Sunday, June 21, 2009

The late Anthony Yeo's letters to the press

Counsellor Anthony Yeo passed away yesterday.

I only know his name from a content analysis I did while researching for my Honours Thesis on sexual minority representation.

When it came to queer issues, he wrote fairly and had always appealed for greater understanding and some degree of sensibility, a very simple and humble position most of us can learn about, learn from and perhaps emulate.

Here are the various letters he had written over the years. The first two are queer related. The rest cover other social topics.

July 18, 2003: Keep an open mind and respect differing views

Mr George Lim Heng Chye's comment on hiring of gays raises some issues that warrant further dialogue.

While one would not dispute the need to uphold moral values, to regard the hiring of gays on the part of the Government as a signal of possible moral decadence is being rather simplistic.

The assertion that the gay lifestyle will erode moral values and expose the next generation to corrupting influences seems to suggest that the world we live in, that is predominantly heterosexual in orientation, is a perfect world, vulnerable to deadly influence if we permit the gay lifestyle to prevail.

If we were to survey the kind of problems we experience daily, we would be familiar with physically and sexually abused children, females being raped and molested, people growing up emotionally and mentally disturbed, as well as a variety of deviant behaviours.

Those in the mental-health profession would easily testify that the large majority of them come from homes where parents are heterosexual in orientation.

Mr Lim also seemed rather certain as to how homosexuals become the way they are. Views have always been divided on this issue.

However, there has been an increasing dominant observation that homosexuals do not necessarily come from a sexually abused background, homes without father figures, or being nurtured by dominant mothers, nor were they addicted to pornography. It has also been observed that many who had been sexually abused as children do not end up being homosexuals.

It is still rather unclear as to whether children raised by same-sex parents are necessarily more disturbed than children with heterosexual parents. There is evidence from longitudinal studies that children with same-sex parents may not necessarily exhibit psychological disturbances.

We cannot contend that should homosexuals ever be in key positions in government, there will be a definite corrupting influence filtering through society.

One needs merely to observe those countries that have permitted homosexual marriages to acknowledge that those countries are not falling apart.

Perhaps it might be wiser to adopt an open mind for dialogue and be respectful of differing views.

Anthony Yeo

July 13, 2007: Let's debate without prejudice, judgment or condemnation

Mr Janadas Devan made a very bold attempt in exploring the issues pertaining to same-sex parents forming a family, 'Can mum, mum and kids make a family?' (ST, July 7).

His article serves a useful challenge to the majority view that homosexuals, if permitted to carry on their lifestyle, and/or become parents, will only bring disorder and disaster to family and society.

Of particular challenge are the questions: 'Are the children of divorced heterosexual couples better off than the children of my lesbian friends?' and 'How about the children of single mothers or of constantly bickering heterosexual couples locked in loveless marriages?'

I believe there is a need for further consideration and discussion regarding these questions.

In my 35 years of professional practice of psychological counselling and work with families, this is what I have observed.

Of all the thousands of people who sought counselling for psychological disturbance, relationship problems and effects of stress of life, I observed that all of them had parents from heterosexual marriages.

Those children who have suffered from physical, emotional/psychological and sexual abuse did not have parents from same sex relationship.

In fact, practically every case of sexual abuse involved a parent, usually the father or step-father, uncle, brother and someone known to the family. They were mostly heterosexual encounters.

Of all those who sought counselling with marital problems involving one spouse having extra-marital affairs, practically all of them involved the spouse having a heterosexual relationship.

I have had experiences with men afflicted with sexual addiction, such as pornography and those who engage in paid sex. Most of these men were married heterosexuals.

As I ponder over Janadas' questions, I am also wondering about the tendency to ascribe social and family problems to the threat of a homosexual lifestyle and relationship.

It is so easy to make proclamations that if homosexuals were to be accepted and homosexual acts decriminalised, then society and family life will inevitably deteriorate.

My observations, experiences coupled with research done do not bear this out in any way.

In fact, if my 35 years of professional experience were to be credited with any validity, I am more inclined to ask the following questions:

1. Is there an ideal form of family life?

2. Are parents from heterosexual marriages any safer for children?

3. Could it be possible that such parents are more likely to cause harm to children, leading to long-term psychological problems?

4. What evidence do we have that children of same-sex parents might not be better adjusted people?

5. How do we reckon with the fact that almost all known homosexuals have parents from heterosexual marriages?

In sharing my observations and questions, my intention is to appeal for a reasoned dialogue over this matter without prejudice, judgment or condemnation.

