Written days ago on the plane:
For this morning, we are on an internal flight headed for Wyoming from Denver. With the window seat, I have the luxury of admiring the beautiful view below us. Everything is white. The snow has covered roofs of houses, roads and what used to be pedestrian pavements. I imagine most locals are indoors keeping warm from the negative temperatures outdoors, preparing for Christmas coming in less than a week. For this hour-long flight, I am thinking about the possibility of failure for this country, for any country. In History, we learn of the strength and dominance of the US economy against the backdrop of the global economy. In light of the economic world order developed from the post-World War II period shaped with the US economy at its crux, any recent speculation of the possible diminishing dominance of the US economy along with the rising Asian economies would have come as absolutely absurd just decades ago. Now, it is plausible. This leads me to think that there is little certainty for the success of any country, including Singapore’s “Third World to First” success story.
Second in a series of three pieces (find the first here), I hope to break down the insights I have gained from my holiday read – Can Singapore Survive by Kishore Mahbubani. In this book, Mahbubani advises that Singaporeans should always be “on our toes in foreseeing failure”. He quotes the example of the 1981 elections, where PAP suffered its first defeat at the polls in many years. In that time, Dr Goh Keng Swee had said, “we (the PAP) failed because we did not even conceive of the possibility of failure”. Scary is our future if generations of Singaporeans like us cannot prepare ourselves for failure. Our pioneers themselves had fought hard to succeed only with numerous failures, the key was the willpower to make good mistakes and learn from them.
On an individual level, it has hence become part of who I hope to become- someone able to embrace the possibility of failure and failure in itself, whatever the circumstance might be. It is only if we can foresee failure that we can prevent them as far as possible and give it our best shot at achieving the ideal. I hope to strive towards making good mistakes and making better mistakes every subsequent time. In a piece I wrote weeks ago for PostScript Stories titled “The Tyranny of Expectations”, I find the risk aversion and fear of failure embedded in my attitude very much related to these expectations that I revolve my actions around. For the year ahead, here’s to being one who foresees failure comfortably.
Let’s begin from the individual level and “pray let us not give any future historian occasion to say of Singapore: ‘They failed because they did not even conceive of the possibility of failure.’ “