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Singapore: A Fractured Bridge Between Generations

How Singapore’s growing generation gap is a detriment for the country moving forward

Photo by Guo Xin Goh on Unsplash

It’s no secret that generational conflicts are prominent across the world.

Singapore is not the only country to be left out of the ring. Rather, it’s getting pulled in everyday with impactful social conversations, internet debates and YouTube videos that would rather keep the topic short and entertaining than focus on the astronomical topic at hand.

Singapore’s generational gap may be different than other countries, and while it is not atypical of the Asian culture, Singapore’s exposure to Western culture, modern issues and an abundance of unwanted exchanges between two sets of vocal majorities might become a problem moving forward.

Should Singapore address the issue between generations? Is this even an issue? As the state of Hong Kong’s protests grows, Singapore’s sparked interest over the internet and social media continues to bring up new points and provide ammunition for the generations to barrage at the other, but are any of them right?

When the minutiae of the bigger picture has now taken hold of the entire frame, is it perhaps time to look at the pulse of Singapore’s growing societal culture?

Let’s talk about this in more detail.

CNA Insider’s video to Millennials and Baby Boomers in Singapore stands out.

Commonalities and Tropes

Labels and tropes are common in the sea of internet and social media posts, and when YouTube celebrities and television hosts decide to get in on the action, likewise, the effects are going to be doubled or tripled.

If we take a look at some of the more common labels that are being used, we can always find the usual suspects. In a poll by The Market Mogul, the top words used to describe Millennials were: tech-savvy, materialistic, selfish, lazy and arrogant. The top words used to describe Baby Boomers were: respectful, work-centric, community-oriented, well-educated and ethical.

Seems awfully right, right?

Recently, the term “OK Boomer” has sparked controversy both online and offline, and brought a resurgence, if it ever did went away in certain countries, ageism from the brink of going away back into the fold of social conversations. It is much more prominently used in America, where the term has been discussed as something of a parallel alternative to that of bigotry and other derogatory terms.

Whether or not you believe one meme caused an online revolt and in many ways created a divide between the online generational presence, Vox’s piece on the origins of “OK Boomer” and the apocalyptic future brings a lot of relevancy into a culture that is rife with years and years of frustration. The piece tackles the meaning, the focus, as well as the reality of the situation: that it isn’t just about age, and it’s definitely much more than just an overload of TikTok posts. I highly recommend you take a look into reading Vox’s piece.

While bringing this topic across many oceans to Singapore’s ‘city in a garden’ ideals, it all seems to illicit a different response entirely. Much of Singapore’s forefathers laid a ground work and established the rapid growth that followed for the country. Day by day, the commonality of students in school were taught basic rules in life: meritocracy, forward-looking, anticipating change and a stake for everyone, opportunities for all. This can be found in slide of a Social Studies textbook here, in which key principles of governance is explored in addition to Singapore’s traffic and population policy.

Though the above might not seem to make sense, but as we go further into the generational divide, the lines begin to blur and the situation at hand becomes much more complex. Boomers, while a much bigger term in relation to its generation is seemingly at the peak of its usage in America, doesn’t get that much traction in Singapore.

Largely, the dissent drawn between the two generations: the baby boomers and millennials (and to an extent, the Gen Z’s), are almost non-existent. One needs to understand that while the principles of governance as explained above contains certain rules for one’s journey through adulthood, growth and stepping up into bigger responsibilities, we also need to look into a larger facet: Millennipreneurs.

According to Business Insider Singapore, the little red dot has the world’s highest proportion of self-made millennial millionaires. In comparison to the poll above, it may seem that the counter-argument from the Millennial pond is by putting their response on the table to counter the terms ‘lazy’ and perhaps ‘arrogant’. It’s understood that the amount of millennial-age business owners continues to grow everyday in Singapore.

Singapore’s Baby Boomer situation resides in many differences. For some, retirement is a foregone conclusion. For others, the opposite has never been clearer. In Singapore, the minimum retirement age is 62. At that age, the older generation has sway in their respective company and employers are unable to ask the specific individual to retire before the age of 62. In many ways, this plays a part in the labels as seen above: with ‘work-centric’ and ‘well-educated’ being two of the more standout words.

