In the closing speech of the Debate of the President’s Address last month, I related the story of ”The Giving Tree”.
This is a story which I used to read to my children when they were much younger. It was published in 1964 by Harper and Row. It is a children’s book written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. This book has become one of Silverstein’s best known titles and has been translated into more than 30 languages.
Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy. And everyday the boy would come, and he would gather leaves, make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk, swing from her branches and eat apples. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree And the tree was happy.
But soon the boy grew older and one day he came and asked, “Can you give me some money to buy things and have fun?” “I have no money,” said the tree, “Just apples, twigs and leaves.” “But you can take my apples, boy, and sell them in the city.” So he did. And the tree was happy.
But soon again the boy came back and he said to the tree, “I’m now a man and I want a house to keep me warm.” “I can’t give you a house”, the tree said, “The forest is my house.” “But you may cut my branches off and build yourself a home” So he did. And the tree was happy.
And time went by and the boy came back with sadness in his eyes. “I want a boat that will take me far away. Can you give me a boat?” “Cut down my trunk and make a boat,” said the tree, “Then you can sail away and be happy” So he did. And the tree was happy.
And after many years the boy came back, both of them were old. “I really cannot help you if you ask me for another gift.” “I’m nothing but an old stump…and sorry I’ve nothing more to give.”
“I do not need very much now, just a quiet place to rest,” The boy whispered, with a weary smile. “Well”, said the tree, “An old stump is still good for that.” “Come, boy”, he said, “Sit down, sit down and rest.” So he did. And the tree was happy.
Metaphorically, I see the tree was our country, Singapore, and the little boy – its people, like you and me. Like many Singaporeans, my siblings and I have benefited from the meritocracy and the social mobility Singapore has offered.
My siblings and I, four of us, grew up in a 3-room HDB flat in Tanglin Halt Road. Although there were two bedrooms, all of us squeezed into one. My parents slept on a bed, while the four of us slept on mattresses on the floor. We were contented. We were happy.
My father, who had only primary school education, supported all four of us through university locally, by sheer hard work and thrift. All of us have a decent job now, make a decent living, own our own homes and are now parents ourselves.
The PAP Government, like the tree, has done well in providing and caring for its people over the last 46 years. We should give credit, when credit is due. However we should also not rest on our laurels but must continue to do more to improve the lives of Singaporeans.