The recent court case of a Singaporean technician who stole to finance his wife’s chemotherapy set me thinking. Money, or the lack of it, has always been the root cause of many family tragedies. This tragedy certainly reinforces the importance of having the right money values.
The accused worked as a technician in the same company for 23 years and drew a salary of $1210. Having to support two school going children and his ailing wife who was diagnosed with cancer, the technician was driven to desperation to steal copper wires from his employer.
Like many readers, I sympathize the plight of the accused and can fully empathize his situation because I have been through similar rough patch in life before. Thus, the objective of writing this article is to highlight the lessons we can learn from this tragedy.
Dignity in poverty
First of all, being poor is not a sin. But the Chinese has a saying that goes “dignity in poverty”. It simply means that even if one is poor, one must have dignity and not let poverty erodes his values in life. Indeed, our money values define our legacy and whether you like it or not, stealing is a form of dishonest act and should not be condoned. We must not lower our moral standards just because of difficulties encountered in our lives.
When my late father was diagnosed with a massive stroke that caused him to be half-paralyzed, my family situation was even worse than the one that the accused is facing now. Being the sole-breadwinner, my father was unable to work because of his condition. He also had to support three school going children, my ailing grandmother and his wife. That was in 1993 and in those days, it was almost “mission impossible” to qualify for social assistance because the late Lee Kuan Yew did not believe in social welfare.
Dad was born into a poor family and only received Primary Two education. During the Post War era, life was difficult and my family was so poor that my grandmother often had to beg for rice from her kampong neighbor. Growing up, my father did not let these challenges overcame him. Instead, he had the foresight to pick up driving skill and became a lorry driver as Singapore was undergoing a massive construction boom in the seventies to eighties.
Calamity struck my family when Dad suffered a stroke but he did not wallow in pity. He simply couldn’t. Because if he had collapsed mentally or emotionally, our family would be finished. Thankfully he was a strong man, though he had never recovered from the terrible stroke. During that challenging time, Dad often told me to be an upright and honest person.
Even though fate may deal you a bad hand of cards, you shouldn’t take the wrong path. We must have self-dignity and not let others look down on us by lowering our moral standards.
Nobody owes you a living
Life is all about taking ownership. If you don’t have money, it is your responsibility to take on more jobs and earn it. If you don’t have time, it is your responsibility to find time. If you find that your salary is too low, it is your responsibility to upgrade and find a better paying job.
Life is never a bed of rose and don’t wait until a disaster to strike then you take concrete action to improve your life. Ultimately, nobody owes you a living.
There are numerous Singapore readers who claim that the employer exploited him by giving him appalling low salary for 23 years. Some people also blame the government for not helping the poor and fault our leaders for increasing the cost of living. But fundamentally, are we promoting the right money values?
Have you ever wondered whether the accused has done something for himself in the past 20 odd years? Twenty years are long period of time and you do not want financial disaster to strike then you take actions to build wealth. Being able-bodied, surely he could have taken more odd jobs to supplement his income? Is his work performance even outstanding? If so, surely his employers would take note and reward his dedication and good work? If not, do Singaporeans want to reward mediocre workers who cannot perform in their jobs?
Granted that there may be exploitive employers in the market, being technically hands-on, the accused could have set up his own business. This was what my late father did. After learning the trade for several years, Dad became self-employed and started his lorry business. He was born poor but managed to find a solution to address poverty in life.
To be frank, sometimes I wish the government had intervened and provided financial assistance to my family twenty years ago. But then again, I often wonder if that would raise my family standard of living. Sometimes we also have to play our part and ensure that our family is well taken care of. After all, there is only so much that the government can do to help you in times of needs.
Giving money to the poor might not be a sustainable solution because it is better to teach a man how to fish rather than give him fish. Today, the social net in Singapore is much improved when compared to the past. You have policies that aim to give a helping hand to the poor and disadvantaged like Medifund, Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) and Lease Buyback scheme. When Dad suffered stroke, the society was much more unforgiving and less compassionate.
Besides having the right money values, start taking actions to build wealth now. Inaction is being irresponsible. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to live a better life. Never have a reliant mentality that the government would be there to help you when you fall.
In this blog, I always encourage readers to build resilience to overcome adversity in life. To survive, we must have a skill competency relevant to the market. Many Singaporeans tend to over-emphasize the importance of qualifications in our society. Frankly, paper qualifications only give you a head-start but it is never a critical success factor.
To succeed in life, you must stay hungry and be able to take hardship. This means that if you are having difficulty in making both ends meet, then you must work harder or take on more jobs to supplement family income.
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