of its rights and not afraid to voice its opinion. This I think is inevitable with a more educated, aware and developed society.

While a new social compact is forged upon this new political norm, there must be a common consensus on the tasks that lies ahead and what we, as Singaporeans, and not just the government, must do. This is something that we have often heard – the government cannot do this alone, we must work hand in hand. And this is no less true. An often heard Chinese adage, tells us that one chopstick is broken easily, but ten chopsticks together, makes for strength in unity.

With the impending silver tsunami, the government has catered for the building of more long term care facilities, and acute care hospitals.  However, even more importantly, Singaporeans must excogitate and reach a common consensus on what the task is ahead and how we can all come together to help.

There was an article reported in the BBC last year after the tsunami and nuclear reactor disaster that took place in Fukushima. It reads:

“The deadly tsunami had struck and resulted in a nuclear leak crisis in Fukushima last year. It was while watching the news on television that Mr Yasuteru Yamada decided it was time for his generation to stand up and volunteer themselves. No longer could he be just an observer of the struggle to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear plant. The retired engineer reported back for duty at the age of 72, and organised a team of pensioners to go with him. A group of more than 200 Japanese pensioners volunteered to tackle the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power station. The Skilled Veterans Corps, as they call themselves, was made up of retired engineers and other professionals, all over the age of 60. They rationalized that they should be facing the dangers of radiation, not the young.

Mr Yamada had said, “Volunteering to take the place of younger workers at the power station is not brave, but logical. I am 72 and on average I probably have another 13 to 15 years left to live. Even if I were exposed to radiation, cancer could take 20 or 30 years or longer to develop. Therefore us older ones have less chance of getting cancer.”

Such is the courage and resilience we see in the Japanese people in the face of adversity. The Japanese people have faced many disasters, from world war, to earthquakes and deadly tsunamis. These have helped built social cohesion and resilience in its people. The fact that he was elderly showed how the elderly too had a role to play in our society.

As a nation, we are far from achieving this ultimate goal of being a socially resilient society. We must learn to work together as a team, as one people in handling difficult situations, including the silver tsunami. We must discard the mindset that “this is not my problem” and that “the government will solve the problem”. We must learn to take responsibility of our living environment, our lives and our own destiny.

We must take the responsibility of looking after our senior citizens well. Our children are watching and learning from us. We will grow old one day and similarly, we want our children to take good care of us in our silver years. We want a Singapore that is strong and inclusive, where its people can live meaningfully and age gracefully and with dignity.