Prof Kishore Mahbubani holds him in high esteem, while lamenting on the current state of idealism in young Singaporeans. "There is a deficit of idealism among (local) youths," he wrote in an article for The Straits Times.
He asked this question: "Why aren't there any Singaporean teenagers worrying about the dirty and polluted waters around Singapore?"
WHY CAN'T SINGAPOREAN YOUTHS CARE MORE ABOUT OUR OCEANS?
Prob Mahbubani ascribes this idealism constraint to our culture of pragmatism.
Idealism and pragmatism are almost antithetical to one another; it's hard to imagine one being idealistic and pragmatic at the same time when our culture stifles the former.
He is spot on with his observations to say that youths have been pressurised since young to "make sensible and practical life decisions", instead of taking huge leaps of faith to change the world.
How could we not?
Considering the high standard of living we are born in, it's absurd to break out of the status quo and walk away from this rat race: to work hard, achieve good grades, graduate with a degree, and aim for a five-figure salary to keep you comfortable till your retirement.
We cannot be expected to take big risks and place our futures on the line for the sake of an ideal that might not even sustainable in the future.
Our pragmatic culture holds most of us back from being idealistic enough to seek ways to improve different areas of our society and the world at large, like founding global-scale projects.
WE'RE ALL TOO BUSY WITH THIS RAT RACE.
At the same time, I disagree with Prof Mahbubani that there is an idealism deficit amongst youths.
Just because we are not doing world-changing start-ups and movements like Boyan Slat, it does not mean that we are any less idealistic than other youths elsewhere. Our dreams are not any less valid than the ones that gain international recognition.
A scathing statement like that discounts the hours, sweat, blood, and tears of youths from different sectors where numerous projects have been founded to improve the lives of others.
I believe that that the issue lies in a lack of spotlight and media coverage on the efforts that youths have achieved over the years, not in an idealism deficit.
For example, 21-year-old Desiree Yang founded Saltsteps, a social enterprise that liaises with suppliers who are unable to sell food (mostly close to their expiry dates) and disposable goods, and sells these items at lower cost to families with financial difficulties.
Since she started in 2014, Desiree and her team have helped 86 families save their grocery money. To reach even more families, they are currently partnering with e-commerce website GobblerShop and have formed a partnership known as GobblerFive earlier this year.
Perhaps we are too caught up in our pragmatic and kiasu culture that some stories of heroic idealism like Desiree's in social and environmental sectors are left in the dark, quietly helping our society in their own "little" ways.
UNTIL TODAY, AMERICAN POLITICIAN SHRIVER'S WORDS STILL HOLD TRUE.
Ultimately, the whole idealism paradox stems from of living "in a stable, well-ordered society", as mentioned by Prof Mahbubani.
Given how most of us have lived sheltered and comfortable lives as compared to our third-world country counterparts, our lack of exposure to difficult situations and environments have left us short of gigantic dreams to change the world—for now.
And for a country that has only been independent for 50 years, that seems pretty okay.