It serves no purpose to persecute any human being, most of all people with different sexual orientation from the majority in society.

Homosexuals are human beings deserving of dignity, respect and acceptance even if we have difficulties understanding them and/or accepting their sexual orientation and lifestyles.

Anthony Yeo

Anthony Yeo had also written other letters that turn our attention to things we do not normally bother about. He also draws his experience as a counsellor to provide some good advice for the public.

April 4, 2000: Explore other forum channels

The editorial, "A corner to shine in?" (ST, March 30), offers useful ideas supporting the proposal for a Speakers' Corner.

Although it is suggested we should give this proposal a try, there are reasons for reservations and cynicism.

In all my visits to the Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, London, since 1973, I had come away with an impression about the Speakers' Corner: Nobody needs to take anything said there seriously.

This impression is influenced by my observation of the people who visit Hyde Park, the subject matter expounded and entertainment value of the Speakers' Corner.

I wonder if Singapore's proposed Speakers' Corner will be any different.

I agree that "a forum for public discourse without undue hindrance" is necessary.

But I wonder if this needs to be realised by having a Speakers' Corner?

Surely, there must be other channels for such discourses.

Civil society is not necessarily enhanced by having a Speakers' Corner.

The forum may also not be a reflection of civil society.

I agree that people's views of the authorities and the Government as being rather ntolerant of opposing views are too deeply entrenched to be changed overnight.

The memory of Ms Catherine Lim's experience still lingers.

We need to nurture a spirit of openness and spontaneity.

This takes time in a society where people are still accustomed to government initiative in many areas of life.

It would be nice for more interaction between the Government and citizens in public forums and the media.

This would assure people that Singapore is maturing as a democratic society capable of adopting an open and tolerant posture.

The idea of a Speakers' Corner for such a purpose is only one avenue.

Other channels could also be explored.

If Singapore wants a platform for people to let off steam and engage in public bantering of ideas that may have no particular consequence, a Speakers' Corner may serve a good purpose.

However, to suggest that it be a platform for any serious discussion and exposition of social or political ideas may be stretching the idea a little too far.

Anthony Yeo

March 6, 2001: Promote marriage in a realistic way

MRS Yu-Foo Yee Shoon's expression of concern over the rising divorce rate in Singapore ('More S'pore children seeing psychiatrists'; ST, March 2) in relation to the increase in the number of children seeing psychiatrists should alert us to the need for some careful thinking about how marriage and family life should be promoted.

It is commendable that various committees have been formed to map out ways to encourage people to marry and have children. Unfortunately, the Government's enthusiastic effort may be giving people undue idealism.

Thus far, it can be observed that marriage has been idealised as the most desirable state of life for everyone, especially the young and educated. Likewise, couples are given the impression that having children brings great personal fulfilment.

Ideas have also been given on how people should get hitched and, if they should do so, how they can enhance their marriage.

For instance, the Ministry of Community Development and Sports (MCDS) had a full-page advertisement on Valentine's Day (ST, Feb 14) which gave six ideas for injecting spontaneity and romance into marriage.

One wonders if these ideas are appropriate to our culture, way of life and the ability to attempt any or all of the recommendations. Furthermore, the ideas seem like some middle-class, Western practices which may be alien to many in Singapore.

It would be rather surprising if there were couples who would surprise their spouses with roses on the bed, draw faces on eggs to say 'I love you', or have the time or energy to do jigsaw puzzles together.

In our enthusiasm to promote marriage, we may be giving people false expectations of marriage. In reality, married people are more familiar with the mundane, unromantic and daily routine of life.

Over-idealising and raising false expectations may result in disappointment and disillusionment when couples' needs and expectations go unmet. The obvious result is an increasing trend towards divorce. The same can be expected in our attempt to encourage couples to have more children.

Following the reported increase in the number of children seeking psychiatric help, we can see a possible further increase in the years to come.

Many parents and children already think that life is stressful. Parents are lamenting the lack of joy in parenting, despite attempts to portray it as otherwise. Children feel they are not enjoying their childhood and worry too much about their studies to think of having fun, which is a fundamental element for parent-child bonding.

