DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s Wise Words

Whether you love the People’s Action Party (PAP) or not, we know a wise man when we see one. Even though Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam is not going to be our future prime minister, it’s no question that he’s one of the most deserving ministers for the post, due to his impactful words that provide much food for thought.

As such, we selected 18 quotes from the wise minister that we believe every true-blue Singaporean should chew on.

On Society

dpm tharman society


1. Multiculturalism

To deepen our resilience as a society, We must keep each of our cultures alive…develop a keener interest in each other’s cultures. Multiculturalism must become something we cherish in our hearts, not just something we accept in our minds.

It’s true, just because we accept something doesn’t exactly mean we’re doing a great job of appreciating it. Sometimes, as Singaporeans, we take our multiculturalism for granted and become complacent, not going further to improve the situation.

2. Humility

We cannot solve problems if we leave it entirely to the market or the natural workings of society. It will not create a fair and inclusive society, and it will sap the vim and energy of our society at every level. We all need some humility on the ways that best advance a liberal order. We all need some humility as to how we achieve that, not just for today, but for tomorrow.

Back to the notion about complacency, DPM Tharman reminds us of the importance of remaining humble in society and not just blaming it on the government.

3. Respect For One Another

People have to treat each other with respect, not with suspicion. There is rather too much typecasting of each other – of expats and locals, north and south.

Just like our national pledge, it’s important that we aren’t quick to point the finger at someone else. There’s been much talk about our “blaming culture” in Singapore, and it’s about time we change that.

4. Responsibility

It is also about developing a broader culture of responsibility in our society. It is not just about everyone doing their part, rich or poor, but also about being able to count on each other. And those two things go together. We are able to count on each other, now and in the future, only if everyone plays their part, if everyone plays their responsible role.

To all Singaporeans, in the words of Bruno Mars, you can count on me like 1, 2, 3.

5. For Future Generations

We have got to sustain a fair and inclusive society for generations; not one election at a time.

Sometimes, our fixation with our daily routines and responsibilities make us potentially selfish people. (To clarify, not all Singaporeans are selfish.) To such people, it’s important to remain forward-thinking, with consequences that do not only extend to our lifespan but for the generations to come who would definitely appreciate a united society.

6. Pride

It’s not just about transactions, it’s not just about the size of grants, it’s about keeping alive a culture where I feel proud that I own my home and I earn my own success through my job. I feel proud that I’m raising my family. And keeping that culture going is what keeps a society vibrant.

It’s extremely important to realise the non-monetary benefits of working and life in Singapore, according to DPM Tharman’s perspective. As Singaporeans, maybe we’re too focused on gaining those extra bucks, that we forget our purpose for even working.

7. Everyone Is Valuable

Everyone has a talent that is useful to our society.

Poly or JC, degree or no degree, employed or jobless…all of us can contribute to society.

About The Workforce

dpm workforce


8. Every Vocation Matters

We must be people who have a high degree of respect for each other, in different walks of life. Including respect for the blue collar worker, respect for skills in every vocation.

Of course, a medicine degree is viewed to be more prestigious than an engineering one. However, the way we view someone in other professions should be the same, for every career has its difficulties and should never be belittled.

9. Meaningful Contributions

It is about encouraging and empowering people to learn at every age, to work, to take second or third chances, and to make meaningful contributions through our careers, whichever the job; helping people to own a home and whether as a breadwinner or homemakers, to raise the next generation, and helping everyone to make the most of life even in our senior years.

It isn’t always about our achievements for our own personal fulfillment, but rather those we impact around us. Singapore for Singaporeans, not Singapore for self.

10. About Migrant Workers

We need to help people cope with the new job requirements, people who (cannot) advance in their careers because they feel…intimidated by new technologies. If we address that issue, we can…address the suspicion that may exist between locals and migrants who come in with skills. So go to the core of the issue, which is about giving people confidence in meeting the new requirements of a global job market.

