Monday, 6 August 2007

Re-writing the Pledge

I've been back in Singapore for a week, but in between spending time with my girlfriend, spending time entertaining my boss' boss who was in town this past week, two great gigs (The Cure and Mercury Rev) and catching up on jet-lagged sleep, I've not had time or energy to update this blog.

Before I went off, The New Paper had contacted me about a project they were doing in conjunction with National Day. They wanted to re-write the Pledge in light of modern realities. I thought it was pretty interesting, and gave it a shot.

Initially, I had all these ideas about the different values I wanted to bring forward. I wanted to talk about equality and rights, helping the less fortunate, and recognising the validity of types of successes other than economic and financial success. But in the end, I realised that the Pledge needed to be general and universal, instead of particular and specific. Otherwise, it would not resonate.

I also felt that the original Pledge was, on the whole, an excellent articulation of some very universal values. At one point, I wanted to send in an unchanged Pledge, simply because it was so uncontroversial, and to then make the point that we have still some ways to go in accomplishing its ideals.

But then I thought that would've been a little gimmicky. So in the end, I tried to preserve the more fundamental values from the original Pledge, while updating it in light of modern-day realities. The result is below. I've also reproduced the accompanying article.

We, the citizens of Singapore
with our diverse
backgrounds and beliefs,
pledge to live in mutual respect
and compassion,
to uphold our freedoms
and defend our rights,
and to strive for justice and equality,
and progress and prosperity,
in a successful, happy
and democratic society.

From The New Paper, July 27, 2007

'Let's embrace our diversity'

COOL. That was Mr Siew Kum Hong's reaction when we asked him to reinterpret the pledge.

And certain parts of former Deputy Prime Minister S Rajaratnam's pledge need updating, the NMP feels.

He said: 'Mr Rajaratnam wrote the pledge in 1966, shortly after independence. Those were times when race, language and religion were seen as divisive factors.

'That explains the emphasis on being 'one united people, regardless of race, language or religion'.'

Then, Singapore and Malaysia had just split and the 'spectre of race riots' still hung over Singapore, but one generation later, Mr Siew feels that racial and religious identities need not be overshadowed by the Singaporean identity.

Instead, we should embrace our diversity, Mr Siew said.

'So (in my pledge), I've moved away from the focus on 'one united people' to focus on diversity and the need for mutual respect and acceptance.

'This is especially important in the modern, more cosmopolitan society that Singapore is today.'

Mr Siew also feels that rights and liberties have been overlooked.

'The pledge can be seen as utilitarian, even though the concept of rights and liberties could be implied from the reference to justice,' he said.

'I think modern Singapore would demand that those values be brought to the fore and given explicit emphasis.'

But there are some parts of the pledge Mr Siew wouldn't change.

'The values mentioned in the last three lines are universal values that will never go away,' he said.

'In some ways, we have not yet accomplished some of those values. But they are targets we must continuously strive for.'

- Elysa Chen

Legalese: My posting of this article is based on my rights under the defence of general fair dealing in Section 35 of the Singapore Copyright Act (Cap.63), as this article was written about me and heavily quoted me, and I am making a strictly non-commercial use of it. Other persons will therefore not have any such rights to, and therefore should not, post this article.

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