Should I stay or should I go?

APPARENTLY, some disillusioned Americans want to leave the country after the recent US presidential election. There are enough of them evidently to prompt a statement of caution from the Canadian authorities, telling those heading north to wait in line like any would-be immigrant, according to a Reuters report.

But few of these disgruntled souls are likely to actually jump ship. Much of this talk of emigration is bravado and emotional bluster; a gut reaction to the bewilderment of political loss, perceived disenfranchisement or bruised principles.

Still, it is bemusing that some Americans speak so easily of forsaking their US citizenship - coveted by hopeful thousands annually - and abdicating their role in a democratic process often lauded as a model for the rest of the world.

Their defeatism and despair is a shame. Yet some of us in our pensive early 30s and on the brink of significant life changes, such as a career switch or impending parenthood, seem to echo the same doubts: Does this place represent my deepest values? Is this really the best place to raise a family? Do I belong?

As the year wanes, talk among friends turns to leaving home. Alternatives are bandied around.

A co-worker has been pointing out how easy it is to set up shop in the US as a freelance IT professional. Apparently one can set up a virtual office by acquiring a local phone number and address, hit the online classifieds for opportunities and get cracking. He's done it before. For the moment, family ties keep him from going the whole hog and moving overseas, where the money and opportunities are.

We've already lost a few newcomers. Mere months after getting his long-awaited Singapore permanent residency, a neighbour got a more lucrative job offer from the Middle East, folded his local company and left - with fond memories, but for good.

On the other hand, there was an Indian national with a master's degree in computer science who could not obtain even a work permit to work here and be with his ailing father, a Singaporean citizen. No reasons were given for the rejection of his application: he had to leave town - despite a couple of job offers - when his social visa expired.

Others have left to pursue openings considered perhaps too esoteric to be accessible here. A successful local creative director took off to Austria to become a missionary. Another, an artist working in the sphere of the life sciences, was sponsored to an acclaimed Swiss residency after failing to get the infrastructure support needed for her work locally.

Arguably, these are part of the normal and healthy flow of individuals as Singaporeans stake our place in the wider world. More disturbing: several of those who were once most fervent about staying and 'changing the system' are now eyeing other shores.

One writer framed it thus: 'If you know that your views and interests, however valid, are in the minority, is it right that the status quo, with which the majority is satisfied, should be remade for your benefit? Better that you should take yourself out of the equation.'

This is misplaced pragmatism. We are still too young a nation for attitudes, structures and identities to have ossified into conservatism, and such potential rigidity should be vigorously opposed.

Just as biological organisms rely on occasional mutations in order to evolve towards more effective survival, so societies can ill afford to lose their exceptional, if dissenting, cases.

There is a place in any mature community for a spectrum of views. Our national tendency is towards the establishment of consensus. Yet consistency and concord of policy and direction need not result in uniformity of behaviour and opinion. There's more than one way to be a creative society, one would imagine.

Ironically, the bitterly divisive politics in the recent US elections was not the result of a free play of informed and inclusive opinion, but of a hardening of views along conventional ideological lines: conservative versus liberal, urban elite versus rural heartland, us versus them.

Unlike the United States, which now needs to find its own way past the acrimony of recent months, Singapore is young, diverse and big enough in spirit to embrace a much wider gamut of world views and lifestyles, and to conduct its public discourse without resorting to the usual polemic issues.

There is no need for us to develop right- or left-leaning camps on our road to political maturity as a nation, nor to exclude any honest soul who hopes to call this place home. So what if they don't always fit our mould of the quintessential Singaporean family, say, of married middle-class professionals with three kids, a car and a mortgage?

Besides, if we care to listen, our shared consensus and conventional wisdom may well be about to change. Entire demographic segments - including women, such as those recently polled by Dr Amy Khor, or even new Singaporeans with fresh perspectives - are only just now coming online as active and articulate constituencies in public discourse.

It will be interesting to see how they come into play during the run-up to our own elections, expected to be forthcoming quite soon, and how it will affect the shape of things to come.

In other words, it's way too early for us to think about staying put. Or leaving.