Do you ever dream? Do you ever imagine a consummate future, one in which your wildest dreams come true? Is it wise to do? Will you ever be rewarded for doing so? My personal answer to all these questions is a big and bold YES! Often, our truest and deepest passions lie in our wildest dreams, dreams that seem unreasonable and impossible. It is, however, the audacity of those ‘impossible dreams’ that makes them possible.
Third World countries are referred to as countries with widespread poverty, ailing economies and wars. Many pundits have even gone to the extent of saying that at least a century (a synonym for impossible) is required to transform a Third World country into a First World country. For me, these words are like a painful stab because I too live in one of these so-called Third World countries. When I juxtapose my country with a First World country, I can almost see the century-wide gap between the two. But then I ask myself, is the gap really that big?
In 1959, a young man by the name of Lee Kuan Yew became the first Prime Minister of Singapore. He took over a nation that had been beaten and battered, engulfed in poverty with an ailing economy – a typical Third World country. Yew was aware that Singapore lacked lucrative natural resources, nevertheless he invested in the country’s only resource – the people! What followed in his 31-year term as Prime Minister was the miraculous transformation of Singapore from a poor former British outpost into an economic powerhouse – a typical First World country. Many ‘experts’ accredit this feat to sound policies and good governance but I accredit it to passion in its rawest form!
“Singapore’s Gross National Product per capita rose from $1,240 in 1959 to $18,437 in 1990. The unemployment rate in Singapore dropped from 13.5% in 1959 to 1.7% in 1990. External trade increased from $7.3 billion in 1959 to $205 billion in 1990. In other areas, the life expectancy at birth for Singaporeans rose from 65 years at 1960 to 74 years in 1990. The population of Singapore increased from 1.6 million in 1959 to 3 million in 1990. The number of public flats in Singapore rose from 22,975 in 1959 to 667,575 in 1990. The Singaporean literacy rate increased from 52% in 1957 to 90% in 1990. Telephone lines per 100 Singaporeans increased from 3 in 1960 to 38 in 1990. Visitor arrivals to Singapore rose from 0.1 million in 1960 to 5.3 million in 1990.” – Wikipedia.
Yew was extremely intelligent (A Starred-First Graduate of Cambridge University) but he was also very passionate about his country. He always emphasized the importance of unity among the majority Mandarin speaking people and the Malay minorities. In 1965, the Malaysian Federation (a merger between Singapore, Malaysia, Sarawak and Sabah territories) collapsed due to ethnic tensions and Prime Minister Yew had to deliver the news on a televised press conference. Yew failed to complete his speech as he was overwhelmed by grief. The leader cried uncontrollably because he knew that unity was the answer to the Federation’s problems. The strong emotional bond he had with Singapore helped him transform it into an Asian Tiger!
“Every time we look back on this moment when we signed this agreement which severed Singapore from Malaysia, it will be a moment of anguish. For me it is a moment of anguish because all my life … you see, the whole of my adult life … I have believed in merger and the unity of these two territories. You know that we, as a people are connected by geography, economics, by ties of kinship…” – An emotion filled announcement by LKY.
Many criticized Yew for his autocratic approach and treatment of opposition leaders. Amid this criticism, Lee maintained his argument that Singapore needed political stability, by hook or by crook. He wanted to suppress what he called ‘the natural human instinct to oppose authority’. By doing this, he hoped to put at bay the nasty bickering of party politics and ensure Singapore’s security from domestic threats and its vehement neighbors. Yew also conceded that he was not perfect, an attribute that is very rare among today’s world leaders.
“I’m not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honorable purpose. I had to do some nasty things, locking fellows up without trial.” – LKY in 2010.
I have been a leader myself (although not on the scale of Yew) and I can relate. During my tenure as Head-boy at my former high school, I too made mistakes, some of which even put my suitability for the position into question. This doesn’t change the fact that I was very passionate about my duties and that I only strove for what was best for my school. Real maturity came when I was able to admit my mistakes and learn from them. “We were young too Alvin, we also made mistakes. Cheer up”, said my Deputy Head once. Despite my short comings, the powers that be still honored me at the end of my reign (yes, a glorious one! J), much to my surprise. Similarly, many people had great things to say about Yew despite his short-comings, because he truly and genuinely loved Singapore, a country which he dedicated his entire life to.
“He (Mr. Lee) was a true giant of history who will be remembered for generations to come as the father of modern Singapore and as one the great strategists of Asian affairs.” – President Obama.
People like Yew have been very important in my life. I often turned to their stories whenever I felt like the dream was too big (a recurring feeling during most of my childhood). People like Yew always reminded me that my background and environment can only determine how I maneuver towards my dream but not the dream itself. More importantly I learnt that with enough passion, every dream can become plausible reality. I am astounded when I compare where I am right now (achievements and future prospects) to where I was a few years ago. At this point, I would only be a fool to think that anything I genuinely want to achieve is impossible.
“You can only go as far as you stretch yourself and you can only stretch yourself as far as you want to go.” – Alvin.
As I stand at the threshold of a new life, I have the confidence to pursue my passions, even into dark and uncharted territories because I have seen Yew do it. Yew proved the world wrong when he took Singapore from third-world to first-world status in just one generation. The people I have shared my ambition with say to me, “Come on Alvin! You know that’s ridiculous, rather, impossible! You of all people couldn’t possibly replicate what Yew did, at least not in this country.” Unfortunately for these people, I don’t know what impossible means anymore.
Yes, my ambition for life is umhh…well… AMBITIOUS! But then, that is the whole point! Why are you alive if your ambitions are not ambitious? Like Yew, I am unapologetic for my ambitions but driven by them. My motivation for life is summed up in one statement, “The sky is not the limit, it is just a barrier that can be breached.”
REST IN PEACE LKY.