Thankful for the opportunity to speak at the International Women’s Forum, themed ‘Harmony in Diversity’ as part of a soapbox session titled ‘Perspectives Across Generations’. The forum was organised with International Women’s Forum Singapore. Singapore identifies itself as a multi-racial and cultural society – the session was about hearing from Singaporeans from different walks of life on their views and experiences growing up in this environment. The soapbox is a raised platform on which one stands to make an impromptu speech. Along with two inspiring individuals (Quek Siu Rui and Michelle Khoo) representing the ‘young people’, we took turns standing on a small wooden crate, before 20 tables of 10 curious eyes each.
On the wooden crate, with a mic in one hand and nervousness in the other, we each had 3 minutes. Here’s my 3 minutes, on the emotional connection that I believe will take us forward:
“I am a 19-going-on-20, growing up in the most exciting of times. Choices are in abundance – Local universities or overseas? Doctor, lawyer, finance or a job not created yet? The privilege of these choices we get to make today contributes to the increasing diversity of selves. Within a single generation, we are more different from one another than ever before. As we bask in infinite possibilities, though, there are inconsistencies.
The paradox of our times has shown itself. Our material possessions and consuming power are greater than ever; but we still feel short of something. Our cities are denser than before, but more and more admit to being “lonely”. We have created medicines and done research to live longer and better, yet suicide rates amongst young adults are at an all-time high. I am 19-going-on-20, but in the past year alone I know of 2 people close to heart who have taken their lives. I would like to propose that against the backdrop of our diversity of selves, the ingredient we have overlooked in the recipe is empathy; our ability to connect with one another on an emotional level.
A frequently asked question today is do you think youths today are empathetic? The thing is this, every human being (youth or not) has the capacity to empathise. The diversity of selves enables us: it provides the repertoire of emotions and experiences upon which we can cultivate empathy as a practice. What differs from one individual to another, is our tendency to choose empathy. And now imagine this: if the ‘tendency to choose empathy’ were an imaginary jar, the contents of the jar would depend on an individual’s encounters with others – with every ‘how are you feeling’ and ‘what did you do today’ we fill this jar slightly. And with every ‘stop crying and be a man’ or ‘showing your emotions makes you weak’, we empty that same jar.
We are, today, adept at comparison and measurement of all things tangible but we are highly lacking in heartware. May the presence of this imaginary jar flow into our stream consciousness so we remember that our every interaction every day, fills us up in a way immeasurable with just numbers.”