Things I’ve learnt from the AWARE saga
This is probably the last post I’m gonna be writing over the AWARE saga for quite a while. Like so many others, I’ve just got to write a “lessons learn” piece – it’s closure = )
There has been quite a few excellent reviews and editorials written already, just do a google search. So I won’t be writing so much from a general perspective – I’m gonna write about MY own personal experience and what I, specifically, have learnt about it.
Losing my voice
I started writing my blog because I wanted to archive my thoughts — free up memory in the brain, while keeping a diary of the evolution of my thoughts and views over time. These thoughts and views were mine and mine alone.
I’ve often identified myself as a sex ed trainer in my blog – because that voluntary role is both a product and a shaper of my thoughts and views. But I’ve always made the disclaimer that on my blog, I reflect only my own views and not that of any organization, even though I know I do get careless with my writing style.
But people seem to take it for granted that my personal views are actually what is being held by the organization or done in class – not necessarily at all!!! It became worst when I realized that google listed my blog quite high up with certain keywords. Suddenly there was that pressure that came from everyone staring at me.
I had to watch my words, I had to put only info that was obtained from various other sources. I had to shut up my own views. I lost my voice. Which was very ironic, since blogs are meant to be THE place for free speech, and this whole saga was about the freedom and diversity of views.
Boxes and Labels
People have a tendency to fit others in boxes and fit themselves in boxes too. Neat little boxes. Christian. Charismatic Christian. Fundamentalist Christian. Feminist. Gay. Liberal. Those boxes provide their little conveniences but it can come with so much unnecessary and unfair baggage too.
I’m Christian – but the Christian camp censures me for not being homophobic, for saying that pre-marital sex is morally neutral, for not attending the right church. Are these the defining qualities one needs to be Christian?
At the same time, the non-Christian liberal camp pounces on me with assumptions that I must be discriminatory and imposing — does a Christian have to be so defined?
Likewise, I am an AWARE member. When the news first broke and was still highly speculative , I was very reluctant to come to the most complex conclusions – that a conspiracy was taking place here in Singapore! I gravitate towards the simpler, likelier explanations – Occam’s Razor you know?
Yet I felt condemned for holding that view — pressured to change my view. Does being a feminist mean that I have to participate in witch hunts without understanding/knowledge? When I finally agreed with them, it wasn’t about the pressure — it was about the evidence.
Lost in Interpretation
It’s amazing how I can write something and have people interpret them in 101 different ways, and get polar opposite reactions. And I’m still alive and willing to clarify and dialogue!
It really makes me re-consider all these religious texts. Let’s not even go to the accuracy of transcription or translation. Just the mere interpretation is enough for diverse religions to spring up under the same label — how can anyone be sure they’re interpreting it the author’s intended way?!?
The platform vs the people
Why was there such a big need to take back AWARE? At the end of the day, the organization is as good as it’s people — starting another organization with the same people would be like….. a name change, a re-branding exercise.
Yet at the same time, there was the issue of the brand itself. Plus all the funds and grants and licenses that could only be fought for over years and year.
And of course, the principle and statement we’re making, by standing up and speaking , rather than shutting up and sitting down.
Shut Up & Sit Down vs Stand Up and Speak Out
Heheh. Wasn’t that the defining moments of this whole episode — one side being about Shut-Up and Sit Down, and the other side being about Stand up and Speak Out. – That basically sums up the entire clash. And how naturally it was brought up! = )
I’ve often made the observation that Singapore, unlike other countries, or even unlike the foreigners here, all too often, we see the activists standing up on speaking out. The victims themselves are silent — they are now-where to be found!!! I’m sorry to say this but, I’ve often seen Ravi Philemon and Tan Kin Lian standing up and speaking out. I’ve never heard a single poor, displaced person, or a person who has lost his life savings, standing up and speaking out. Complaining, yes, but not that assertive campaigning.
I think Aware might have won the EGM because it was supported by the ONLY marginalized group in Singapore where the victims continuously stand up and speak out in the face of repeated attempts to get them to shut up and sit down. The GLBTQ lobby. And perhaps the apathy of the conservatives in voting — although I like to think that the conservatives were actually rational rather than apathetic for not turning up in the huge numbers they could have.
The other observation I made at the EGM was that there were few Singlish voices – many were proper English voices — Singaporean, no doubt, but proper English. There were a few uncles who spoke true blue Singlish — unfortunately to much embarrassment! Does this say something about the social stratification in Singapore?
One major thing that the AWARE saga highlighted is the need for mechanisms to be in place for the electorate to remove a exco even though the election might be legitimate. The exco of AWARE did much damage in just 1 month — the financial cost alone was $90 K!!! I understand (unconfirmed) that the operating cost of AWARE’s office for the whole year is just $100K! Imagine if this was something on a National scale…….
One suggestion that was floated was the need for background checks on either members or exco candidates. Can this principle be applied nationally? I understand some countries eg Venezuela, specifically “import” immigrants of certain nationalities and award them benefits in exchange for votes. Is it fair and just for us to screen potential immigrants for their political alliances? Are background checks for voters acceptable? Do we want to allow only people with a particular ideology to run for government? It seems like liberals have begun suggesting solutions they used to yell against.
Role of the press
Not a new point, but once again, I marvel at the power and influence of the press – how they can swing opinion by their choice of words.
The role and responsibility of investigative journalism and transparent reporting in a democracy was also highlighted very strongly here. The access to information diminishes the power in the hands of a few and puts them into the hands of the electorate.
Good , brave journalism is absolutely essential to uncover hidden agendas. But journalism is also fraught with its own bias, and the interpretation and investigation of facts will be skewed. Hence it’s not enough to have good journalism — we need the quantity too, so that we can get that diversity of views which would help us come to a view that approximates the truth a little more closely.
That’s why I love blogs and FB and twitter so much — these provide a thousand and one different camera angles.
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