Keeping up with the Tans

“Life gets very unsatisfying, when we dishonor ourselves. We might only slightly dishonour ourselves, or we have been practicing it for a long time. This last takes a lot longer for us to notice.” (JP Sears, 2017, yogi entrepreneur and sage).

Materialism and the pursuit of wealth at the expense of all things is not a new phenomenon.  All countries regardless of economic development status, will have the rich and the not rich.  In Singapore, you see this codified and then communicated widely as a reasonable community standard.

The 5Cs are the gold standard in Singapore of status, comfort and personal success. Singaporean women still look for these qualities in their potential partner (you may get some shamefaced looks when you ask your male and female Singaporean friends about these 5Cs).

The 5Cs are credit cards, cash, condominiums, cars, country club membership. Known as the ‘Singapore Dreams’, they arose in the late 1980s – a time of great economic expansion in Singapore. Evidence of their intrinsic existence in Singapore is on every street, and every shopping centre. There are more brands on Orchard Road than anywhere else in the world, and they are proud of it.

The western equivalent is “keep up with the Joneses”. Like the Joneses, if you don’t have the 5C’s, you really havent’ ‘made it’ in Singapore.

The 5C’s are experiencing a Singapore renaissance, partly because of rising global economic uncertainty. Partly because parents who bought into the 5C’s, now have children of 35 something, who have been educated to expect all 5C’s and more. And are not getting them.

Such is the power of watering our mind seeds.

Attempts have been made over the years to shift these 5c’s into something more palatable. SM Goh Chok Tong in 2010 suggested the Singaporean dreams should be more like:

  • Career
  • Comfort (material and emotional comfort)
  • Children
  • Consideration and
  • Charity.

These didn’t stick. The originals have been so heavily planted into the Singapore psyche (think the latest handbag), proof that where we plant seeds in our minds, and give them attention, so do the forests grow.

Beautiful woman with many shoes.

The 5C’s are a integral part of the Singapore psyche. Where we plant and water our mind seeds, so too do the big oaks grow.

We have a large spiritual tent as yogis. Many spiritual and religious practices with the common connection there is more to life than these 5C’s, even if it is for only 60 minutes a day on a non-recyclable yoga mat (heavy irony).

One of our common spiritual connections is our mind has immense power for good and bad. When we practice mindfulness – we shine light on the mind, brilliantly highlighting those thoughts or seeds we nourish and those we do not.

Our internal storylines are supercharged fertilizer for these mind seeds. When I believe a story on how to have a great career (perhaps one of having to beat people down to ‘win’, where it is OK to treat someone badly to make money), this is how the tree grows.

“Trees will grow with both good and not so good fertilisers, but poorer quality fertilizer may mean an unwell tree or even mutation. So is the same with the mind.” L Carsley, WanderingYogi

The storylines for the 5C’s are primarily based on jealousy, competitiveness, anger and greed. There is very little room for emotions of compassion, care and genuine love.

These wither and die – nothing grows under or around a tree when its canopy is wide and full.

But just like the rest of the world, Singapore does have hope.

We have seen a global counter renaissance to the pursuit of material wealth. In the 1990s and from the west. Many successful business people woke up one day and realized that who we are is more about living a good life, loving well, and leaving a long-term legacy (head nod to Stephen Covey). And promoted these seeds and watered them in their children.

This western generation of younger 20 something global citizens understand mindfulness is the balance, excessive consumerism and the pursuit of all things expensive is well, excessive. You can be both comfortable and caring.

But it takes discipline and mindfulness.

I have noticed a rising incidence of resentment and anger in Singapore – a place where public expression of any emotions is not considered good face.  Billboard advertisements are messaging younger people to be more polite to their waiters, road rage is on the increase, with large electronic billboards as you enter the main city area, reminding people to be more compassionate to other drivers.

I sit in a restaurant and watch Singapore millennials struggle with understanding their children, when they have them for the one day off a week that their helper is entitled to.  Frowns are starting to appear – I sense there is an uneasy knowing – that the 5C’s are not all they are cracked up to be.

Can Singapore create a new set of 5C’s?

If there was ever a country that could do absolutely anything it puts its mind to, it would be Singapore.  But you have to pull down the mind trees of cars, credit cards, cash and condos, and replant. Replace the monuments to religion and affectation to spiritual practice (you know what I mean Singapore). Right now.

Tend new mind seeds of caring and compassion with the most effective fertilizer – attention. Watch for emotions that suggest you are still attached to the 5C’s (eg., envy when people get better cars or houses, trying to work out the best credit card deal so you can purchase that handbag or shoes).

Government policy or pronouncement is not going to help, this is changing the world, one family, one mind at a time.

Three generations of a Chinese family relaxing in Park Tog

My daughter is studying to be a neurosurgeon. She is 21. I sense she will have no issue keeping up with the Tans or the Jones.  As I wrote this article, I was curious about what she might see in a potential partner.   In one of our many conversations around life the universe and everything, this is her 5C’s:

  • Confidence – having someone beside you who is confident of who they are, and also is confident of you, when sometimes you might not
  • Calm – they step on their path with ease most of the time, help you stay calm on yours
  • Clarity – A person who can see through the muddy water, see the real essence of who you are, not what you or others might post on Facebook
  • Concentration – they put themselves 100% into life, wherever they are –  and are too busy being alive to be carried away by habit energy of saying or thinking unpleasant things.
  • Courage – they have the ability to let go of preconceived ideas of themselves, their families. Not crazy courage, but true non-fear. They help you build yours.

Unsurprisingly, she asks the same of herself.

(many thanks to the Buddha Dharma for its wisdom, Plum Village group,  and finally Thich Nhat Hanh as the founder, for their interpretations – these have guided both myself and my daughter through life).

A shorter version of this article appears in the ANZA Singapore monthly magazine, May 2017.  Become an ANZA member, and join up here.

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