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