While we may wish to encourage marriage and family life, we should consider: Culturally-appropriate expressions of the relationship; Realistic portrayal of marriage and family life; Avoiding the presentation of some Western, middle-class depiction of marriage; Helping people appreciate the demands of marriage, family life and parenting; Reviewing national goals to support strengthening marital and family ties.

It does not help if one government ministry is promoting family life, while another seems to be demanding time and commitment to other pursuits that could work against family togetherness.

Perhaps a comprehensive approach is needed to send a clear, consistent message that family life is paramount. This may require some rethinking about upholding the constant striving for economic excellence.

There must be a way to experience a world-class home without necessarily having a world-class economy.

Anthony Yeo

March 20, 2002: Non-medical therapy can help in depression

It is indeed timely to be reminded that there is treatment available for not only depressed women, but also anyone who is afflicted with depression ("Programmes are in place to help depressed women", ST, March 15).

In his letter, Prof Kua Ee Hock of the Institute of Mental Health indicated that depression can be treated not only with medication, but with psychotherapy as well.

The treatment of depression is not only restricted to psychiatric and medical treatment, as any one experiencing depression would find it useful to deal with personal and interpersonal issues connected with depression.

Depression can also affect family members and others related to the person.

Hence, the treatment of depression includes therapy involving other people as well.

Non-medical treatment of depression includes various forms of psychotherapy and family therapy. Such treatment has been found to combine well with the prescription of medicines.

This combination provides a useful and holistic approach to dealing with depression.

Such services are available from non-medical mental-health professionals such as psychotherapists, family therapists, counsellors and social workers.

If anyone is in doubt, information is available from the National Council of Social Service.

Anthony Yeo

May 15, 2003: Could not man have spent last moments with dying wife?

The death of Madam Hamidah Ismail, the nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital who battled Sars for 61 days, must have touched many Singaporeans' hearts ('Mum, a model nurse, dies on Mother's Day'; ST, May 12).

It pained me to learn that her husband, Mr Miswadi Roslan, could only watch in agony behind a glass panel as she breathed her last.

He would have loved to be by her side and 'to embrace her'. Unfortunately, he was not allowed to do so.

The account of his experience watching his wife leave this earth raises questions about the stringent measures taken to avoid contact with Sars patients.

One wonders if the hospital authorities and the Government could not have made concessions for someone like Mr Miswadi to be by his wife's side during her last moments.

Losing someone through death is a painful experience. Losing her through Sars is even more devastating, given the virus' mysterious and awesome nature.

Surely, there could have been a way to provide Mr Miswadi with the necessary protective garments and equipment for him to be with his wife.

If health-care workers could be protected when they administered care to Madam Hamidah, how could it not be possible to provide a similar protective outfit for Mr Miswadi?

He could be quarantined following contact with his wife. That would have made his last moments with her most memorable and helped him with his grief.

The Government must be lauded for taking very stringent steps to deal with the spread of Sars. It has also been attempting to humanise its approach as well.

Surely, it could have gone one step further in balancing stringent measures with a human touch by making it possible for Mr Miswadi to offer that intimate goodbye to his wife for closure to his ordeal in witnessing her gradual slide from life.

Anthony Yeo

March 17, 2004: Boost births but stress family life

The concern about the falling birth rate tends to be focused on increasing the fertility rate to replace the population, for economic reasons. Any attention to family life seems to be incidental.

The many ideas proposed tend towards making marriage attractive, bearing children a joy and being parents an oppor-tunity not to be missed. Hence the relentless attempts at romanticising marriage, idealis-ing life with children and glori-fying happiness in family life.

As we ponder this issue, we should also reckon with some inevitable realities of life:

Singapore is affected by the worldwide trend of delayed marriages, smaller families, delayed child-bearing and childlessness in marriage.

The more highly educated will strive for a middle-class lifestyle, with its tendency towards delayed marriages and smaller families.

The lower-income group will usually have bigger families.

The Government's goal of economic excellence and striving for a high standard of living have raised expectations for a good life, defined in terms of material well-being.

The striving for such a lifestyle tends to push people to pursue education and concentrate on career.

With longer life spans, the younger generation stays 'young' longer, resulting in their prolonged dependency on parents and their feeling that they are still kids. This was aptly highlighted by Ms Clarissa Oon ('Kids? But I'm still a kid'; ST, March 9).

The pressure of life in general tends to leave little time for forming relationships both in school and when the young are out in the world of work.

As we contend with such realities, it is imperative that our policy-makers ponder carefully before embarking on further measures to encourage people to have a family.

