Michelle Obama’s speech – and the simple things

If you haven’t watched the video of the speech by Michelle Obama, please do. It’s a beautiful speech – of hope, belief, courage and most of all, values. Her most important point, to me at least, is how parents have so much influence on their children. And most of the time, these influences and values are very basic – hard work, honesty, integrity, courage, perseverance. And it is a timely message not only for America which is ravaged by greed in recent times, it is also a message which is relevant to us here in Singapore.

Indeed, the Government has spoken of what values we want as we bring Singapore forward. “Shared values”, they call it. But really, they are personal values instead. For how each of us live our lives is how our children will learn to live theirs. And in this process, our values are transmitted to our children.

In recent times, we have pointed fingers at the Government for all things. I agree that much have gone wrong – but that just means there is much for us to do to make it right again. We should not be stuck in the rut of skepticism, fatalism and inertia.

That is not how societies move forward, or how things are changed.

But in order to move forward, we must remember the very basic values which we have been taught and passed down to us by those who have gone before us – our parents and grandparents, our teachers and elders.

The world is much more complex now, and information bombards us from every corner, every second of our waking lives. Sometimes they overwhelm us, and we do not know what to make of them. At times too we rationalise what is not right to make them seem right. We are blinded by loyalty, by an inability to see through the fog, and often we choose to stick to positions which are untenable because they are based on false assumptions and fake beliefs.

But most times, all we need is to return to the basic values which have been passed down to us. We all know what these are. Yet, it is easy to put them aside, for it is more convenient to go with the crowd, or to turn a blind eye, or keep silent.

One of the greatest things that a human being is capable of is to lend a fellow human being a hand. It is one of the most empowering things we can do.

“Success isn’t about how much money you make,” Michelle Obama said in her speech. “It’s about how much difference you make in people’s lives.” 

In the end, after everything that we ourselves achieve in our own lives, we will realise that there is nothing more fulfilling or necessary, or responsible, than to give of ourselves to others, to stretch out a hand, to drop a coin into someone else’s open palms, or to embrace another who is in pain. Or to simply say “thank you” to those who serve us at the coffeeshop, at the office, or anywhere else.

These are the simple things. And simple things, as one of my favourite songs say, are free.

We don’t really need big campaigns, or deep thoughts to know what we should pass on to our children. In fact, if you look close enough, and pay attention, many times it is our children who are teaching us these basic values.

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