Three bargains

Three bargains:

1. Because a nation or society will never be a fully secular thing, religious people and practitioners should provide clear public reasons for a public viewpoint, not private religious ones. A mature civil society acknowledges a group’s public viewpoint – religious or secular – and condemns any private biases.

2. Religious people should recognise that just as they have a public viewpoint, others have their own too. Secular folk should recognise the unique contributions that religion makes to people’s lives and society. I am no longer a Christian, but I know its value personally and it can be immensely important to people.

3. Finally, each person has the right to live his/her life as he/she sees fit. Any discrimination is wrong; just so, keeping laws or changing policy that promote discrimination is wrong.

Never give in

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.

– Winston Churchill

The death of a man is the future of a nation.

“Rest on laurels? I wish I could do that. No, you rest when you’re dead.”
– Lee Kuan Yew, 1978

Mr Lee, 2011. (ST PHOTO: Stephanie Yeow)

Mr Lee, 2011. (ST PHOTO: Stephanie Yeow)

The past month has been difficult and tense – for both the man and our nation. We pay our respects, because Mr Lee deserves it.

Now we are at an inflection. Mr Lee has built up an institution so much like himself: resilient and dominating. His influence permeates the political, bureaucratic and corporate life of this nation.

But the past two decades have seen Singaporeans crawling out of increasingly generous norms of authority, and beginning to understand, question, and criticise. The final symbolic shell has now expired. We are unfortunate to exist without its guidance, but we are also no longer subject to its constraints.

As the man would have asked himself, what holds next for Singapore? After his retirement, Mr Lee grew explicitly concerned about the nation’s future: especially its political and social challenges.

This tedious “SG50” PR campaign is unwittingly, a call to action. There is time always to reminiscence, to grief, to look back into a past. But we do not live in this past, for we have stopped recognising ourselves there.

Now is time to imagine a future without Mr Lee’s person, policy, and philosophy. The Lee institution has worked astoundingly well for the past fifty years. But the next fifty years demand responsive politics, more civil and tolerant discourse, and better civic norms.

“SG50” is not about the past fifty years, it’s really about the next fifty. Mr Lee and his tribe birthed a nation – now the real work of building an adult nation begins. His passing is Singapore’s first real step into nationhood. Let’s be brave, not timid. It’s our time to look forward, and not seek eternal solace in some “golden age”.

Why I won’t be running Milton Keynes

I won’t be running Milton Keynes this Monday. It’s a decision I’ve made after 13 weeks of training, of awful and aweful weather, of mid-run Snickers during the long runs, of anxious glances at the watch at the 400m mark at each track session, and of running to the edge of Oxfordshire to take a one-way train ride back into town.

It’s gone now. Weeks ago I pushed myself too hard on a run, doing a 6.30 minute mile, and then something pulled. People call their weakness an Achilles heel – but there was nothing metaphorical about this one. This one was real.

The tissue took 3 weeks to heal – or so I thought, and when I resumed training, anxious that I was not able to hit my timing, it seemed fine at first. Then it struck again. The muscle would tighten, and even a 10k became a stretch, when I was doing more than four times that before. At first I didn’t even know it had a name: I thought this “calf injury” would fade.

It did for a while, and I was soon able to ramp up my paces slightly below the weekly targets I had set for myself. Soon I was hitting half marathon distances with little trouble, and a lot of mid-run stretching. Then at one long run at 30k, it struck yet again. Like lightning bolting through the entire lower leg. I was at the end of St Giles, and limped back to college, getting a kebab along the way. One of my college porters later told me that while driving, he saw me running at the other side of Woodstock and wanted to give me a lift.

That night I became conscious of some slight voice that whispered I would not be able to do the marathon after all. I hushed it, but over the next week of anxious rest, it echoed back. I had not peaked in my training: the most crucial phases of tempo and distance work were left undone. The training calendar on my wall, on which I wrote “BOSTON 3:05”, was half messy with all the timings I had jotted in the first 8 weeks, and half clean with the white blankness of failed runs.

As the marathon draws closer, over the May Day weekend, I’ve decided that that blankness will extend to the box “RACE DAY”. The UK will not have a decent marathon in time for the September deadline to qualify for Boston, that doesn’t clash with my exams. I won’t do something if I can’t do it well – and there’s little time to train now.

I guess I won’t be running much till then. Running makes me, and I would not be the same complete thing as I would usually be. Running has given and taught me a lot of things: to be patient with progress, to be disciplined with pleasure and ignorant of pain, to believe in people when they don’t in themselves, to be more forgiving. The education hasn’t stopped, I suppose. It’s now teaching me to accept with serenity the things I cannot change. In due course I hope it also gives me the courage to change the things which should.