If our aim is to preserve and enhance family life rather than merely ensuring population growth, we may need to adopt a comprehensive approach.

As has been suggested, let us begin by pouring resources into what we already have among the lower-income, bigger families. Assistance should be given to them to nurture family well-being, including support services as well as education and employment opportunities.

Secondly, the proposal to liberalise granting of permanent-resident status to foreign workers, especially to foreign husbands, must apply to those less skilled, such as work-permit holders, as well.

Thirdly, when DPM Lee Hsien Loong and other MPs mentioned the need for a change of mindset, it requires both Government and people to expand their view of marriage and family life.

We must view men's role in the family as being as essential as the women's. A child needs both parents for care and nurture. Hence paternity leave must be accorded a place in plans to extend maternity leave.

Fourthly, we need to focus on enhancing family life. We can begin by not romanticising marriage, idealising parenting and glorifying happiness in family life without acknow-ledging the difficulties.

As a mental-health profes-sional involved in marital and family therapy for over 30 years, I observed that romance is not a regular feature of married life. If at all, it may not last more than six months into a marriage.

We must acknowledge that those who marry do experience conflicts, with many ending up divorced within 10 years of their marriage. If there were more marriages, there would be more divorces too.

Demands of parenting should not be minimised. With heightened expectations of a good life, there will be pressure on parents to provide the best in material terms for children.

Children will be pressured to perform in school and family life would inevitably be overwhelmed by attention given to school work. In this sense, there is no way to prevent children from entering the rat race and becoming an economic digit, as feared by the unborn baby in Asad Latif's column ('Would you like to be born in Singapore? Come on, you can be honest'; ST, March 13).

Fifthly, in our enthusiasm to encourage childbirth by provid-ing childcare facilities, we may need to ensure that babies are not quickly farmed out to such facilities. Young children need bonding from significant others, primarily parents.

Sixthly, we should also be paying attention to those who are single, especially single women. Single people are also members of families and have family life as well. They are also able to offer support and nurture to other family members with children.

Finally, we must acknow-ledge that no matter what we do, we may need to come to terms with a situation where population growth will not increase dramatically, where we will be faced with an increasingly ageing population and where marriage will always be a personal matter.

Why not envision a Singapore that will still be full of life? It can be a nation with respect for life, where life can be meaningful whether one is married, single, widowed, divorced or elderly. Life will be valued for what it is, regardless of its economic value.

Anthony Yeo

October 2, 2004: Discipline, don't punish

I agree with Dr Daniel Fung that reasoning alone might not be the best, and that caning should not be used, a point made by Mr Eric Ching (ST, Sept 28).

In wanting to ensure that children are brought up with minimal emotional and behavioural problems, we may need to adopt a comprehensive approach rather than be caught up in the dilemma as to whether parents should use the cane or reasoning.

I believe the issue has more to do with how we should nurture children, if possible with minimal damage to their self-esteem.

This involves appreciating the need of children to be nurtured with discipline without necessarily resorting to capital punishment like caning.

It will also necessitate making a distinction between disciplining and punishing. The two may not be similar.

Generally, disciplining refers to guidance, instruction, education and training. Obviously the goal is to nurture socially and morally acceptable behaviour.

Punishing, on the other hand, is meant to inflict suffering (on the offender) for some offence committed. The focus is to deter the offender from repeating the offence.

When we think of nurturing children, it might help to focus on disciplining rather than punishing. The former is more likely to foster well-being whereas the latter may generate resentment and rebellion.

In any case, one wonders what children could possibly do to be treated like criminals deserving of punishment.

If nurture is our concern, might it not be safer and more useful to adopt a variety of ways in enforcing discipline without administering punishment?

One way is to learn to talk to children. This involves teaching values, explaining rules and reasoning with them about appropriate behaviour.

Even when children misbehave, surely, we can talk to them rather than punish them?

Secondly, there is a place for reinforcing positive behaviour. Parents tend to highlight misbehaviour and give negative feedback.

It is easy to focus on what is wrong and unacceptable rather than focus on letting children know when they have done what is right and acceptable.

Part of reinforcing positive behaviour includes rewarding children for appropriate behaviour. This could include verbal affirmations as well as giving material rewards.

Thirdly, children do respond when they are isolated for misbehaviour. Getting them to stand in a corner, being kept in their room or being ignored until they decide to calm down may be helpful in restraining them. Parents can then talk to them and embrace them to bond with them.

