Gratitude is not servitude

Many Singaporeans may recall the one-liner “Gratitude is not servitude” that I started using during the 2011 General Election. To this day, I get reminded of it from time to time by supporters and detractors alike. Many wanted to know how I came up with this succinct and pointed retort to PAP’s constant reminder to voters to vote PAP out of gratitude for raising Singapore’s economic well being.

A retort to the gratitude blackmail

The idea came about in the weeks before I announced my decision in April to contest the 2011 May GE as opposition candidate. I knew I would be attacked for being “ungrateful” to the government who had given me a university scholarship and a well paid job in the civil service after graduation. But I was determined to tell Singaporeans that gratitude did not mean blind loyalty and that while we could be thankful to the government, it did not mean we could not criticize them for any wrongdoing. The challenge was to tell it in a way Singaporeans could remember and recite it easily.

Corinthians epiphany

I got my epiphany in church one day when 1 Corinthians 13:4–8a) was read, setting out what love is and what love is not ….” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” In particular, I liked how two contrasting ideas were put together in one short sentence. I turned to my wife, ”Pat, I have found the statement we are looking for to change Singaporeans’ mindset that they can recite as easily as our favourite Corinthians verse.” She smiled approvingly.

Mindset change

That mindset change in me took place 37 years earlier in 1974 when I was a student in Oxford. I was walking on High Street just outside my college one day when someone called my name from across the road. I turned right and instantly recognized the face of the young lady behind the voice. I waved and walked towards her. She stopped her bicycle and as I reached her, she suggested “Coffee?”. “Love to. Where?” “St Hilda’s.” She climbed down from her bike and with both hands on the front handle, she gently pushed her bike along as we both walked towards her college.

As we sat down in her room, enjoying her freshly brewed coffee, I said to her, “Charis, I want to tell you how grateful I am to you for what you have done for me the other day. Is there anything that I can do for you in return?” She cut me off immediately:”No, not at all. I did what I did because I liked to and wanted to do it for you. And I expect nothing in return.”

I did not expect that 45 years later, I would again engage in a similar lively conversation over coffee with the same straight-talking and passionate English girl from Dorset but this time in a London cafe on my recent visit to the city. We last met nearly 40 years ago in Hong Kong where she was working for the Hotel Peninsula group. We lost contact after that until I found her on Facebook early this year.

I told Charis how her strong view on gratitude changed my mindset so profoundly that I had expressed it in an election slogan years later. She was thrilled. “I still hold the same view to this day. But gosh, did I say all those things at age 19?” Yes we were both around 19 then and were already discussing the big issues confronting humanity and society. Isn’t this what going to university is all about, to search for answers to the big questions in life?

The Confucian reciprocity

Her view on gratitude had initially struck me like a bolt from the blue. I told her how difficult it was for me to accept it. “That’s not how I was brought up to believe in and not how we Chinese look at it,” I had protested. “To us, gratitude means returning kindness with kindness, a favour for a favour, like how Confucius taught us, and gratitude is eternal, passing from generation to generation.” Charis understood what I was talking about. As a scholar of Chinese studies at Oxford herself, she knew all about the Confucian notion of reciprocity in gratitude. But she thought differently. “I know this thing about “报恩””bao en”(gratitude). But to me in a different culture, showing me gratitude is to do the same act of kindness to others even though it does not come back to benefit me. That’s how we view gratitude.”

Beware gratitude can enslave

It is an enlightened view. It frees us from being held to ransom by those who use gratitude to blackmail us. In the Singapore political context, many Singaporeans voted PAP out of gratitude for taking their families out of poverty. There are three things wrong with this attitude.

First, the old PAP leaders who took us out of poverty had already passed away and current leaders are just sitting on old goodwill and paying themselves million dollar salaries, way above what the old generation leaders were paid and without anything to show that they are any better.

Second, Singapore is not the only country that has made huge economic strides and moved from Third World to First in the last 50-60 years; so many countries have done so too like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and many other cities in China, Norway, Sweden and Finland. And the leaders in these countries are paid very modest salaries unlike the million dollars demanded by PAP ministers.

