Managing conflict with wisdom

March 31, 2017

Some time back ago. A group of landowners approach me to ask whether I am willing to help them resolve a dispute with an aggrieved landowner. During the meeting one of them suggested that this fellow should be taught a lesson to which many others nodded in agreement. When my suggestion was asked, I merely quipped, yes….in which case you need a hired gun and I am certainly not that sort of man who can offer those services.

I went on to add….if he breaks under the immense pressure….I guess you could all get him to see your version of the truth. Then again if he doesn’t break and by some remarkable feat manages to hold it by the horns and come up on top ….all it that would really do is harden his resolve and he will come after all of you like the battleship Bismarck….his chances of a decisive win is slim…but he will create so much carnage in his wake……all of you will wished you didn’t go down that road.

That was when an elderly landowner turned to me and asked. What do you propose… which I replied,

‘None of you need to apologise to him….that is too much…he will get big headed…but you should all at least acknowledge your roles in this affair.

At that point a man stood up and slammed the table and berate me.

After he had finished. A very long pause ensued. And I continued.

As I was saying. You should all acknowledge your respective roles in this affair and tell this man that what once transpired will never happen again.

Will that work? Someone asked.

I went on to add if it doesn’t then go to him and tell it to him a second time….it will never happen again. His grievances have been fully acknowledged.

What after that? Another asked. Only for yet another to ask, what if that is not enough.

Then I will go and see this man and tell him plainly that all attempts to resolve this impasse has been exhausted if he does not stand down….we will all drop the atomic bomb on his head.

But before that you must all acknowledge your respective roles in this affair and take the responsibility.


‘I am not a great fan of using the hammer to solve problems. It’s a crude and primitive tool that should only be used when diplomacy has failed. Take the case of Amos Yee – he has now been granted asylum. Yes, he’s still in jail due to bureaucracy. But eventually the system will spit him out as a free spirit and this time round he’s by all accounts a de facto American citizen.

Now if decides to blog all things American which I hope he will dedicate all of himself too – then it’s fine.

But should he continue producing what he produced when he was back in Singapore – then what can the MHA in Singapore do?

Do they have the power to block his material from featuring in YouTube?

I don’t know. Maybe they will block his material with filters – that’s certainly possible just as it’s possible to get around that road block without too much difficulty.

But let’s say the same material that Amos used to generate is produced, then what can be done…..nothing. Except maybe to tell everyone to just ignore him and hope that he languishes in obscurity.

The irony is this exactly what should have been done if they hammer was not used in this first place….Amos Yee would probably be a nobody today and no one would even want to read or hear what he has to write or say about his various objects of interest. So at the end of the day, what was actually accomplished? What’s the pay out? Did it justify the means to the end?

That I shall to entirely to you – the perceptive reader to conclude.

Only it is my belief – the public consciousness can no longer be bubble wrapped against hate, vitriol and divisiveness. Governments may have been able to accomplish this goal keeping role once upon a time. But at the current pace media technology is evolving – it is altering even set pieces which were once considered timeless and universal such as politics and power and perceptions….at some point, the filters would have to be rolled back from the front end of government to the final gatekeeper that is the man who hears or reads the incendiary message or article.

In the final analysis – that would be the most reliable place to invest in a filter to winnow real from fake news, hate speech from what’s well argued etc etc.

Suddenly the idea of governments running here and there and putting out fires frantically seems very old just like perhaps candles, sail boats and ivory dentures….it’s neither sustainable. Nor smart. Or even wise.

The perverse outcome of the Amos Yee saga may actually be very instructive to how we craft new ways to manage conflict in an age that is so riven by lies, disinformation and hyperbole. This is especially cogent in a society like Singapore that has relied exclusively on very old methods to manage conflict that has hardly changed at all since the colonial days. It’s conceivable the Amos Yee saga will provide the necessary impetus to roll back the onus of belief and responsibility for how one responds to whatever can rub people the wrong way to the recipient rather than the instigator.

I don’t mean to sound cavalier or even callous….but in that respect that’s not such a bad thing. After all in a world that is increasingly amplified by a cacophony of lies, hatred, divisive speech that even threatens to squeeze out completely the real narrative. In a world where twitter vignettes have some how supplanted the value of whole disquisitions. In a world where no one these days can even bear out patiently a well argued case without fidgeting restlessly after two minutes since the digital age has essentially rewired our minds to only resemble the attention span of a house fly….surely the only sustainable way forward is to shift the onus to the individual.

If there is any redemption to this suggestion it is that history has shown us time and again…a civilised and law abiding society cannot be fashioned solely by the hammer alone. Like I said. It’s a crude and primitive tool..’

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