I read with interest the series of letters from Today readers some time ago on their “visions for Singapore”, and wondered if the Singapore that the writers want will ever materialise.

After giving considerable thought to their wishes, it is my suggestion that we should not entertain too high a hope that most of these should see the light of day.

Don’t get me wrong…

…I share most of their visions for our nation. However, I will not hold my breath for them to happen.

If you know me, you will be wondering what has happened to my philosophy of positive thinking.

Perhaps, you may be thinking that I don’t practice what I preach.

I must admit that it is difficult for me to do so when I choose to think intelligently. Let me explain.

I am impressed by one reader’s vision of having everyone take care of the environment so that professional cleaners and sweepers can become redundant.

Can that happen? I don’t think so – not by a long shot.

Not too long ago, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Environment and Water Resources, found all sorts of flotsam in the Singapore River during an inspection tour.

This is not surprising as it is common to find litter everywhere – on the beach, in HDB estates and even in the heart of the city despite the commendable work of the cleaning “brigade”.

The questions: Have we been taught not to litter? Are there punitive measures to deter littering? Are there sufficient strategically-located litter bins?

The answers to these questions are yes, yes and yes.

If education and punishment including the dreaded corrective work order are not effective, what else can we do?

Hang all litterbugs? Assuming we decide to take this draconian step, I am sure there will still be littering, albeit not as bad.

Another letter-writer wants a Singapore that is gracious, compassionate and caring.

It will be wonderful if we have that kind of Singapore but I don’t think we can achieve it.

We cannot even agree if a mum-to-be deserves a seat on public transport. We have opposing views on whether courtesy is our responsibility or if it has to be encouraged and rewarded.

We argue if it is right to reserve parking spaces for the handicapped when they are hardly utilised.

If we cannot share the same thoughts on basic courtesies and considerations for others, how can we develop a gracious, compassionate and caring Singapore?

The same argument can also be used to support my contention that we cannot realise most of the other visions for Singapore, especially those involving freedom of speech and racialism.

The lengthy debate sparked by Chua Cheng Zhan’s racist blog entry is an example.

Those who share his thinking, will support him. So, how can we eradicate the “discrimination”, as we label it?

At best, we can turn “racists” into hypocrites.

It is easy to say one thing and do another. For example, employers can claim to support the Code of Responsible Employment Practices which recognises, among other things, a multi-racial workforce – but engage people from only one ethnic group.

As I see it, people think, feel and behave differently. They have different experiences, values and beliefs. What is wrong to some may be fine with others. This will not change. And it is good.

Singapore will be a boring place if everyone is alike. We need to be different to make Singapore a vibrant place.

The Singapore we can hope for, is a place where we can continue to co-exist in harmony despite our differences and shortcomings. That is something we must work hard to maintain and, if possible, improve.

(This article was published in TODAY of 8 June 2005)