Lions, peacocks, and lessons in listening

As Singapore becomes increasingly cosmopolitan by all outward measures, Singaporeans seem torn between their old-world, gritty, down-to-earth cultural narrative and an urbanity that reflects their economic status in the world. We both covet and abhor anything that seems foreign. Singaporeans are always at the threshold of the traditional and the modern, the familiar and the foreign, and any small movement could tip the scales.

They call themselves The Gentleman’s Pride (or simply, The Pride), and their goal is to evangelise a brand of dandyism amongst Singaporean men. Unfortunately, people didn’t agree with their pontification on masculine style.

 

We like things to make sense.

One of the things The Pride received a lot of flak for was the inconsistent messaging. On one hand, they proudly (see what I did there?) declared that being a gentleman is “not just the way you dress, but how you treat people”. On the other, they first established their presence via an image-heavy medium — Instagram — and the mainstream audience first encountered them through a Straits Times article that featured a video of them discussing being a gentleman in largely style-oriented terms. And if this Asiaone article is to be believed, their movement involves promoting the, wait for it, aesthetic aspects of being a gentleman.

Singaporeans don’t like that sort of thing. Tell us the whole story and tell it like it is.

 

We like the familiar. We like the ‘we’.

All the fuss online is to be expected because what The Pride is really proposing a kind of subculture. One that is so divergent from mainstream culture that it almost is counterculture. Not that The Pride seems to see itself as a kind of opposition. But to practical, down-to-earth Singaporeans, anything that smells of a class-system will be regarded as an opposition of sorts.

Take a look at the comments. They’re largely driven by:

  • Practicality: citing the absurdity of suiting up in Singapore’s humid hothouse
  • A fundamental disagreement about the hallmarks of a gentleman: how one acts >  how one looks
  • Protectiveness over our Asian roots

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 4.27.11 pm

Human beings have always had an aversion to Otherness. Anything that is overtly other, like this subcultural movement, will surely be regarded with some hostility.

 

Let’s talk about this.

People would probably be more receptive if they sense that you’re trying to create a conversation, or better yet, a dialogue, than if you tried to impose your opinion on others. No one likes to be told how to be. If social movements tried to establish a conversation about social norms and values — practicality vs presentation, what does polite society consist in? etc —  people may feel less threatened and be less hostile.

Why not let culture develop organically? People are less skeptical of an influencer they christen, than of someone who claims to be influential. People want to have a say in the world they live in. Change that stems from authentic debate about what is and what should be tends to have more long term value. Let’s not impose our norms and mores, and instead negotiate our collective understanding of everything from ‘marriage’ and ‘love’ to ‘fairness’ and ‘justice’. Let’s go beyond hearing other people — let’s listen to them.

 

And yes, listening swings both ways.


If you are keen on becoming more gentlemanly, may I recommend this interesting read?

The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness

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