Came across this online reader letter in Today recently, thanks to a posting on Facebook. I’m not sure if this was published in the print edition, but it’s a very sad read. I know the writer, and he happens to be one of the few people in life that I look up to as a model of graciousness and professionalism.
Online Only – MP had no empathy
Letter from LAWRENCE LOH KIAH MUAN
Updated 10:07 PM May 13, 2009
It started with Member of Parliament (MP) Seng Han Thong being set on fire. Then came MP Denise Phua who was threatened by a rag-and-bone man. Recently, MP Cynthia Phua was subjected to a display of violence by a constituent.
Although these incidents are disturbing and a cause for concern, I wonder whether the constituents are solely to be blamed.
Allow me to relate my personal experience.
In February 2001, my older son died in a naval accident whilst serving National Service. In that year, my younger son was due for enlistment. A friend, a very active grassroots member, suggested that I approach my MP, for help in exploring the possibility of getting an exemption for my younger son. I was reluctant but he went ahead to fix an appointment for me at the Meet-The-People Session (MPS). I subsequently relented and he accompanied me there. It was in March 2001. That was my first appearance at a MPS, and it was to be my last.
I waited until midnight before I could meet the MP. Prior to this, he was given the case paper which detailed the objective of the meeting and the circumstances of my case.
When I entered the room, his first remark was “Yes, what can I do for you?”. There was no attempt at offering a word of sympathy or condolence. I then related my situation and said that both my wife and I were very traumatised.
His next remark “What traumatic, after two months, you won’t be traumatic?”. With that, I decided to end the meeting. And with that, my respect for him hit ground zero. I was too stunned and grief-stricken to react. Someone who was less-controlled and less-measured than me could have flown into a rage and become violent.
MPs are elected or appointed to serve the constituents. People who attend the MPS are those who have real problems and need help. In a lot of instances, they are stressed, distressed and troubled. What they need is a caring soul, a helping hand, a gentle voice, and words of hope and encouragement.
To dispense these, MPs need good interpersonal skills and a high EQ. Arrogance, a patronizing, chiding and belittling attitude, aloofness and lack of empathy will only trigger acts of rashness and violence. Many of our politicians have a high IQ, some are scholars. However, a high IQ is not the only attribute needed in a political career. A high EQ is equally, if not more critical, especially when it comes to dealing with the constituents.
In my case, I would have felt good if my MP could have been a warm and caring person. If he could have been empathetic, consoling and helpful. All these qualities can only come from the heart, not from the mind.
It was only in the army that I realized that we who had gone through the junior college education system were the minority in Singapore, and that we had no idea how to interact with the majority. And as I went into the working world, I saw for myself that the whole Singapore image of a well-off, dominant middle class was nothing but a constant PR exercise.
Elitism cannot be avoided in any society, but you’d agree with me it has become very distilled in Singapore and it often rears its ugly head. I’ve often said that many of our politicians lack charisma and verve because they don’t get into Parliament by popular vote (why, I still haven’t gotten a chance to vote in Bishan even though I’ve stayed here 20 years).
Now it appears at least one of them lacks compassion too.