Shutting down debates

When I was 15, I wanted to go on an exchange to China – I think it was in Ningbo or somewhere East China. It was an experience of a lifetime, or so I thought during that time. I had 3 other schoolmates selected for the programme and they were going ahead. I needed my parents’ approval to go ahead. It’d be only 3 weeks, and I’ll learn so much, make new friends and differentiate myself from my classmates who were all really elite students.

I brought up various benefits of going on the programme, but my parents countered citing safety issues. I talked about assurances from the school, and staying within the campus where the Chinese students stayed too. I mentioned how another of my schoolmate (who was my classmates when we were 12) would be going. They somehow found out and then told me he was okay because he had an uncle who lived in China. At that point I didn’t know but my parents already made the decision to exercise their power not to allow me to go for the exchange. To them, there was no point discussing further because they just wanted to close the case and move on.

Honestly, it wasn’t a nice feeling and I did feel rather bitter about it. I think it was because I felt I wasn’t engaged as an adult. They weren’t honest with me in sharing all that they had concerns with, which they were unable to mitigate and hence needed me to give up the opportunity. It was a lost opportunity for them to reinforce certain values they wanted to see in me before they were willing to let me have more autonomy or support my choices.

When I was reading up the recent coverage on the budget debates, especially the ones on the budget responsibility office (or whatever it is called, because I don’t get confused just because of different names) suggestion from the WP, it reminded me of the time my parents were shutting down the debate. There was no genuine response but just condescension and sarcasm from the cabinet. Perhaps the cabinet ministers felt like parents who knew what’s best and it was so obvious there was no need to waste time explaining further. But I think the opposition MPs this time did come across as the genuine schoolboy I was. He sincerely had a point that he believes in which he wants to make, and is giving the parent an opportunity to engage maturely.

It was a lost opportunity for the government of the day to demonstrate they continue to care and value fiscal prudence rather than just paying lip service to the fact our forefathers sacrificed to build the reserves we have. I think the cabinet ought to remember that the opposition MPs also represents the people (and in the case of the last election, I would say the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament is leading MPs representing a non-trivial 38.8% of the voters or whoever did not vote for the government of the day). And when answering to concerns of the people, the government can be more respectful and engage in more meaningful discussions.