The debate over migrant workers isn’t over. Maybe DPM Tharman just gave us a solution…confidence in our own skills. Maybe, when we’re comfortable enough to rely on our own expertise will we actually not be fazed by the influx of migrant workers into Singapore.

About Education

dpm students


11. Motivating Students

In education, it’s not just the technical side of mathematics, or of any subject, that matters. Motivation is important, and motivation intrinsically is a psychological and social issue.

In other words, point to education is the character development that goes along with it, not so much the technical skills. There’s a difference between someone who takes the initiative to learn different skills and one who simply memorises the pattern to the right answer.

12. Being Innovative

We can no longer prosper and progress through hard work alone. Our people have to master deep skills in every field, and our enterprises have to bring new ideas to the market.

Simply put, the ingredients to a sustainable economy is not only hard work but also innovation. Let’s continue to applaud our fellow Singaporeans who come up with cool initiatives that shake the market by storm and make us proud.

13. Teachers Are Fundamental

You can’t impose things from the top. That’s the key ingredient in a successful education system — the quality and motivation of our teaching force.

To all the kiasu parents out there, here’s your excuse for hounding your children’s teachers.

In all seriousness, though, it’s important that we all treat our teaching force with respect for their are the crux to success in Singapore’s education. Although we may not see the direct fruits of their work, we ought to trust their taxing profession.

14. Art Degrees Are Not Useless

I hope that we will develop a culture that celebrates and values the social sciences and humanities, and recognises their potential for improving society, here in Singapore and in the region. I also hope that more Singaporeans will see social science research as a viable career option in academia.

There has been much talk about the career prospects following an arts degree. Often, parents discourage their children from pursuing these degrees, in fear that a History degree, for example, would only allow you to become a teacher. (Come on, be a little creative, there are jobs in ISD, SID, MHA, and even NHB!) It’s time that we allow ourselves to venture into the social sciences, instead of the road more travelled.

About Raising The Young/Growing Up

tharman children


15. Encouraging Them

Encourage them in whatever they are doing. Let them do what they enjoy. Encourage them to take it seriously, whatever it is they enjoy, and trust that they will find their own way in life. You have got to trust them.

Our passions can become careers, too. Sometimes, parents need to chillax a bit and let their children enjoy their education instead of stressing them out.

16. They Deserve Respect Too

The signals we send our children are extremely important. Respect the things they want to do, and are enjoying. That is how we can develop people who are imaginative, who do something different.

Linking back to point 11 about innovation, it’s important that we respect students’ passions and dreams, too. Even if they might be different from our own ideals.

17. Developing Strengths

There’s so much to be developed during your life. You may start off weak but you can develop your strengths through life. Not all of us realise it when we’re young, but we can develop it over time, while we are at work, outside work, in the community, every way in which we can keep learning, discovering our strengths and our interest.

There is no perfect way to learn. Sometimes, we just got to learn by experience and develop our skills through the highs and lows that life brings us. After all, life is a journey, and that’s something many Singaporeans fail to realise when they’re too fixated on finishing tasks.

About The Government

18. Being Appreciative

Don’t hit too hard a government that works very hard to do what is in the interest of the people and has a good track record.

Sometimes, our ministers deserve some love, too. Stop the excessive “wayang” calling or “kee chiu” teasing. Singapore has come a long way in terms of government, and we should be a bit more appreciative and respectful, despite some of our discontentment.

Actions > Words

Now that you’ve got a surge of inspiration from these quotes, let’s start putting such words into actions. For these words are evidently not aimed at the government, but rather the people of Singapore. The government isn’t the only one that has to do work, it’s also up to us. You with me? Kee chiu!

Quotes obtained from the Conference on Fatwa in Contemporary Societies, 2015 Budget Round-up SpeechBBC Hardtalk’s 45th St Gallen Symposium, PAP Rally Speech Sept 2015, Tabla!, Launch of the Institute for Societal Leadership.