Mindset no.2 – Some kind of smarts matter more than others
This mindset is related to the first one:
If someone has excelled in formal education, he is assumed or perceived to be intelligent – in every way and in all situations. He can take on almost any challenge thrown at him. While this may be true of that rare, truly gifted individual, it is hardly the case for most people.
People have different strengths, which are suited to different challenges. Yet, we tend to be narrow-minded in our view of intelligence and talent. We have been told to prize talent that can be accounted for through traditional qualifications, as well as through money and status.
Fans of television’s Japan Hour would know how the hunt for the best green tea ice-cream can take multiple episodes to be completed. I am always struck by how one of the world’s most technologically advanced societies can also embrace and retain their traditional crafts. But whether it is tradition or technology, their spirit is captured in the word shokunin – which means craftsman or artisan, but actually connotes a deeper meaning about the joy in doing something to the best of your ability.
Valuing different intelligences will not just make people feel better; it will help Singapore create wealth for all.
For decades, it has been an Asian mindset, having this perception that being a university graduate means one has come to a life stage that “he is to be respectable by everyone, and will become a successful person in society”.
But there are so many university graduates on the streets these days, it has meant nothing.
That is why I often say – let’s respect fellow Singaporeans of different intelligence/abilities and talents, regardless of educational backgrounds. I believe we ought to embrace diversity of people talents.
We are now in the 21st Century. I consider it “backward thinking” if people still think that formal academic excellence supercedes all other kinds of excellence.
Mindset no.3 – Stinginess with respect to other people’s strengths
This leads me to the mindset that may be the MOST unhealthy of all: a judgemental attitude that looks up to certain professions and look down on others.
Respect is what we all crave for, say human pyschologists and behavioural economists. Economists like Richard Layard, for example, have long argued that it is not income alone that makes people happy but also a sense of belonging. People need to know that they matter to others.
Last year when we interviewed Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, I noticed that the room had several interesting paintings, which we discovered later were the work of prisoners. His choice of decor reflected his belief that Singapore needs to recognise different strengths.
We need to treat one another better, he said.
Unfortunately, those who have not done so well in school are “very aware of what they didn’t achieve but not enough of them have discovered their own strengths”.
And at the other extreme, are those who are fully aware of their strengths but “are not sufficiently aware of their weaknesses, and not sufficiently aware of other people’s strengths”.
He posted a rhetorical question which I think goes to the heart of the current debate – how we value fellow Singaporeans: “Do you see them as equals?“
Shifting mindset is a collective responsibility (among educators/parents). It starts with others – from the establishment and employers (be it private or public sectors) to other organisations.
Yes. I absolutely agree. It involves each and every single one of us as a Singaporean.
As long as it is a decent profession which allows one to tap on individual strengths, get to earn a take-home pay happily, to help himself or herself to make ends meet. Some examples: a hair stylist, a professional sports athlete or a restaurant waiter.
Yes I may be rich; and I may be a scholar or a company CEO but what right do I have to look down or condemn another fellow Singaporean’s profession? So what if he or she is not a university graduate?
High EQ thinking, job-ready skills, and a proactive work attitude counts alot more at the workplace today.
It also boils down to basic respect. And humility.