Third, voting is about the future and not about the past. Gratitude is for the past not the future. Have current leaders done anything in the recent past that gives us confidence that they will do us good in the future? Have they done anything exceptional for us to deserve their exceptionally high salaries paid for by us through our tax-payers’ money? No, they have not. The only thing exceptional they have done is for themselves, by creating a super welfare state for PAP and their cronies. That’s why The Economist Intelligence Unit has ranked Singapore Number 4 in the world in its Global Cronyism Index, after Ukraine, Malaysia and Russia. What an exceptional achievement for PAP’s exceptionalism!

Fellow Singaporeans, do not allow PAP to use past gratitude to blackmail us into voting them again and condemning ourselves to a future of servitude. Gratitude is not servitude.

P/S: Charis has lived and worked in Hong Kong and mainland China and has written several books on China. She also worked as a BBC analyst for several years.

 

Tan Jee Say

 

 

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23 Responses to “Gratitude is not servitude”

  • Hopelessly Daft:

    Dafts have short memories and are not Oxbridge material so they will not understand but they are great parrots, Gratitude is not Servitude will still last a while as a catchy slogan.

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  • Flabbergasted:

    Beware the mole.

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  • LIONS:

    Gratitude is not indebtedness; it is *appreciation*.

    WHO DO WE APPRECIATE?
    The leaders who SERVED the nation like it was their CALLING or the LEEder$ who LORD over us?

    Who wants to be great must first learn HOW TO SERVE.
    What is PUBLIC SERVICE N WHO ARE PUBLIC SERVANTS?.
    Indeed,GRATITUDE IS NOT SERVITUDE,IT IS AN ATTITUDE.
    An ATTITUDE TO KNOW HOW TO GIVE THANKS N HOW TO CORRECT THE ONES WHOM WE CARE ABOUT?
    You are grateful to your parents but it is your duty to show them the right ways when they err; else,where is gratitude then?

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  • Sgporeans too ignorant:

    There is no hope. Singaporeans are too ignorant.

    1. They think the money they get is from PAP, no matter whether it is a $10 coupon or a $100K scholarship. They don’t know this is money from the people of Singapore.

    Want to be grateful, be grateful to the people of Singapore, not to PAP.

    2) They are made to believe that the Singapore government is the most generous. That Ah Hua woman in Parliament proclaims this. I believe she is honest, but then terribly ignorant of other countries. (Some of you may prefer to think that she was blatantly dishonest).

    Please, spend some time to look at other countries.
    Examples:
    1) Macau every year gives S$1,500 cash to every fellow, old or young. No questions asked. This is on top of many other benefits.
    2) Canada gives its old folks more than S$1000 a month. No questions asked. This is much more than what most Singaporeans get from CPF (which is our own money). Furthermore, poor Canadian old folks get a few hundred dollars more. Free also.
    3) Alaska gives every fellow US$1000 to US$2000 every year. Free. No questions asked.

    Singaporeans are ignorant, and easily satisfied with the miserly few dollars thrown out by the government.

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  • Haigen-Diaz:

    This is an excellent column – psychologically, socially, spiritually.
    Like Jee Say, I’m also wondering whether gratitude has the same dynamic to everybody, to different people with different worldviews, to each individual regardless of the context of their worldview. Or whether we use the same word to label something fundamentally different.

    What’s politically incorrect here, of course, is the stark distinction between those who feel gratitude for returns they believe they’ve earned, and those who feel gratitude for returns they believe they HAVEN’T earned.

    As Singaporeans, we live in a capitalists Darwinian nightmare, that encourages selfishness and short-term thinking, greed and hubris. But this society would not work if not for the ‘clueless and deluded’, grateful for any morsel provided them, having been made fully aware of their worthless and parasitic lives by their makers.

    Tan Jee Say:
    Fellow Singaporeans, do not allow PAP to use past gratitude to blackmail us into voting them again and condemning ourselves to a future of servitude. Gratitude is not servitude.

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  • 南海诸岛:

    爱,阿购,鲁狐徳?

