Do you hate things about Singapore so much that you’ll never migrate?

Pedestrians crossing a street in Singapore's upmarket shopping area near Orchard Road, in 2011. (AFP photo)
Pedestrians crossing a street in Singapore's upmarket shopping area near Orchard Road, in 2011. (AFP photo)

Yes, you read the title correctly. I do mean "hate", not "love".

(You'll understand what I mean by the end of the article.)

As Singaporeans, we complain about many things: the government, high COE and housing prices, foreign talent taking away our jobs… the list goes on.

We have to admit, though, that compared to most other countries we have it pretty good here in Singapore.

But I'm not here to talk about gratitude or about how things really aren't that bad or even about what the government could do better.

I'm here to talk about patriotism. National pride. Love for country.

Do you dream of migrating one day?

Let me start by asking you: If you had the means to, would you migrate to somewhere less stressful, say New Zealand or Australia?

I've talked to plenty of people who dream of the day when they can retire and leave Singapore for good.

I'm guessing that, like me, you too have wondered before about what life would be like if you lived elsewhere.

What we can learn from a courageous Iranian

Whether you're someone who has shrugged off those thoughts, or whether you're someone who entertains those thoughts daily, I'd like to tell you a story that might just help you to see this whole notion of national pride in a different light.

When I was studying in America a few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a talk by Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, social activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

A truly outstanding woman!

In her talk, Ebadi described the lack of freedom and opportunities that Iranians face. She expressed anger toward what she viewed as human rights violations, which were taking place in Iran.

Ebadi went on to talk about the beauty of capitalism and democracy, which aren't present in Iran. She urged people living in democratic societies never to take their liberty for granted.

"I know where this talk is going," I thought. "She's going to tell us about what we can do to help Iranians and get them out of Iran and into Western countries."

"I'll never stop being an Iranian"

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Ebadi concluded her speech:

"Iran faces terrible problems. These problems are daunting, and there are no easy solutions.

"That's why I'm determined to make a difference. I'm going to give my everything to help Iran become a better place to live.

"Iran is my country and my home. I'll never stop being an Iranian."


Ebadi loved Iran so much that even though she hated things about Iran, she would never willingly migrate. (Since June 2009, however, she has been in exile in the UK.)

Are you someone who can't wait to get out of Singapore?

When the speech was over, I started thinking about how an average Singaporean's outlook differs from Ebadi's.

A Singaporean might say, "It's so competitive here and it's so difficult to find a job. The cost of living is insane. And the government isn't doing enough for its citizens!"

What do you expect the person to say next?

Maybe something along these lines: "That's why I'm going to work hard, and when I have enough money I'm going to get out of here."

Obviously, not all Singaporeans think this way, but a significant proportion of the population does.

Love for food, love for country

I don't claim to know the exact reasons why there isn't an overwhelming sense of national pride among Singaporeans, but I do think it's worth noting how Singaporeans generally respond to the question, "What's the best thing about Singapore?"

"The food!" is usually the enthusiastic reply.

The diverse array of mouthwatering food that's available in Singapore is something to be thankful for, but it's troubling to me if the food really is the best thing about Singapore.

After all, I doubt that a shared love for nasi lemak, roti prata or bak chor mee will get us through a national crisis.

On the other hand, if you were to ask an American "What's the best thing about America?" you'll likely get this response: "Freedom, democracy and the opportunity to pursue your dreams."

(I know this to be largely true, because I lived in America for four years and I've asked many Americans that exact question.)

What describes us vs. what defines us

Why this stark difference?

I believe that it's because we Singaporeans, as a nation, haven't asked ourselves what we stand for.

We have yet to thoroughly examine what principles and values we hold dear, and neither have we developed a compelling, collective vision of the future.

We pride ourselves on being an efficiently run country, but efficiency is more an outcome than it is a core value.

Pragmatism—another trait that Singapore is renowned for—too is more a necessary mode of operation than it is an enduring principle on which to build a great country.

Our ability to be efficient and pragmatic is what describes us, but it doesn't define us.

We're defined by what we believe, by what we'll live for and what we'll die for.

A national and individual conversation about Singapore's future

It's encouraging that, at a societal level, we've started a national conversation about Singapore's future.

But there's work to be done at an individual level, too.

We need to decide how we want to contribute toward Singapore's destiny, and we need to decide what Singapore means to us.

Is Singapore just the place where we'll live and work?

Or is Singapore where we'll devote ourselves wholeheartedly to a cause greater than us, something that will go far beyond our lifetimes?

If it's the latter, then "Singaporean" won't just be our nationality. It will be our identity.

"Singaporean" won't just describe us. Instead, it will define us.

Pursuing your goals is easy, living out your values is hard

At both a personal and national level, it's easy to pursue your goals, but it's difficult to live out your values.

Living out your values requires that, first of all, you take a good look at yourself and ask yourself who you are, and who you want to become.

That takes time, energy and courage—and a people who are united and committed.

In closing…

I don't claim to be the most patriotic Singaporean around, but I do believe that our little red dot has an abundance of unfulfilled potential.

Together, let's become a people who love Singapore so much that, even if we hate things about Singapore, we won't think about migrating as the number one solution to our problems.

At the end of the day, national pride isn't mainly about feeling patriotic every 9th of August when the fireworks go off.

It's about intentionally and purposefully building a better Singapore the other 364 days of the year.

Let's get started.

Daniel Wong is a learning and personal development expert, as well as a certified youth counselor. A sought-after speaker and coach, he is also the best-selling author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He offers programmes to help students attain exam excellence while also finding happiness and fulfillment, and to empower parents to motivate their unmotivated teenagers. He writes regularly at Download his FREE e-books, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?" and "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision". The views expressed are his own.