Angst ridden as it was, I did however, agree and identify with Reuben's frustration. To be 17 and have your questions ricochet back to you by someone who is supposed to have the acumen and experience to provide insightful answers can be confusing and frustrating. And judging from the highlights on RazorTV, he was not alone in this sentiment - which begs me to wonder why the DPM persisted.
Granted, DPM Teo was just trying to engage the students in a fun game of socratic questioning, and not being evasive. But what he may have failed to do is make the students understand the exercise and what he expected of them. If it was not working out, in that the students were generally more bewildered than inspired, why did he press on with that line of questioning? It is always a less empowering position to be in , to be the one giving the answers rather than the one asking the questions, he himself being in the hot seat so often should be more than familiar with it. And as a guest speaker, he should be prepared to contribute as much as receive insights to whatever topic is at hand.
At its best, socratic questioning is a wonderful technique in guiding someone through an introspective process, ideally to a satisfyingly self-actualised conclusion. But it can also be misused to lead, and even unknowingly intimidate, like in the case of some of the students who were clearly disarmed by the sudden reversal of roles, and by no less a member of a ruling party that has had such an imposing influence on the plight of free speech in this country. When DPM asked one student where she lived, somewhat independently from her question, it prompted the crowd to let out further gasps. Was that not indication enough that there is an element of taboo and fear in the room? How can socratic reasoning, one which requires an egalitarian platform to function effectively, be used in the presence of such trepidation? The only thing it effectively accomplished was to reduce the now rather infamous question, "What do you think?", into a rhetorical one.
We would like to think that there is nothing to fear in speaking up and making our opinions known, that is what any politician here would claim, but is that really the case here?
Since the 2011 GE, the word "engagement" has been thrown around in public discourse. But engagement is really a means for convergence, where the sentiments on the ground start coalescing with that of the leaders, through compromise on both sides. This divide cannot be resolved by just initiating engagement, let alone one that inspired nothing much else other than bringing attention to an over exemplified swear word.
So yes, Reuben's liberal use of expletives undermined his point, which was his frustration at the seminar and DPM Teo for not meeting up with his expectations. His initiated apology an admirable show of bravery and resilience against an all too judgemental world. What I found disappointing was the fanfair given to his apology and the little attention that was given to the lack of concrete insights from the DPM or the students, save for a few positive adjectives. Rather than grab hold of a chance to re-define the expectations of engagement between our leaders and the young, it was handled like a damage control exercise. The boy who swore apologised, the minister forgives, but what about the underlying divide that caused this in the first place?
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