Was the reception to Lee Kuan Yew's passing just a knee-jerk reaction?
It's been over a month since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew; recent enough to remember the hysteria, the deluge of tears, and proclamations of love and utter bereavement — many from people I had never known to have an opinion about him. Yet, the passage of a month seems to be sufficient time for those same mourners to move on quite comfortably. Which brings me to the natural conclusion that their grief was perhaps more ostensible than real.
I have no doubt that Singaporeans and many people around the world felt genuine, emotional stirrings at the death of this giant, but that it was so short-lived makes one wonder. I suppose we can't expect people to be writing eulogies to him every day. We all know that life goes on. However, I believe that if you asked the people who had either strongly negative or neutral feelings, or those who could rationalise how they felt about his life and passing, the conviction of their sentiments would be the same now as they have been for years and will be for years to come.
So what of the seven-day mourners? Was it a knee-jerk reaction? Was it that people didn't expect to feel as much as they did when he left us? Or was it just that many had never thought about it before and never weighed the importance of this man in our history and future until he was gone? How much of it stemmed from pure ignorance?
When Lee Kuan Yew passed, he was apparently no longer just a great man; in the eyes of many, he had become a perfect man too.
One of the main things that struck me was the disgust with which people who had anything other than a kind word to say about him were treated. They were called ungrateful and disrespectful. They weren't allowed their own opinions — God forbid any judgements — or their own parting words to a man they had a different relationship with. When Lee Kuan Yew passed, he was apparently no longer just a great man; in the eyes of many, he had become a perfect man too.
And yet when I searched under the hashtags #rememberingLKY and #rememberingLeeKuanYew, I was not surprised to find it very quiet by mid-April. People who are using the hashtags now are reposting official news updates instead of personal reflections. Even exactly a month after he left us, very few people seemed to remember to commemorate the day. I wonder how many people would actually know the exact date he departed if you sprang that question on them now. I can't help but think the grief was only perfunctory.
From what we're told, Mr. Lee never wanted statues or plaques. He never needed his name to be remembered. He might not need to worry about that. The petitions for a Lee Kuan Yew day have already faded, the cries have subsided, the "I miss yous" have become mere words.
As for me, I'm curious, watchful, and waiting. The real impact of the death of this man who was our leader for so long remains to be seen.
Michaela Therese is a local soul and jazz musician, vocalist, songwriter, and producer. Her band, L.A.B. (Listen and Believe), is currently touring in Japan and working on their first EP. She's also preparing for the debut release of her other musical identity, Miss Mic. Listen to Michaela Therese here.
- Image: Djulian Chng, Getty Images
- Image: Alex Yam
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