Fourthly, parents may wish to impose penalties like withdrawing privileges, grounding or denying certain pleasures. These can help children learn that when rules are infringed, penalties may be imposed.

These are examples of the variety of ways parents can discipline children. There may be more but the primary concern is to free parents from the struggle as to whether to use the hard or soft method in dealing with children.

Surely, there is no need to struggle if parents appreciate that children need nurturing in a way that helps them experience bonding with the parents?

When they misbehave, they should be disciplined with love and acceptance. There may be no need to resort to punitive ways.

Anthony Yeo

November 2, 2004: Media should leave China girl's mum alone

I refer to the tragic death of eight-year-old Huang Na who went missing earlier.

In the midst of her distress, her mother, Madam Huang Shuying, had said repeatedly that she did not wish to talk to the media. In fact, she was seen on television responding angrily to reporters on the evening news on Channel NewsAsia on Monday.

When Madam Huang retorted that she did not know 'what are emotions' when asked how she felt, it was a very poignant indication that a person in such a predicament should be treated with a great deal of sensitivity.

While the media covers the incident, which has drawn the attention and sympathy of many in Singapore, it would be useful to appreciate the experience of anyone afflicted by a disastrous happening, in order to minimise the possibility of exacerbating the pain.

What Madam Huang is experiencing is not unlike that experienced by the next-of-kin of those affected by the Nicoll Highway collapse, the crash of SQ006 in Taipei in 2000 or any traumatic experience.

She would be in a state of shock, followed by intense anger and grief, with features of post-traumatic experience.

Madam Huang is also very vulnerable at this time and being showered with media attention and questions from reporters can only intensify her trauma and heighten her vulnerability.

The media must appreciate her psychological state and realise that what she needs is support by caring people, even if no words were uttered.

Her insistence on not being spoken to is a strong indication that she should be left to grieve and cope amid the confusion arising from the experience.

For the sake of the mental health of people like Madam Huang, I urge all in the media to learn to leave them alone. The last thing anyone should ask a person in such a state is how she is feeling.

Anthony Yeo

December 31, 2004: Time to mourn, and treasure relationships

Sunday's tidal waves affected many parts of the world and many lives were lost. It is time for us to pause and think.

As more lives are reported lost and those who survived experience the impact of this disaster, may we take time to mourn and extend our sympathies to those affected.

Maybe this is also a time to ponder over the meaning of life as we know it and be grateful for whatever we have.

Perhaps it is also a time to stop celebrating. This may mean taking time to feel the pain of those affected and minimise, or, if possible, avoid any celebration to usher in the New Year.

This is a time for mourning. Celebrations can come at some other time. It is also a time for giving and sharing with those who have need for clothes, food and water.

It is also a time for sharing in their grief.

Finally, it is a time for us to appreciate life and acknowledge once more that life is fragile and we can easily lose what we have, especially our relationships with people who mean something to us.

Anthony Yeo

May 31, 2005: Joint custody eases the pain for children

I fully support High Court judge Justice Lai Siu Chiu's call for a review of child- custody laws in Singapore ('Judge calls for custody laws relook'; ST, May 28).

We have assumed for too long that the mother is the most suitable parent to have custody of children.

Thankfully, with time, more and more fathers are having custody as well.

In divorce proceedings, there is a tendency to view child custody as the sole right of parents who often engage in rather-contentious conflicts, with each claiming sole custody of the child.

In the process, we seem to have overlooked the fact that in any marital dispute, we must protect the welfare of the child.

We should view child custody from the perspective of the right of a child to experience parenting from both father and mother.

Likewise, a child should always retain the right of access to either parent, whether the child is living with the mother or father.

This will ensure that when marriages break up, the child will still have a set of parents and hence begin life with a special family where father and mother do not live together.

There is still a family where the child has a father and a mother. Hopefully, this will also minimise the stigma of being a child of a single parent, as it will no longer be the case, since both parents are still alive and the child has ready access for maintaining a relationship with both.

As divorce is an inevitable feature of life, we must do everything possible to minimise the psychological distress that children go through when marriages break down.

Making joint custody mandatory, unless there are good reasons, is one positive step towards this end.

Anthony Yeo

July 19, 2006: Whether or not we agree with 'unhappy Singaporeans' study, possibility warrants our attention and self-examination

It may come as a surprise to many in Singapore to learn that Singaporeans are the least happy people in Asia (ST, July 13).