But as we dive deeper into a messy pond, it seems that the time for words and labels just don’t cut it anymore. Singapore’s social media pulse is all about being in the moment of current events, and when that happens, the divide between the two generations grow.

And we get possibly the biggest can of worms that can be found for any country.

That is entitlement, and it doesn’t just belong to millennials.

Photo by Lily Banse on Unsplash

Entitlement: 1 word, 2 generations

An encroaching issue that has surfaced at the turn of the decade, when the prevalence of Facebook and Twitter became the blueprint and the face of a new generation, was when the idea of entitlement and elitism took charge. But, for the older generation, this drowning situation simply goes way, way back.

Singaporeans of that time have remembered fondly the pioneering years of the country where locals worked hard to ensure that the country could live to prosper in the decades to come. But as that success was paved, there came a time where Singapore’s position on the map allowed for a rejuvenation of fortunes, where foreigners from all over the world flocked to Singapore and started working together.

Though the story is not so simple, the easier way to place it into emphasis would be Singapore’s then national table tennis team. Comprised of largely naturalized citizens born in China such as Feng Tianwei and Li Jiawei, both of which were apart of Singapore’s Foreign Sports Talent Scheme, they became the face of international Olympic success of the country for many years.

Many have criticized Singapore’s foreign talent approach, with some asking for a revamp, or perhaps a reconsideration into the scheme with the country’s struggling football structure. But for many, the question still remains: is Singapore ready to move on without foreign talents? Perhaps after the defying success of Joseph Schooling, born-and-raised in Singapore, beat Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly at the 2016 Olympics, it was worth a second look.

Joseph Schooling’s inspiring Olympic win.

Naturally, Singaporeans who started associating the majority of ‘foreigners’ as simply ‘foreigners’ quickly became aware of its sub-terms. Namely, the terms ‘foreign talent’ and ‘foreign worker’, both of which imply an entirely different meaning.

Grouped up as immigrants either way, Singapore splits the eventual new citizens as ‘foreign talents’ and ‘foreign workers’. Foreign workers represent semi-skilled or unskilled workers that play a part in benefiting Singapore’s long-term economic development, while foreign talents enable the flow of international talent to Singapore as a way to attract immigrants to stay and work in Singapore. While both worked towards improving Singapore’s growth, their sizable impact is undoubtedly different.

The entitlement of previous generations came at a time that in many ways, warranted it. Since the turn of the millennium, Singapore’s push towards improving GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was what led the government to push efforts into attracting high-quality immigrants as both foreign talents and foreign workers. At a time when the economy dipped and Singaporeans were retrenched or unemployed, job hunting was just as hard as simply even getting a job.

The older generation understood that despite the creation of new jobs to satisfy both locals and foreigners, there were still problems hidden underneath that rubble that was foreign talent, and what they deemed were harming those that were actually important to the country: Singaporeans. But could you blame them? Countrymen who couldn’t get jobs that paid well, or jobs at all, and having to consider low-paying jobs or jobs of a different stature simply because of Singapore’s foreigner pushing policies. Some of them cracked, but most of them persevered.

Dial the clock to today, and the situation, while a former shadow of itself, still lingers along the pale white wall. See, if the problem was only leveled at foreign talents or workers, perhaps the issue was something of a sea change. But Singaporeans weren’t just going at the jugular with those not from their own soil, they were going at other Singaporeans.

It is no secret that Singapore and Singaporeans have had their fair share of dissent and discomfort being shown on the internet, especially with how easy information, videos and memes are traversed through the rocky mountains of Twitter and Facebook. In 2015, Victor Mills, head of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC) spoke to Singapore publication Straits Times where he stated that “Singaporeans have misplaced sense of entitlement.” He goes on to state before this quote that he feels “lots and lots of people — more than before — who feel that life, their employer and the Government owe them a living.” Victor also states that this sentiment is not true for all Singaporeans.

