To be average is to fail?

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This headline stirred up quite a few thoughts. A bit strong to say i was jolted, since i’ve always known that this was the nation’s psyche, or at least that of our leaders.
At what cost? was the rallying cry at the May 2011 elections, to me, to some of my peers. At what cost this breakneck pace of growth? Is it worth the price? of our old washing dishes, clearing tables, mopping loos?  Have we lost our soul in the pursuit of progress (thinly veiled, acceptable euphemism for Mammon)?  Slow down! Can we just slow down a little for everyone to be a little more humane?  We are a nation, not a company, stop running us like one!
“We have no time for such foolish sentimentality” I can hear the likes of LKY and his men replying, curtly. “This generation has no recollection of hardship, so they can wax lyrical of the soul. With no food there can be no soul.” the lecture comes from wisened old men, deplored and perhaps a bit heart-broken at the ingratitude of these grandchildren who do not know the cost of the toys they whine for, the cost that the previous generation had paid with blood and tears, the price they had paid to make the country what it is today.
Thus, goes Bukit Brown.  Bidadari. The (rather ugly I do admit) tri-coloured Bugis blocks.  For roads.  For condos.  For tunnels.  Almost seems that once something grows old enough for some memories to get attached to it, it’s time is up.  McDonald’s East Coast gets torn down.  30 years?  too old! SERS it!  What’s next? KAP! Dairy Farm! The pace is relentless.  “It must not stop! We have no time to stop!” Everytime an episode like this happens, my heart aches for the National Library that once was.  For this gaping hole that calls itself progress.  Or traffic fluidity.  Costly error to nation building, was my take on it.
Perhaps it is true.  Our generation has the luxury of wanting to “save green spaces”, to be sentimental about red-brick buildings that didn’t make the “heritage” cut, to attest willingness towards paying higher taxes to fund better and wider pension coverage for the aged poor.  We have never suffered want.  We don’t know what it’s like to have sisters and daughters brave the crazy unknown of ekeing out a living in a stranger’s home, miles away from what is familiar.
But is that what I want for my children? To have it drummed into them at the earliest age, that “to be average is to fail”?  Perhaps the powers that be will say, this is what we have to condition our nation to know.  At the individual level, every parent can decide the value system their own children can grow up with.
Really? To swim against the current like a salmon returning to spawn? To go against the grain of every other child in school, what the teacher practices (even if that’s not what she overtly preaches), what the school system rewards?  Can we really tell our children, it’s okay to be average.  Your value lies in who you are in God’s sight.  This world is not our home, we’re just a passing-through.  Your friends can go for gold, trust me child, to be average is not to fail.  When the world shouts in their ears that their parents are wrong, and society brands them lemons, will we as parents be able to stand proud still, against “conventional wisdom”?
In many ways, I see myself as very average. Mediocre even, academic results wise, compared to my peers.  But the hubby reminds me not to make people angry with me by voicing that, because average in the privileged schools I’ve been in, is far better than top in most people’s schools.  I come from a very humble background, and I’ve been way below average in terms of household income.  So in some ways, I have no right to rant against the system.  The meritocratic system that gave me my education, that helped me go beyond what academic studies would posit.
But in many ways, I decry what the system has become, and loathe that my children have to suffer it soon. Why must they be constantly struggling?  Get tested on what the school doesn’t teach?  Why must life be so STRESSFUL for such tender shoots that are still grappling with the wonders of growing up?
“If we do not swim forward, we will be pushed backwards by the current.” Comes the owl’s reply.  “We are not Scandinavia. Our neighbours are not the EU, they are China and India.”  Then the scare tactics. Which might be true, if we’re fair to those who are trying so hard to keep our country afloat.
But is that what I want for the country I hold dear to my heart, 20 years from now?  Is that the nation (and its people, whom I purportedly serve daily) that I want to see?  Ever struggling, stressed, weary.  For economic growth, for wealth, for trinkets that lose their lustre, at the cost of children who are growing so fast that we forget the moments that should really matter?
Lately, the rhetoric has been tempered to “inclusive growth”.  Really?  Very finely calibrated this inclusivity, if I may say so myself.  It makes for a good soundbite.  It might assuage the concerns of swing voters.  But at its core, our leaders know that they will never sacrifice prosperity.  It’s too high a cost.
So in the meantime, the headlines blare.  We are not Scandinavia.  To be average is to fail.  Try bringing your children up against that mantra.  Try your very best.

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