Singapore,  Musings

GE2020: Building Trust In The Aftermath

GE2020 will be remembered for many things: a landmark victory of the opposition clinching 10 elected seats, warm cockles, an election held to determine who will lead Singapore through the Covid-19 crisis, and for having no physical rallies (almost everything was online!), but not trust.

I’ve read through several analyses why PAP fared worse/opposition fared better/what it means/why results turned out that way. However, none really addressed my concerns about how in every recent election, the nation just loses a bit more of trust.

Elections are a regular reminder how we are increasingly fragmented, living in disparate worlds, turning inwards and shutting ourselves out of the uncomfortable world out there.

What do I mean by trust?

Trust is a big word.

“Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else… Distrust is this: ‘What I have shared with you that is important to me is not safe with you.’” – Charles Feltman

It comes with several layers of meanings that I think are best unpacked by Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.

The anatomy of trust, according to Dr Brown, can be summarised in the word BRAVING. Some of the contents below are adapted from


BRAVING connections

B – Boundaries – I trust you if you are clear about your boundaries and you hold them, and if you are clear about my boundaries and you respect them.

R – Reliability – I can only trust you if you do what you say you are going to do, over and over and over again. It means we know our limitations and so we make commitments we can deliver on – and then we deliver on them. It also means we allow the “awkward pause”/”moment of discomfort” rather than make a promise we can’t keep.

A – Accountability – I can only trust you if, when you make a mistake, you are willing to own it, apologise for it, and make amends. I can only trust you if, when I make a mistake, I am allowed to own it, apologise for it and make amends.

V – Vault – aka confidentiality – what I share with you, you will hold in confidence (and vice versa). We also lose trust with someone if they tell us things that are not theirs to share such as gossiping about other people’s secrets.

I – Integrity – This means choosing courage over comfort, choosing what’s right over what is fun, fast or easy, and practising not just professing your values.

N – Non-judgement – I trust you if I can ask you for help without being judged by you and vice versa. This is hard because we are better at helping than asking for help. Real trust doesn’t exist unless help is reciprocal and non-judgemental.

“We think we have set up trusting relationships with people who really trust us because we are always there to help them, but let me tell you this, if you can’t ask for help and they cannot reciprocate that, that is not a trusting relationship. Period.

When you assign value to needing help, when you think less of yourself for needing help, whether you are conscious of it or not, when you offer help to someone, you think less of them too. You cannot judge yourself for needing help, but not judge others for needing your help.” – Dr. Brené Brown

G – Generosity – We have trust if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions and behaviours, and then check in with me to see if your assumption is correct. Aka giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

Trust is like a jar of marbles

Source: pinterest

What I learnt from Dr Brown is that we can think of trust as a jar of marbles. Acts of trust add to our jar and make us fuller. Acts of distrust and betrayal take away marbles.

I find this similar to the emotional bucket/tank analogy used to help children build up emotional resilience, where acts of love and care fill up their bucket, and acts of hate and bullying empty the bucket.

By using the BRAVING areas, we can ask what specifically we need to build trust. This also applies to self-trust (Did I honour my own boundaries? Did I give myself the benefit of the doubt? Was I judgemental towards myself?)

How can we build trust among ourselves after GE2020?

B – Boundaries – We should acknowledge that there’s a limit to what every party and person can do. PAP can only do so much for us. They can’t possibly solve everyone’s job issues nor resolve everyone’s complaints. Is it time to find a way on how to work with the opposition for Singapore’s sake?

The opposition have less resources, and may take some time to figure out how to operationalise things on the ground. Having a Leader of the Opposition could be one step towards expanding the boundaries of what the opposition can do for Singapore.

Another note on boundaries. The government should not be the first resort for every single issue we face. This is why I am learning how communities are built and how they can provide the support that the government cannot give.

Lastly, everyone has the right to support whichever political party they want. You can share with them the necessary information needed to make their decision, but badgering them is a huge turn-off.

Respect boundaries and listen to what we are concerned about, instead of rebutting with simplistic arguments designed to reduce our capacity for critical thinking.

R – Reliability – I would prefer political parties be upfront about what they cannot do, rather than promise the sky and throw around terms like minimum wage and zero foreign talent as easy solutions to our jobless problems.

Reliability is knowing what you can do, and also what you can’t. Be humble enough to acknowledge this.

In the quest to win votes using shiny first dominos (something I learnt from an instagrammer), some candidates ignore the second and third domino effect. I find this kind of behaviour unreliable, because in the end, Singaporeans are the ones paying for whatever shiny promises are offered.

Putting words into action also counts as reliability. Instead of simply talking about how Singapore can be better, what actions can we take in our neighbourhood, offices, communities and social spaces to start the ball rolling?

A – Accountability – We are so focused on saving face, than holding ourselves accountable for things which we could have done better.

Lack of accountability erodes trust, because sweeping things under the carpet instead of coming out to say, “let us regroup and analyse how we can improve”, just makes the citizenry feel that we are not being taken seriously.

At the same time, Singaporeans are also accountable for our own lives. If we don’t actively learn, explore, experiment, but expect others to serve us jobs and skills on a silver platter, we’re just waiting to be disappointed.

V – Vault – I found it very hard to come out to write this article, because sometimes I feel Singapore is a place where many don’t respect people’s views (even privately). What I say behind closed doors can be used against me, much less coming out to say publicly what I think and feel.

We have a long way towards valuing the act of showing vulnerability. Because anyone can take such moments of weaknesses and whack us in return. This is how promising discourses on controversial topics die an immediate death, by descending into hate speech and ‘us against them’.

I – Integrity – Trust is like marbles; every action of trust fills our marble jar. Integrity in putting forward policies means telling us what the policies mean for us in the long term and what trade-offs we should be aware of.

Just as how a doctor would spell out the risks and side effects of the possible options we have in treating an ailment.

N – Non-judgement – I wish we could have open discussions on the pros and cons, or advantages and trade-offs, of certain topics like universal basic income, criteria for new citizens, a national progressive wage model, LGBT issues etc without accusations of IBs or anti-religious zealots being the first line of defence.

G – Generosity – I look forward to the day we can be more embracing of all Singaporeans, instead of artificially dividing ourselves (e.g. pro-PAP vs pro-opposition, new citizens vs ‘true blue’ citizens, millennials vs boomers).

Remember that we have a whole world out there to showcase our best and unique talents, instead of fighting for the small pie within.

I wonder when the day will come, when we give the benefit of the doubt to the person who makes a Freudian slip to explain himself, to encourage self-improvement instead of witch-hunting, to comfort when we get into a bad situation, and to give and ask to receive because we trust each other.

To understand the anatomy of trust, watch Dr Brown’s video here.

Top image: Quotefancy