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  • Merobok:

    Mr. Tan, you and your part have been in slumber after the last GE. Never seen any of you walking in the wards that your party had contested. Now, as the next GE is around the corner, are you all including GMS, NSP and a few small parties waking up from slumber?
    No wonder Dr. Tan CB remarked that some have to take a step into the background and let others who genuinely have the interest in serving Singaporeans take the lead!
    Remember, this GE is crucial and don’t treat it like masak masak! A volcano that is extinct will never spew smoke or pumice but a dormant one may cause a few problems!

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  • Thank you, Mr Tan JS:

    Our family gave you the votes during PE.

    It was unfortunate neither your good self nor the esteemed Dr Tan CB won.

    We never believed for a second the pap Lj the 12 years NSF deferment jiak liao bee tony tan is an honourable person to be president of Spore. So far we have been proven correct in our belief. The pap Lj did not do any good for the poor the destitute the needy in Spore. He is an utterly useless piece of shit.

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  • patriot of TUMASIK:

    OK Jee Say you have said it … Now how???… surface and disappear again or be FOCUS…losing is not the END it is the BEGINNING of a journey and WINNING is not a $$$means to an END as the PAP sees though NOT say it!!!

    How about merging if your party still exist with Dr Tan CB or Lean Tien if NOT join them as TRUE Patriots for the sake of Singapore…

    Flowery language and stories are good and PAP had belt enough to make us sick…

    how about a performance of the unsung Silent Achievers from the Pioneer Generation

    Ever heard of an Idiotic atheist Wit Hitchens or Dawkins I think who cynically and with vulgarity thrown in CON an army of Worshippers similar to the man who CON YOU…an atheist to agnostic to nominal Buddhist and finally calling on Jesus’ name to save him from Hell and Sufferings…

    So, Jee Say STAY focus and don’t Just Say for say sake

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  • Mr Tan:

    You must have this translated in the other 3 languages of Spore and thereafter post this on facebook to teach max number of readers.

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  • Dr Tan Tai Wei:

    The principle of reciprocity, in the Confucian tradition, should not be taken to mean “gratitude” in the sense of giving back to one’s beneficiary no matter what. The overriding principle is “Yi li zhi bian”, ie. Justice and Rightness must be distinguished from mere benefit or profit. So you don’t show gratitude just by voting PAP no matter what. Justice and Rightness mattter, and true gratitude to “the older generation” is to vote justly. Were they worth their so-claimed salt, they should wish precisely so!

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  • MOO - My Opinion Only:

    Whoa! Where have you been since the last GE, Mr Tan? Many people I know are very disappointed with your disappearance. You’ve kept so quiet for such a long time but when you ‘speak’, your words are so meaningful and powerful.

    Please, Mr Tan, sg needs more people like you to speak up for the people and the country more often. Please do join Dr Tan’s PSP in the coming GE. Like Dr Tan, show gratitude towards our country not the pap.

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  • RDB:

    Spot on Charis and thanks TJS for sharing to inform and educate voters too.

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  • N.Jungne:

    Without Dr. Toh CC extra vote as Chairman, there’s no LKY.

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  • bgkl:

    I wonder if, for all TJS’s effort to recall his past to write this article, people would still suspect him as a “papaya plant”. I’m sure as much as he is reminded of his famous quote, people would also ask him of his current state of relationship with certain chao papayas he had, or has, closer contact with.

    The truth is I never know chao papayas for sophistry in terms of political manoeuvres. I never thought chao papayas are capable of planting since our independence. Everything they do, despite “a lack of transparency”, is plain for all to see: crass, boorish, tyrannical. These idiots can’t hold a candle against organized mafia or yakuza. And neither do I hold in esteem the general public a.k.a. sinkies for their sophistry of thought if they keep asking if he is a plant without thinking or investigating a little deeper.

    So is TJS still a plant? Plant or not, I have no regrets voting for him rather than proven WEEDS. And with shallow sinkies comprising 70%, who needs enemies? This cuntry is doomed!

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  • NotMyProblem:

    @Mr. Tan; allow me to highlight those significant portions of your article above for those smart people in SG. We have 7 out of 10 adults holding every kind of degrees and the rest with other qualification. Malaysia has less than that, but Malaysians are smarter.

    “… Singapore is not the only country that has made huge economic strides and moved from Third World to First in the last 50-60 years; so many countries have done so too like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and many other cities in China, Norway, Sweden and Finland.”