Whether we agree with the study by a British think-tank or not, the possibility that we could be warrants our attention and self-examination.

It is generally believed that economic prosperity and material well being are hallmarks of a successful and happy life.

In days gone by, we were led to extol this belief, the influence coming primarily from the so-called First World countries known to be First World due to their economic and technological advancement.

In many ways, Singapore did strive and has become First World, with Singaporeans constantly bombarded with the message that life will be less meaningful if we are left behind by other economically advancing countries.

Now we can boast many things we have developed, acquired and accumulated. To other Asian countries, Singapore seems like paradise.

Yet, are we generally happy, satisfied and contented?

The study says no.

I suppose many will dispute the results of the study.

But before we do so, let us consider what continues to challenge Singaporeans.

One, it was recently reported that someone commits suicide every day. Many more have attempted it.

Two, our mental institution has been expanded and is well occupied, with others seeking treatment from private institutions.

Three, the divorce rate continues to rise, with a high probability of many couples living in estrangement, though not legally divorced.

Four, there are more psychiatrists with more people seeking psychiatric services, with an increasing number of counselling services and the recent growth of family service centres to cater to those with problems.

In fact, despite more counselling services, the Counselling and Care Centre continues to see no decrease in demand for our services.

Finally, as we peek into the future, there will be more social problems as anticipated by the authorities when there are casinos and the probability of increasing incidence of gambling addiction resulting in more personal and family problems.

As we survey the scene, we need to ask if what we strive for really makes life more fruitful, meaningful and satisfying. Material gains do not necessarily lead to psychological, social and spiritual well being.

There must be something more to life than that little extra in terms of economic and material well being.

I learnt this some years ago when I did some work in a small town in India.

During a lecture, a member of the audience asked me if I thought Singapore was a good place to live.

I asked the reason for the question and he said: 'I hear Singapore is prosperous but why do people kill themselves and have mental problems, and divorce is increasing? Here in our part of the world, we have much less but we have time for each other, moments to savour nature around us and our children are happy.'

What was most telling was his concluding comment: 'We are not wealthy, but we are happy.'

Anthony Yeo

September 7, 2006: Upgrade salaries and perks of social service professionals

I refer to the report, '$250m package to make teaching more attractive' (ST, Sept 5). With the move to acknowledge the teaching profession through upgrading of salaries and various perks, it is time for the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) - in collaboration with the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports - to seriously consider up grading the salaries and perks of social service professionals. Many of the members of the Association for Marital and Family Therapy (Singapore) are social workers,counsellors and family therapists working in voluntary welfare organisations. Generally, they are employed under terms set by the NCSS with minimal perks and salaries that are lower when compared with the teaching profession. In recent times, the salaries of heads of social organisations have come under scrutiny with the National Kidney Foundation saga and, more recently, the disclosure of the $13,000 salary of Youth Challenge founder Vincent Lam. Whatever has transpired, the need to review and upgrade the salaries and perks of social service professionals has not been addressed. The reason for such an exercise, as with the teaching profession, is obvious.

Social service professionals work under tremendous stress, having to deal with a variety of social ills, including family violence and gambling problems.

All too often such professionals have to work long hours. This was most obvious during the Sars period, when counsellors and social workers made a big difference.

These professionals generally do not have sabbaticals and have minimal prospect of further advancement in their professions.

It is indeed to their credit that many have stayed in their professions for love of what they do, but this should not give rise to possible exploitation of their passion and commitment.

Anthony Yeo

November 13, 2006: Reverse trend of marriages breaking up and family life fragmenting

I could not agree more with Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Vivian Balakrishnan's call to make the family top priority.

The minister should also be lauded for stating that the Government 'can try to set the tone in our policies, actions and what we say'.

It may be helpful to consider the dilemmas confronting us and explore alternative ways to deal with the inevitable trend of marriages breaking up and family life being fragmented.

For a start, the Government may wish to think about how prevailing messages can militate against family well-being such as:

- The constant reminder to be competitive, again reiterated by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew that we must continue to 'move quickly, we cannot stay still' (ST, Nov 6), so as to make Singapore a 'redder and brighter' spot on the globe.

- The message that gambling is perfectly acceptable, with plans for casinos in Singapore (even though gambling already rears its ugly destructive head without any casinos).

