Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew: afterthoughts


You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools.

Lee Kuan Yew

I see no coincedence in the fact that I read an interview with Mr. Yew in a magazine right after I finished re-reading Principe by Niccolo Machiavelli. Needless to say that I was shocked that I have never heard of him before, although later I found out the plain simple reason behind that: he was concidered to be more of an enemy than a friend by USSR, and there were little or none of any references to be found about Singapore and himself personally in any historical books or newspapers just because his methods and approaches towards governing and building a better world were drastically different from those of the USSR.

A week ago, I finished reading From Third World to First: The Singapore Story – 1965-2000, a memoir by Mr. Yew in which he describes the hard and long road of Singapore towards economic growth and prosperity. The book describes the events that took place in Singapore after the end of the World War II: the unification and the following separation from Malaysia, the end of age of colonialism and withdrawal of Great Britain from East Asia, the war in Vietnam, the development of complex relationships between Singapore and the USA, Australia, Taiwan, China and Japan. It is indeed a very unique piece of material, as there are not so many books one can find that are both packed by colourful, live descriptions of historical events and that is written from a surprisingly unbiased point of view. Of course, Mr. Yew might exaggerate certain facts, but the book keeps its astonishingly high intellectual value nonetheless – this tale of Singapore is filled with both the painful, sometimes shameful facts and the great successes of a small multicultural bilingual island society, which has managed to find their own path in our complex world in less than 50 years.

But it is not the facts or historical events I was mostly impressed by. The book itself, the construction of the text gives this weird feeling that you are sitting right in front of a living being, that is talking to you in a very relaxed manner. And as it guides you along the unique path of Singapore, you can not help but notice the shadow of something much bigger and greater, that can only be observed from a “Helicopter vision” – its Mr. Yew’s innate ability to see that, at out very core, we are all the same. We all crave the same things: a roof over our heads, a healthy meal on the table, a smile of the loved one and a choice of opportunities ahead. Our ways may be different, though, and this is the second most important lesson that Mr. Yew can teach: there are always numeral ways to replicate success, and more often than not they will be drastically different from the example. 

The other important lesson lies in the nature of mankind itself, and I consider this trait to be the defining aspect that separates great leaders from ruthless dictators: in order to uplift himself, one must first uplift those around him.  The scale does not matter – it works in every system, be that a classroom, a small office, a huge international corporation or a small island city that has put itself in the spearhead of progress. And it resonates perfectly with the next book I have started to read – Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty.

Singapore and Lee Kuan Yew: afterthoughts

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