I was invited to deliver a keynote lecture for the 22nd International Youth Forum in Seoul, organized by The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family and The National Council of Youth Organizations in Korea. It was a great opportunity for me to ponder on what I have done in the last three years when trying to run a six-country comparative research project. I really did not want to lecture my audiences as they probably have heard much in school. The four words in the title are among the most meaningful to me in the recent years. It is a speech that targets myself as well.
The two sections on Change and Youth are presenting the factual observations I had during my research trips. The last two on Failure and Excellence tried to convey a message: Excellence does not require success and heading to a highly possible failure is a brave choice that already indicates excellence.
Allow me to insert an excerpt here:
"Alright. It seems that failure is a given fact and success is only the beautiful scenery we enjoy on our way to greater failure. So what are we trying to achieve here? What are we challenging ourselves to get? What are we risking our comfort for? If it is neither success nor failure, what is it?
It is excellence.
Excellence, by definition, means the fact or state of excelling. To excel is to surpass the ordinary standards. As long as we are trying to surpass what have been achieved by either others or ourselves, we are excelling or we are headed towards excellence. A sportsman excels when she breaks her own record. A student excels when she learns new knowledge. A politician excels when she speaks for the neglected. Excellence is different from success because it is more about your own pursuit than conforming to how others judge you. It is you who decides what to excel, how to excel, and when to stop. As long as a person excels in her own regard, we should show our full respect."
I truly thank my colleague Catherine Candano for reviewing the manuscript and giving me feedback.
A full manuscript can be found here.
AWARE is the well-known (well, known now) local women's groop which has gone through serious internal conflict recently. A group of new members took over the executive power by taking advantage of the tyranny of majority. They outnumbered supporters of the existing executive team in the annual election. The existing executive team is claimed to be too pro-homosexuality and has to be replaced all together. Out of the many dramatic stories unfolding themselves along time, I like the response from Minister in Prime Minister's Office the most. Mrs Lim Hwee Hua said: "This is not a national dispute and should not upset the balance and tenor of our open, tolerant and secular society."
If the society is already open and tolerant, how come we see dramas like this happening here and now? We tend to forget the reasons why we establish nation-states. It is exactly because civil society is not perfect and we need institutions to adress and solve serious conflicts within it. But I agree with Mrs. Lim that this is not a national dispute, yet...
The Hegelian state - The highest values and best traditions of a
society could be politically embodied and expressed by the state. - from Terence Chong's Embodying society's best: Hegel and the Singapore state.
The Foucauldian society - Social conflicts produce themselves the valuable ties that hold modern societies together and provide them with the strength and cohesion they need. - from Bent Flyvbejerg'sHabermas and Foucault: Thinkers for civil society?
One last note - please don't take me wrong. I am not asking for the state's intervention in civil society's affairs. I am asking for the state's tolerance of conflicts in civil society. Empower civil society to allow it to evolve through conflict solving, with the help from the state institutions when necessary.
I am an Associate Professor at Department of Communication and New Media, National University of Singapore.