Monday, October 06, 2008

Engaging the Nay-sayer

Ten years ago, student journalists in the National University of Singapore published uncut an interview with a leader of an opposition party. The publication of the article did not come easily for these students. It involved a lot of negotiation with the then university administrators.

This year, student journalists in the Nanyang Technological University tried to publish a sanitised news report of an opposition party leader's unsolicited visit. It is unfortunate that the students failed to publish the story. This non-publication is also a reflection of the state of mind of the person who made the decision to kill the news report.

Today, in Singapore, we have a team of persons in leadership positions, who were brought up on a culture of fear. To them, when unsure, the natural answer should be no. They have been tamed to simply avoid taking risks, if given a choice.

Former diplomat Vergese Matthews wrote about such persons in his story, Speaking Up For Singapore, in the book, The Little Red Dot, Reflections by Singapore's Diplomats: "I fear that there has been a perceptible deterioration in... the civil service as a whole where this culture of speaking up and/or offering views at variance with those held by the leadership has dissipated...One possible reason is that there has been a national tendency to favour "safe hands" that would not rock the proverbial boat and that had the additional uncanny ability to second-guess what the Ministers were thinking."

Without engaging these persons through confidence building measures, nothing will be achieved. It will require a lot of time and a great deal of patience to get them to trust you. It can be a very frustrating process.

As a result, many choose to simply give in to their demands. Others make a quick exit from the organisations these persons run, so as not to be led by such persons.

I have found it more rewarding to engage these persons and win them over. I have found that, once you have their trust, they do all they can to get you what you want. They will also stick their necks out for you, should you get into trouble.

It was therefore a shame that, instead of continuing to engage their university administrators and exhausting the highest channels of appeal available to them internally, the student journalists chose to bring their battle out into the public sphere.

It has damaged the reputation of their university. It will do little to help them achieve what they want, that is have the news report published in the university publication.

Of course, I am not saying one should not take out one's gloves. There are some battles worth fighting in the open. This just does not appear to be one of them.

Dharmendra Yadav

Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this?


Rachel Chung said...

Interesting alternative point of view, though I stand neutral in this matter.

I agree with your strategy on engage and disarm. Sometimes as in taiji, a soft approach works better than hardball tactics.

Anonymous said...

Mr Yadav,

How did u know that the students did not try to approach the principal? Perhaps, u may say that "they did not say so!"

I would rather give them the benefit of doubt that they must have exhausted all avenue and demo in Hong Lim was the last resort.