“How does an entire generation of unenlightened people produce a generation of woke kids?”
A friend once posed me that innocent question when talking about his “misogynistic” mother. He said it with both resignation and bewilderment at how entrenched his mother was in her non-feminist mindset, a clear departure from his own worldview.
Other friends, who also consider themselves passionate about social issues, are equally perplexed when they try discussing gender inequality, racism, and workplace inclusivity with their parents. They usually receive stoic, apathetic responses. Otherwise, their parents tend to be amused by the sudden furore about “these things” when the world has “been fine” all along.
Take my own father for example. He once retorted half-jokingly, “Why everything also must be so politically correct nowadays ah?”
His response isn’t unique nor unexpected. Most of our parents grew up in a time when they were encouraged to persevere through hardship to forge a better life. When faced with unhappy situations, they often just ‘sucked it up’.
Naturally, our generation’s earnest drive to enact real social change might come across as us being too sensitive or wanting to cause trouble.
If I were to describe my parents’ stance on 377A, it would resemble what Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said at the 2018 Singapore Summit. Responding to a reporter who asked how Singapore hopes to improve its inclusivity, such as towards the LGBT community, Minister Ong replied, “The fact is [the LGBT community] lives in Singapore peacefully. No discrimination against work, housing, education, to go about their lives.”
This perspective may be tone deaf or downright ignorant when it comes from a state leader or religious groups, but it’s heartbreaking to hear it from a loved one. When it comes to a parent who’s raised us from birth, who only wants the best for us, and who lives under the same roof, reconciling the stark disparity between their worldview and ours becomes all the more painful.
Can we truly understand someone when we disagree with their values? When did our value system diverge so drastically from our parents’? And how do we find common ground?
Should we even attempt to build bridges, or “agree to disagree”?
On the lattermost point, some from the LGBT community would argue that “agreeing to disagree” on 377A is not possible. Opposing a law that affects an intrinsic part of someone’s identity is not the same as having differing opinions on avocado toast. In their opinion, if a friend doesn’t want to repeal 377A, then this friend does not wish them well, and the friend is henceforth expunged from their lives.
But with family, it’s much harder to cut ties (not that we should aim to in the first place). For those of us who are straight and sincerely support the repeal of 377A, it’s even more important to use our privilege to try and get our parents to see the other side.
Unfortunately, the question remains: Why should they care about something that doesn’t affect them?
When did our value system diverge so drastically from our parents’? And how do we find common ground?
It wasn’t their indifference that bothered me, but the argument that modern society had ‘progressed’ too fast for their generation to catch up, and that we no longer care for their ‘outdated’ views. For many of our parents, they give up trying to see from another perspective because they might be too intimidated by its ‘foreign-ness’.
All the same, if you want to broach social issues with your parents without alienating them even further, this is how I’ve learnt to do it.
The most crucial step in helping them to see our perspective is by first understanding theirs. As tempting as it is, trying to educate someone with facts rarely changes minds when they’re not receptive to that knowledge in the first place. In fact, it might backfire when they choose to stand their ground, retaliating with the exact viewpoints that we hope to change.
What works is consistently showing an all-encompassing empathy that isn’t patronising or intimidating. Think about the last time we felt judged for asking a seemingly stupid question. The last thing we want is to make our parents feel the same.
While we support the repeal of 377A, we come across as elitist when we lament that those who are fine with the status quo are uneducated and unenlightened.
For us, repealing 377A is simply about giving people the freedom to love without being criminalised for their sexual orientation—a concept we feel should be a logical conclusion for anyone who dreams of a kinder and more inclusive society. But our conservative parents see things differently.
Firstly, they might not see the need to take a stand because the existence of 377A doesn’t explicitly ‘harm’ anyone. Secondly, they may argue that the law is only ‘for show’ to appease the majority conservative society; no one is going around stopping gay men from being together or having sex.
The solution to this lies in a simple ‘show; don’t tell’ strategy. Show them that we’re willing to answer all sorts of questions about the issue—and that if we don’t know the answer ourselves, we hope to find it together with them.
Show them what we believe in by living out our values every day; inform them of how we spend our time in a neutral, non-confrontational manner. This is only authentic if we practise the equality we fight for, whether at work or in casual settings. While we shouldn’t define our LGBT colleagues or friends by their sexual orientation, we must also create a welcoming environment that helps them feel comfortable expressing themselves like anyone who is straight would.
Ultimately, people only start to internalise different values and beliefs when they see it manifest through simple, daily actions that enhance everyone’s lives.
The more conservative may even claim that it’s actually ‘a show of grace’ towards the LGBT community that 377A hasn’t been actively enforced.
Yet several friends who support the repeal of 377A consider themselves practising Christians, which isn’t surprising.
A recent New Yorker article reports that millennial evangelicals are diverging from their parents’ and their church’s traditional beliefs. To millennials, this shift marks “a return to a more authentic way to follow the teachings of Jesus”, away from the typically traditional slant of the Church’s teachings.
The article further states that younger believers “aren’t looser in any way in their approach to scripture”. In fact, by following the words and actions of Jesus as revealed by God in the Bible, they focus on behaving like Jesus himself. This involves practising the same “radical love” that Jesus did by upholding beliefs that conservative Christians wouldn’t, such as being pro-choice and pro-LGBT.
Closer to home, Singaporean Noel Tan has a similar take on Christianity, which appears to be his religion. He shares in a public Facebook post, “I am asking always, ‘What would Jesus do in this situation? What would Jesus have me do?’ May we all remember, too, that He came to show us a better way.”
If anything, the modern practice of religion must remain ever evolving to reflect the desire for a more merciful and fairer society than its current state. It must originate from a place of faith in a better world, instead of fear of change. And it must attempt to bridge the gap between two camps of people, for it’s merely laborious to change perspectives when we don’t understand how and why people hold them.
Ironically, in this case, using religion to cultivate compassion must begin with those who have abandoned the conservative values of the Church but continue to abide by the values of Christ.
When used right, religion can be the most effective tool to close the empathy gap between our moderate, Christian parents and ourselves.
Regardless of age or religion, the idea of ‘social justice’ leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouths of those who prefer sticking with the status quo, precisely because it calls for necessary systemic change.
This change usually forces people to confront the advantages that they were born with. The fight for equality requires the privileged to first admit that they have gotten to where they are because of their family background, race, gender, sexual orientation, and/or socio-economic status, not just mere “hard work” and “determination”.
Equality also appears most threatening if we have been lucky enough to have never faced discrimination. But it’s also important to remember: discomfort trumps indifference. Discomfort is a sign that a seed has been planted and that conversations are working.
If we want to live in a society that protects all of us when we need it, then we must teach people to care about society’s marginalised. Simply put, how society treats its vulnerable groups directly reflects the amount of collective empathy and compassion for everyone. By caring about issues like the repeal of 377A that might not directly impact our lives, we care for our own future that we want to see.
It’s also critical to realise that while our parents might hold seemingly outdated perspectives that exasperate us, being condescending and impatient just reinforces their conservative attitudes towards 377A. Change is not an overnight process.
In the meantime, if we’re privileged enough not to feel personally attacked by their lack of support for repealing 377A, we must still love them without liking what they stand for. We must love them, even when they make us incredibly disheartened. We must love them, even if we feel their religious beliefs don’t demonstrate the same love in return.
And we must use this love to first extend the same understanding and open-mindedness that we expect from them.
It is, as Céline says in Before Sunrise, “If there’s any kind of God, it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me, but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something.”
I’d like to think it is also what Jesus would do.