Enough with the excuses

IT'S the same old story.

A nation isn't built on stars, scholars & socialites alone

Elders label the young a self-centred, apathetic lot.

Youngsters answer back, fault the system's hypocrisy or ask for some slack.

Sounds like a bad re-run. Or am I missing the plot?

When Eyeballers Fiona Voon and Gail Aw wrote in response to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's call for the young to step out and contribute, they attracted a flurry of sympathetic postings from readers.

Hardly any challenged the view that our system is materialistic, soulless, even oppressive.

Odd though, for such passionate views to come from the products of a society that's supposedly undergone a spiritual lobotomy.

And it's hardly the spiel of ''mere passengers'' in national affairs. Backseat drivers, at worst.

Their evident idealism is cause for optimism. But clearly, some deep-seated cultural stereotypes are at work.

It's de riguer for the seniors to lament that ''they don't make 'em like they used to'', as if the ''good old days'' were anything but sitcom nostalgia.

The young feeling disempowered? That's ancient history. Heck, it's practically a definition of pre-adulthood, isn't it - the time before you learn to take control?

Equally a myth is the notion that nothing can change.

You see it all the time in the arts. Young writers gripe about the publishing mafia. Artists bitch over conservative censors.

Not that the issues don't matter. But it's so easy to forget how far we've come, and the hard work already put in by those who labour without official blessings.

Many in this generation have shown it's possible to buck the system - actors who quit their day jobs, lawyers starting up bakeries, accountants becoming teachers.

They too have made a difference - and on their own terms.

Perhaps it's time to celebrate these little pioneers, not the big names - whether in business, the community or the arts.

Artists & writers help pass down the stories that really tell a people who they are.

After all, a nation isn't built on stars, scholars and socialites alone.
If a Singaporean soul is to be found, it's in the lives of everyday heroes who brave major changes - retrenchment, divorce, streaming - without the safety net of wealth, position or scholarships.

Our search for identity is as timeless a theme as art itself (along with sex, greed, ambition and pride - none of which we've outgrown).

It's a motif worthy of that Great Singaporean novel Gail hopes to write some day.

So what's stopping her?

Sure, the arts might seem more ''personal interest'' than community work at first glance. But writers and artists have always confronted the spirit of their age - be it national survival or moral crisis.

They help pass down the stories that really tell a people who they are - not history books nor hip videos. As Fiona pointed out in her column, every generation has its own stories to tell.

Would we spin tales to our progeny about the rise of the Net or the Human Genome Project?

We're just getting started.

The first generation of Singaporeans bought our nation's survival. The second brought it wealth. I'd like to tell my grandchildren that we gave Singapore its soul.

© alvin pang
clm : rvw : esy : rfl