“MP had no empathy”

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


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.

12 Replies to ““MP had no empathy””

  1. Hi Ian

    Yes, like you, Lawrence is also someone I have a lot of respect for.

    I think his letter is spot-on.

    I’ve noticed that it is the people who are constantly being blamed (for their poor upbringing or their harsh circumstances, or even their mental state), whenever one of these MP attacks occur.

    Yet, it has never been questioned whether the MPs are the ones who have been failing to their ability to be in touch with their constituents.

    The recent spate of attacks or threats cannot all be coincidences. Where there’s smoke, there must be fire. And increasingly, I am beginning to suspect that the cause of the fire has more to do with the MPs’ EQ (or lack of) than anything else.

    Cheers, man. Good job in sussing out this letter.


  2. Hey Gerard,

    Personally, I don’t like to do Gahmen-bashing like the rest of the local Internet population. I mean, there’s only so much that you can criticise before you get tired right? But they go on and on, and I suspect it’s pretty much the same inane crowd that keeps uploading their phone pix to Stomp.com.sg

    Still, this story really takes the cake. And the real tragedy is that you’ll never see this in SPH papers for various reasons.

  3. mmm…why don’t you get to vote in Bishan? Surely the electoral roll allows or rather requires you to vote in the area you live, so that your vote is for your representation?

    Please explain?

  4. Hi Indiana,

    Very simple explanation – Wong Kan Seng’s GRC team has had successive walkovers in my district for years. So sure, you have the right to vote, but do you have the chance to vote? 😀

  5. Please publicize this brainless MP’s name. Someone more guailan than him may want to feed him some of his own medicine.

  6. “MPs are elected or appointed to serve the constituents.” – herein lies the problem. These MPs are NOT elected, they did not receive a single ballot cast with their name. They sneaked into parliament through the gerrymandering mechanism of GRC and walkovers. They know it, and the knowledge of that blatant abuse makes them arrogant. Unlike the situation of a real democracy, they fear not the electorate. You see this ugliness demonstrated so powerfully in the Lee Bee Wah pomposity. Yes, name that bastard of a MP – there are bastions of netizens waiting to teach him a lesson.

  7. Hey folks, let’s be more civil than some of these errant MPs yah? No need to call them bastards or what lah. Won’t make a difference in the scheme of things and they’ll just write online commentators off as being beneath them, even if we’re not.

  8. By the way Lee Bee Wah is a she, not a he.

    Yes, I agree fully that things are getting out of hand with those intolerant, unsympathetic, uncompassionate and low EQ so-called people’s representatives.

    They even went so far as to distinguish themselves as higher mortals and we ordinary citizens as lesser mortals. That really takes the cake.

    I agree with Ian that there is no chance to even cast a vote. In the 60 over years of my life, I have only got two chances to vote. The first was in the 1960s when I voted for the PAP and thereafter it was walk-over all the time. The second chance to vote came in 2006 when I moved my residence to another constituency. Just imagine, 2 voting chances in a 40-year gap! Can any logical and sensible person sincerely call that DEMOCRACY?

    I also agree the writer of the letter Lawrence Loh. I had encountered a similar experience like his in 2002 with the MP in my constituency. After that encounter, I swore to myself that I will never ever turn to a PAP MP for any assistance for the rest of my life. Despite this, I had refrained from govt bashing for the last 40 years. But now, it is about time we all stand up to do something to correct the serious imbalance of power (between gov and citizens) before things get worst for all of us.

  9. The MP meeting sessions are the side shows that they have to do to appear legitimate in this DEMOCRACY.

    The MP appointment is a vehicle to other appointments in the government. There are MPs and there are MPs.

    And this MP has other concerns in his own life and as for “lesser mortals”, they are just crowds to his side shows.

  10. Hey Ian,

    not sure if you remember me, we met a couple of times during the XBOX roadshows

    I pounced on this post of yours..and found it really true. Somehow i’ve found that Singapore has lost its soul. Its no longer about the journey but chasing quick results.

    Drop me an email to catch up mate
    XBOX GT: SickoRicko

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