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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Undiscovered Country

A long time ago, in an island far away, Winston Churchill said that "if we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future." Some say, our nation is in that position today. It is constantly bickering because of the sins of the past. Some foolishly grumble, same, same. Because the old accuses the youth of apathy in the face of national affairs. Because the youth is disgusted by the pathetic, cumbersome and selfish antics of the old. Nothing changes in these islands, year in, year out. Same old, same old.

Has nothing changed?

We exist in a world of rapid change! We exist in a world where there are greater and greater challenges and ever changing rules and dynamics. As the world marches forward with new technology that shift the balance of power to those capable of seizing and utilizing the wonders of our age, our nation refuses to march forward. It has to be dragged on, kicking and screaming. We subscribe to ancient ways. We refuse to look forward.

The same never ending themes stand out, year in and year out--- corruption, graft, abuse of authority and myriad accusations that could be true but could never and would never stand scrutiny and escape justice. it just isn't done. The old guard, the old status quo of self-serving governance exist not just in those in power but even in their critics, prisoners of their own price tags.

One would hope that young men and women coming to power, coming to age would unshackle themselves from the traditions of the past, unbind themselves from old fears and doubts and hates and rivalries and cast off the old delusions. Some try, and many fail not for want of trying but the old, the old guard with their considerable weight pull the new back in and the weight of their own price tags bring them down.

Timid, as most Asians are, we rarely go beyond our shores. It hasn't stopped us of course to seek opportunity like men and women since the dawn of humanity. The call of greener pastures has never been denied our people. Our diaspora is everywhere--- from the Old to the New World, to the killing sands of Iraq and the dark fields of Afghanistan, to the land Down Under. And like all humans everywhere this migration is always about new opportunities. Though far from these islands, no matter the generation, wherever in the world they are, no matter how they may deny--- there is always a part of them that yearn and call these islands home.

In spite of our diaspora, our nation, has never been a nation of explorers. We never venture just to see what's on the other side. We dare not try something new. We find comfort in the trail others have made before. We dare not do a thing, just for the sake of being different, save perhaps that one moment of people power, a moment of spontaneity.

In a world of rapid change, of considerable challenges, few would say humans have explored everything; that all the battles have been won; that there is no longer a new frontier, no new horizon, no undiscovered country left to find.

But that's not true is it?

Few would like to fight old battles like what they call the dying of freedom of speech and of expression, in the same old way while subscribing to the dumbing down of people's expectations of what information and thinking should be. In a society where people listen to ramblings about the incompetence of government, the display of mindless, uncivilized bravado of those in power, and the latest, wild craze antic in show business, where are the vanguards of free speech and free expression coming out with books to read, with essays to chew on, with discussions that spark creative thought and encourage even the least of our society to think and be civil? In an information age, we get dumber. worst, we lose our civility. Where is the call to fight for our culture, our civility and our humanity?

In an age such as we have today, there is much to learn. There is much to discover. Yet, for as long as our past and present quarrel, we will never discover this country.

Our people stand on the frontier of our undiscovered country. It is the same frontier, same undiscovered country as generations before have stood on. Its horizon stares right back at us. It is full of unfilled hopes and dreams of our people, as much as there are myriad unknowable and equally uncertain threats. It is easy to shrink from that frontier, and our leaders have done that, as much as we have ourselves done before.

These words are for the young and the young at heart. The undiscovered county before us require imagination, and courage and perseverance. We need vigorous leadership and not the safe mediocrity of the past, certainly not good intensions and high rhetoric. It is the answer to our people's unfilled hopes and unquenched dream. The test is, not if we are equal to the challenges the horizon offers but if we would face it at all. Do we have the nerve and the will?

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