Many years ago, my dad gave me a book entitled "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie[Link]. My dad had read the book diligently and underlined the important points. I took a quick look at the book and told my dad that I didn't need to read it because it was all common sense - be honest, have noble motives, show respect ....and so on. Common sense it turned out is not so common.
Even if the new AWARE Exco is not interested in making friends, shouldn't they be trying to influence people? This is really a case study on what not to do - they have hurt their cause, got the whole nation suspicious of them, offended many people and undermined their own credibility. They got into a situation where the more they explain themselves, the more questions pop up. Lets put everything in the proper context before we see what mess this group of people created for themselves. Singapore is a multiracial and multi religious society living together on a small island. Like it or not we will never be homogenous in our beliefs and values. Everyone gets their space and it is essential to respect each others differences and right to live his/her own life. However, when there are moral issues we feel strongly about we are free to voice our opinion - some people are don't want the casinos, others are concerned about the growing prostitution problem in Geylang, and so on. All religions are free to recruit and convert others so long as you don't run down somebody else's religion. People with religion are protected by various laws including the Sedition Act. I'm all right with that except they forgot to protect the non-religious people like myself who gets ridiculed for having difficulties believing a book written 2000 years ago carries the ultimate truth and that a superior being exists and watch over us ......the point is all of us have tolerate each other and be mindful of each others' sensitivities.
In 2008 we had this big debate as a nation about 377A - a symbolic law that is not enforced but seen by many gay people as a piece of legislation that criminalises their behaviour. Nobody expected the law to be repealed given that it is politically undoable given the conservative nature of our society. However, a good debate would promote greater understanding among everyone ..for concerns to be expressed and it would be good for our leaders to tell the gay people where they stand and the difficulties they face repealing this law. The debate in parliament was quite amicable until NMP Thio took the mic. In her speech[watch it here on YouTube], she hurled numerous accusations - associated gays with pedopiles, accused them of having a broader hidden agenda to harm society and that gay people were out to take away her freedom to speak up. This is precisely the type of speech one should never give if the aim was to influence people and win them over. It was a speech that manufactured a lot of hate...she later received a few hate mail and took the opportunity to insinuate that gay people are also hateful people. If you listen to the speech carefully again, there is one part in the speech where she accused gay people of infiltrating rights group with dishonest intent - a bit bizarre you would think now that her mom found to be behind the takeover AWARE....who is infiltrating what and with what intent?
After the new AWARE exco was formed, there was intense interest in what the new exco was about what were they up to taking over a 25 year old organisation. They had a news conference in which they explained that AWARE had strayed from its feminist goals and they purpose was to bring it back. This is really a strange accusation to make because the founding feminist members of AWARE are still around....how can they have possibly strayed when the people running it were the same people running it 25 years ago! The evidence they gave was a sexuality programme that AWARE runs in schools. The New Paper (Saturday article-25 April 2009) interviewing teachers in the programme found that the main purpose was to teach girls how to say 'no' to sex. However, the programme did teach that homosexuality is not wrong by classifying it as 'neutral' - according to the New Paper this was just a small part of the programme. If some people be it parents or teachers who are not happy which this aspect of the programme, surely they can ask for it removed....the are principals involved here and they are also responsible for what is taught in their schools. Because AWARE did not condemn homosexuality, it has strayed from its feminist goals? You can't run a useful sex education programme without covering homosexuality and the use of condoms to prevent pregnancies. So the new AWARE has taken over to 'right this wrong' and have homosexuality reclassified as 'negative' .....by doing that they can prevent people from becoming gay? I think they can save more souls by recruiting more people into their religion.
Before this takeover, the old exco had members from the Sikh, Muslim and Christian communities and plenty of diversity. The same cannot be said of the new exco. When they took over AWARE, many people see them as being guilty of the same things NMP Thio was accusing the other camp of - having hidden agendas, taking over rights group to further their own selfish cause. The old guards who ran AWARE for many years providing much needed profession help to troubled many women over many years are understandably deeply hurt by all these unfair accusations. The new exco will soon discover that they have not only hurt others, they have hurt themselves and their own credibility. The lesson for the rest of us is this - whatever your cause is, whatever your beliefs remember that you have to respect others to win them over...if you to manufacture hate, suspicion and unfair accusations, you will lose credibility and hurt your own cause. This misguided group (and their moral mentor) fighting an imagined moral war are better off spending their energy to spread their beliefs...there is nothing to stop small chapels from becoming mega-churches in Singapore and saving more souls in the process....if they are right , surely they will be able to win people over ...and not have to take over somebody elses' organisation and create so much ill will, unhappiness and friction in the process.