The Diverse Minority
At the recent annual International Academy of Collaborative Professionals’ Forum in Seattle, I attended a plenary session on inclusion and diversity. The discussion led by an African American professor Dr Theopia Jackson got me thinking very hard about how I feel as a minority in Singapore and how I fit in, in multi-racial Singapore. Recently, a Chinese client, in the course of a meeting brought up as an illustration of a point he was making, how I must feel as a minority. I was surprised. Having been born and having lived in Singapore nearly my entire life, I never felt different. Nearly all my friends are Chinese. The only time I feel different is when they start to converse in Mandarin or dialects.
Singapore has done well to ensure that its diverse population bonds as a society and no one group feels marginalised or out of place. Constant reminders of being racially tolerant and respecting each other’s values and beliefs have been reiterated especially during the celebration of festivals. Although this is not discussed in public, it is natural for the minority to feel different in a homogeneous society.
Looking at the advocacy against the death penalty and repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code, the pink and purple parades and women breaking the glass ceilings, we are indeed a civic minded society. We hear of many non-governmental organisations and social enterprises existing and being formed in Singapore to do common good. As I was growing up, I was passionate about volunteer work and spent a lot of time in the disabled cause. My parents reminded me that charity begins at home and to focus on the family. The causes then extended mainly to children, abuse of women, alternative dispute resolution to resolve disputes and human rights.
Diversity is not just within ethnic groups, between genders, the less abled and the LGBTQ communities. Diversity exists in our individual different values, ideals and thoughts. We co-exist and influence each other. Being different takes courage, perseverance and a fighting against all odds spirit. It is a hard, tiring and often lonely journey. There are many ways to fight for a cause. Mahatma Gandhi advocated non-violence and Mother Teresa did it with love. A friend, with passion in her voice said, “We must not give up dreaming and being positive about the changes we wish to make in our society. Changes take time, and with patience, they will happen.” We need to find the personal way of pushing for change which does not upset others or is in conflict with authorities. Social media helps and does not help in advocating change as it is easy to make emotional and unintended statements in the virtual space.
Speaking, sharing and discussing the issues close to my heart continuously and consistently, I feel, has made others associate me with these causes. I joke that I do not have many friends as my views and the changes that I wish to promote run against the norms of life and law practice. Being different is challenging and at times I feel like giving up. The people around me, and the encouraging words in the form of articles or messages in social media make me realise that though different, I am advocating for the right and important causes in Singapore and the larger world.
Finding like-minded people to discuss and share my ideas with is difficult in Singapore. I refer to the meetings with these few friends as “intellectual conversations”. The Wife chides me for preferring such conversations to the ordinary conversations all of us have in our daily lives. “Don’t be snobbish. There is nothing wrong with simple and mundane conversations,” she tells me often. Being engaged in my preferred type of conversation is not only positive but encourages and inspires me in my pursuit of my causes, I would reply. Yes, the differences start at home.
I have found complaining and being unhappy about the state of affairs around me does not help me or my mental health. Being aware, being in acceptance of the world I live in and yet not being complacent is the way to keep ideals and dreams alive. Not worrying too much and having faith that positive changes will happen made me handle the scale costs issue which took the profession by storm with strange calmness. Acknowledging and being grateful for the fulfilment of many dreams such as the significant changes leading to a shift in family law practice and growth of collaborative family law practice gives me hope and strength to push for new causes and to achieve many more dreams.