Monday, March 17, 2014

Why Gen-X chooses Cash over Compassion ?

A good friend had a conversation with me the other day.

The conversation was about Professor Chan Heng Chee. My friend said that he's a big fan of hers because of a kind gesture she made about 20 years ago. You see, my friend represented his junior college in the Pre-U seminar and got to the microphone to make a point. The person whom the question was directed to casually dismissed my friend's question but Prof Chan stopped him, and said that the point my friend made was a valid one and deserved more consideration.

That simple act was enough to make my friend a lifelong fan and ally.

I then asked my friend a pointed question.

I asked him if he felt discriminated because he did not come from a top JC. He said, yes, he definitely felt that way and, like myself, my friend spent most of his life trying to prove himself as a result of this.

I think my friend turned out rather well, he's currently doing rather well at work after being a continuous feature in the Dean's List throughout his NUS years.

Now recently, there's been some talk about Singaporeans lacking compassion.

I want to share my hypothesis on why this is do.

You see, the folks who form the backbone of the economy today belongs to Generation X.

When Generation X was in school :

a) We did'nt have Heng Swee Keat as our education minister.
b) Not every school is a good school. In fact some schools suck, and by association, authorities will consider their students to suck as well. It affects the way authorities engage students if there is an invisible L word floating on top of their heads.
c) You can't teach less to learn more. You teach more to learn more. GP is more about developing conservative points of view and not about innovation or critical thinking. And no, there is no Google.
d) Teachers don't tell you that your exams do not define you as a person. That is a very recent phenomenon. Teachers tell you that you are relegated to a lower status if you don't do well for exams and it's your damn fault because we are a meritocratic society.

Generation X who's like me know that if our grades are good, our fart will smell like truffles and people will happily eat our diarrhoea. But we keep a constant look-out over the horizon to see what can threaten our lofty positions. Other Gen-Xers are not that lucky. They get labelled "Average", "Loser" or worse "Normal"  throughout their days in school.

Now, fast forward to the mid-90s when we enter the workplace and discover this thing called Money.

Money replaces grades, GPA and t-scores in the real world. If you have it, you can buy a car or a watch. You can cut someone down with psychic damage if you can demonstrate that live in District 10 or have a Lamborghini. People always get bothered when you have more money than them, this makes relative wealth way more important than absolute wealth.

It's the grading curve all over again !

So what happens...

The Gen-X guys with the qualifications will pimp it to get more money to reinforce their positions in real life. The folks with poorer qualifications know that control of Money means that they no longer to subject to tiny acts of discrimination in Singapore society.

The hunt for Money becomes an all important Round 2 with a different set of winners.

The final link that makes Money and Compassion a trade-off are psychological studies which show that people who are "primed" with thoughts about money generally behave in a ruder and more abrupt manner.

So in summary, it's not an accident that Singaporeans lack compassion, this is a deliberate act of design as part of the education system in the 1990s. Grades were a microcosm of the real world, where Gen-X was socially engineered to fight for the best grades in preparation for a similar ranking to take place in real life. Once Gen-X joined the economy, their report cards were replaced with personal balance sheets where the ranking of their net worth can affect important things like spouse selection for men.

How do we get out of this mess ( Assuming that you think this is a mess )

My take is that one day Gen-X will retire from the workforce. Maybe Gen-Y who have different values from Gen-X will make Singapore a better place.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Well, if your friend felt discriminated, he is not alone. Pre-University Seminar was not even open for polytechnic students last time when I was in school. Talking about being discriminated, I think polyechnic students deserved more.

    During my time, there were many negative comments when I had chosen poly over JC despite my O Level results being able to enter a JC. Well, I had proven my worth in going through the poly route and graduated from a local U with a Honours degree.

    By the way, I also came from a neighbourhood secondary school.

    I guess everyone has his/her place in society. The society should not look down on people who had chosen alternative routes rather than the traditional one.

  2. Wow ! You might want to spend time inspiring Poly students to take up investing.

    These days the line between Poly and JC is very thin. Singapore Polytachnic has many students with a single digit aggregate.