    Remember Singapore was one of the four dragons of Asia. SG was only second to Japan in many industries! What are we now?

    “.. voting is about the future and not about the past. Gratitude is for the past not the future. Have current leaders done anything in the recent past that gives us confidence that they will do us good in the future?”

    Correct, most of PAP’s MPs don’t even know the past, when we have affordable housing, better healthcare and employment, etc. What we are looking at the future are zero value of HDB flats (CPF gone), FTs taking over our jobs, better die than being sick (medical bill kills you, instead of your illness).

    “.. do not allow PAP to use past gratitude to blackmail us into voting them again and condemning ourselves to a future of servitude.”

    Yes, instead of asking “What Opposition can do for you?”, we should ask “What has PAP done for you?”. My answer is “PAP done nothing”, every waking hours of its Ministers and MPs were spent on thinking ways of fixing Oppositions and dissents. Motivation of PAP’s Ministers and MPs are fame, wealth, power and impressive resume, that’s all.

    Just be forewarned, the “Fake News” laws will stop you from saying anything, doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong!

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  • LIONS:

    actually.the 70 pct needs to really wake up!

    it is the SCHOLARS WHO OWE us,ordinary sgs,A GREAT GRATITUDE and NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND,WHY?

    these scholars like kee-chiu who claim they are from poor families(and some are),were given FREE EDUCATION OVERSEAS funded by us,no less,NOT PAP,get that right!

    but,when they come back and rise to the top positions,they think of WAY$ TO SCREW us just so to score points with LEE AH LONG.

    all these $tooges have been ENRICHED at our grave expense indeed!

    WHO OWE THE GRATITUDE in truth?

    it is the scholar-gahmen who owe us the gratitude and they dare come and claim the same form us???

    only IDIOTS REFUSE TO SEE THE TRUTH!

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  • Regime change is the solution:

    Singaporeans should kick ass instead of kissing them. Then things will change for the better for sure.

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  • rukidding:

    Hmmmm….”a dormant volcano may cause a few problems” ?

    I must say that I like it ……and I hope it does HAPPEN !

    We DO NEED a BIG SHAKEUP !

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  • Dr Tan CB PSP topples pap:

    bgkl:

    So is TJS still a plant? Plant or not, I have no regrets voting for him rather than proven WEEDS. And with shallow sinkies comprising 70%, who needs enemies? This cuntry is doomed!

    Well said bro. We agree. As long as not pap it is good enough for us.

    We give our votes to anything any animal any peanut any monkey as long as it is NOT pap.

    We hope New Government forms before we pass on so that we can see with our eyes and participate with our lips in the indictment of pap clown and wife and S$m clan of parleeement approved thieves.

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  • More Pain Needed:

    Merobok:
    Mr. Tan, you and your part have been in slumber after the last GE. Never seen any of you walking in the wards that your party had contested. Now, as the next GE is around the corner, are you all including GMS, NSP and a few small parties waking up from slumber?
    No wonder Dr. Tan CB remarked that some have to take a step into the background and let others who genuinely have the interest in serving Singaporeans take the lead!
    Remember, this GE is crucial and don’t treat it like masak masak! A volcano that is extinct will never spew smoke or pumice but a dormant one may cause a few problems!

    Many oppositions walked very hard in 2015, many sinkies kaopeh a lot but instead gave 70% votes despite all the problems caused by PAP.
    So sinkies do not appreciate the importance of check and Balance.
    Only more pain will do the trick, walkabout is useless for Dumbos, only real pain will.

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  • Only One Important Rule:

    Kick them out. Change needed.
    NO to any PAP candidate.

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  • Nation Of Dumbos:

    During the recent by-election, a PAP candidate murali suddenly appeared, made a lot of promises beat Dr Chee, won the seat then disappeared into thin air again.

    Dafts like PAP, it’s a result of inborn defect that passes down from generations; a sense of insecurity and natural naivety, they like to be screwed, the stupid ones kaopeh, the educated ones kept silence and oblivious to the rapid decline, the rest of half fcuk neither stupid not educated will ask intelligent questions like ,”what can the opposition do”?
    One thing is the same, they all voted for PAP, 70% of them, despite the huge mess caused by PAP.

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