- The pressure of an education system that continues to place demands on families despite efforts to minimise curriculum content.

- The call to marry young and have babies among the young that contributes to the rising divorce rate.

- The call to go regional and global for economic gain, leading to a need for constant travel.

The above messages are very potent and regardless of how they are communicated, we cannot deny that whatever is communicated by the Government tends to influence people in significant ways.

If we are serious about making the family a priority, I propose that we acknowledge the following realities:

- The divorce rate will continue to rise regardless of whatever measures we take to prevent it.

- People here are exposed to global trends, fashions and lifestyles, leaving us with no way to insulate ourselves from such influences that affect marriage and family life.

- There will always be challenges to family life, especially in this cyber age.

- We may take measures to prevent marital breakdown, but there is no way to to prevent it altogether.

- Programmes such as family life education and marriage enrichment programmes may not reach those in need, and we may be 'preaching to the converted'.

- Marriage preparation programmes and premarital counselling may not prevent marital breakdowns.

- There will be more demands for services to support families with difficulties that will stretch available resources.

In view of these realities, it may be more useful for Government and people to work together to promote family well-being by observing the following:

- The Government can avoid communicating double messages, such as encouraging people to give priority to the family while urging them to put more time and effort into maintaining the pace of development and material progress.

- If we are serious about focusing on the family, we may need to consider a slower pace of growth and be less competitive economically. If the family really matters, other priorities must not compete for attention.

- The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports should be renamed Ministry of Community Development, Family and Sports. After all, youth are part of the family and there is no need to specifically focus on youth to the exclusion of family.

- It should be mandatory that all workplaces be family- friendly, starting with government offices.

- We must adhere strictly to a five-day work week and not permit any form of overtime (unless absolutely necessary), including having workers work from home via the Internet.

- We should formulate a clearly articulated family life policy (that embraces all forms of family life) at national level for implementation at all levels including all social and religious institutions.

- No effort should be spared to sustain plans and programmes for restoring, preserving and enhancing family life.

Anthony Yeo

July 27, 2007: Earlier divorces linked to earlier marriages?

I refer to the report on the increased divorce rate among those aged 20-24 ('Number of couples splitting up at new high'; ST, July 25).

Despite efforts at promoting marriage preparation and family-life programmes, there seems to be no way for us to prevent or reduce the incidence of divorce in Singapore.

What must be of greater concern is the increase in divorce among those aged 20-24.

Could earlier marriages at the urging of the Government (for the purpose of increasing the fertility rate) be correlated to earlier divorces?

With economic and social developments moving at a rapid pace, it is possible that many younger people are still adapting to adult life and responsibilities.

Hence getting married at a younger age could be a source of stress, with possible disruption to their marital relationship.

The latest statistics should prompt us to re-examine the measures that need to be taken to ensure that people do not marry young and, if married, that they are assisted in sustaining their marital relationship in the midst of life's stresses.

We may also need to expand our perspective on what makes for an ideal family, in view of the increasing divorce rate and more children being nurtured primarily by the custodial parent.

The current trend in marriage and family life requires us to promote family well-being without policies and programmes that militate against what we purport to enhance.

Anthony Yeo

For me, I think Anthony's message has always been the same. What I personally gather from what he has written is that we just need to occasionally remember that we are human.

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the lover said...

hey, it's christabel.. remember me? anyway anthony was my mum's counsellor and also a family friend when my parents were divorcing.. it's sad how quickly he went, and probably sadder that we put off going back to see him. :/

Sam Ho said...

yes, i'm now your "fan". you go girl! (*snaps finger and jerks head side to side)

being in the line for so long, he must have counselled a lot of folks. it's really sad he had to go so early. experience is key to what he does.

any way all the best! you should be going places. are you singapore's top model yet? you should be.

family man said...

I got his book - If tomorrow never comes - written in 1999, some time after the Silkair crash.

He wrote about dying and living a full life without regrets.

I never met him, but I am truly touched by his message in the book.

I really admire him for his views.

Thanks sam, for putting this together.

Li Sui said...
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Li Sui said...

Anthony had written letters to ST for decades: thanks for collating some of these, Sam! Anthony shared out of his own experiences as well as his clear mind and compassion. He did not have narrow morals or rigid thoughts. We are so much poorer without him now.

- Gwee

Sam Ho said...

most welcome.

his ideas and views deserved to be shared again for all.

if only singapore was full of people like him...