Despite what the Singapore’s media has been claiming, the ‘entitlement mentality’, as news outlets and media have coined, seemed to have made an impact on how Singaporeans see their own lives and the lives of others. But as articles, opinion pieces, interviews and blog posts all seem to tell Singaporeans to either behave or push their mindset of entitlement down, the problem keeps coming back. The issues range from the early 2010’s to even this year, but entitlement still reigns supreme in a country where the labels of its locals have a name simply known as: complain kings and queens.

While new media has taken the situation at face value and others are having a bit of fun with the term, it is obvious to see that even Singaporeans are aware of the situation. It must be noted that the situation has been prevalent since before the age of new media, where even Singapore’s broadcasting conglomerate Mediacorp had shows that talked about them.

Bringing this back to our whole topic of entitlement truly shines new light on the nature, attitude and mentality of Singaporeans, where locals are effectively ready to put labels and stick them to pictures of people before even seeing them. It is no wonder that Singapore faces problems with its citizens who feel that they are second-class rated, where the prevalence of elitism shines through in education and different level streams, and how Singaporeans are largely unhappy with their own country and government.

Entitlement is a problem in Singapore. It is a topic that needs to be spoken about, with the turmoil in Hong Kong and the way Singaporeans digest the news, entitlement has become almost a way for Singaporeans to mask dissent under their breaths, spark controversy online, and seemingly get away with it under the same guise.

But there is one big problem surrounding it all.

Entitlement is not a mentality problem in Singapore, it is a societal one.

Photo by Greg Jeanneau on Unsplash

Societal Change — And the Heart To Go Along with It

The fractured paddle that rows the boat of Singapore’s society is not something that can be easily addressed. It’s not as simple as Millennials vs Baby Boomers, it’s not as simple as entitlement vs elitism.

The problems of Singapore’s social issues stem from the core understanding that Singapore’s future is in two abrasive hands who are unwilling to shake on their differences: the generation before, and the generation now.

And who would? Who would shake hands with their enemies?

The Millennials are looking for a new way out, building their own paths and still respecting the roads that have been built, while Baby Boomers have their respect forged from their years on the line, and nothing can take that away from them.

But as the lines blur, and the bridge is preparing to be burned, it is easy to understand the frustrations of either side.

The older generations know that the road they came from was paved with good intentions. That is the road that the younger generation must follow. It is better to become a doctor and a lawyer, as those are the jobs that pay the big, big bucks.

The younger generation knows that the road is paved with good intentions, but they want to forge their own identity. It’s better to prove themselves than to follow in one’s shadow. It’s better to do what they love, than what others desire.

It is important for Singapore and Singaporeans to address societal change, and understand that as the world changes, we change along with it, not the other way around.

Society in Singapore has always been neglected, partially because Singaporeans would rather not speak up about things that divulge into awkward conversations, or speak about things that upset them.

But it’s time. With the problems stacking between Millennials and Baby Boomers, this conversation shows that Singaporeans are truly facing a change that is new for both parties. It is perhaps why instead of shying away from conversations that seemingly don’t belong, it’s time that Singaporeans embrace the fact that being different is okay.

The divide between the younger generation and the older generation is one that will carry over time, and as the internet continues to allow everyone the space to speak their mind, it’s a growing pain for a society deep-rooted in a culture that is being eroded as the country moves forward.

Instead of looking at it from the side of Millennials or Baby Boomers, one can look at it as a way to speak about the two afflicted generations and understand the problems or sacrifices each has made.

Instead of blaming the other, it’s time to bring to the table differences and remove these labels that each side has cast on the other.

No one person can bring together a torn society, but all it takes is one to create a divide. If Singaporeans don’t see that the generational issue is slowly consuming each affected individual, then the fractured bridge will break and it can never be repaired.

Perhaps there’s a light here.

Perhaps Singaporeans can do better, and they will do better.

Perhaps there will be a time when Singaporeans can finally forgive each other, and learn to accept that we are all one and the same.

Perhaps.

A storyteller from the little red dot.

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