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Gen Y Speaks: RP’s Charles Yeo and I just can’t see eye to eye. But we agree to disagree

In the lead-up to GE2020, I saw how some of my friends argue over their divergent political views and almost turn into enemies. My experience has shown that this need not be the case. In fact, I have learnt the art of agreeing to disagree through an unlikely friendship formed over the last two months.

The author (right) and Mr Yeo were strangers until she reached out to him on July 6 on WhatsApp via his publicly available mobile number.

The author (right) and Mr Yeo were strangers until she reached out to him on July 6 on WhatsApp via his publicly available mobile number.

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In the lead-up to General Election (GE) 2020, my phone sometimes pinged non-stop from messages by my friends and acquaintances in my WhatsApp group chats who hold divergent views.

It was heartening to see fellow young Singaporeans taking a keen interest in politics and issues that matter to society.

However, things turned ugly quickly, as they held their ground and traded barbs. Friends almost turned into foes, and in-depth discussion became heated and threatened to rock ties between even the closest of friends.

Yet, my experience has shown that this need not be the case. In fact, I have learnt the art of agreeing to disagree through an unlikely friendship formed over the last two months.

During the GE campaigning period, I befriended Charles Yeo, the 30-year-old Reform Party (RP) candidate for Ang Mo Kio Group Representation Constituency.

Though my constituency is in neighbouring Kebun Baru, it is geographically in Ang Mo Kio town where I have lived my whole life.

Growing up, I have always had a keen interest in current affairs and community events.

I have also volunteered at my constituency’s Meet-the-People sessions for the past few years, which means I have had opportunities to interact with Member of Parliament Henry Kwek from the ruling People’s Action Party.

I have also taken part in dialogue sessions that Mr Kwek held with youths on issues close to our heart, such as jobs.

Charles piqued my curiosity because he is just a few years older than me, and closer to my age than Mr Kwek.

Who is this political newbie touted by RP as a rising star eyeing a seat in a town close to my heart and who happened to have become an internet meme due to his viral political broadcast speech with his not-so-fantastic Mandarin at that time?

We were complete strangers at first, before I reached out to him on July 6 on WhatsApp via his publicly available mobile number.

As a Chinese culture and history lover, I was keen to understand more about his viewpoints on topics such as Confucian ethics which he spoke about in his broadcast speech.

In addition, as an advocate for bilingualism, I also wondered if I could help him improve his less-than-stellar Mandarin.

He was the first opposition candidate I ever got in touch and interacted with. His first reply to me was polite.

But I never imagined how diametrically opposite we are.

The tone of our exchanges quickly changed, as we held firm to our own — and different — views on everything we discussed, from state ideologies to foreign relations and even personal encounters.

He considers me a “right wing” conservative for my belief in the capitalistic society. He thinks this is not a progressive mindset, which isn’t surprising given his support for liberalism and socialism.

I am dead set against his idea of how Singapore should be organised and how he envisages our nation’s future to be.

The author says that she has not disagreed more with anyone else in her life compared to Mr Yeo.  Photo: Ooi Boon Keong / TODAY  

In one particularly heated discussion, several angry emojis surfaced in our WhatsApp message threads, and our tones in the voice messages and phone calls were a pitch slightly higher than usual.

Indeed, we discovered great dislike for each other, and did not bother to disguise it. We found the other person’s viewpoint strange and bizarre. It was impossible to change each other’s mindsets and strongly held beliefs.

Moreover, not only did we disagree on political viewpoints, we had no consensus on other topics such as fashion, our philosophies of beauty, and even literary interpretations of English classics like Frankenstein.

As there were so many areas in which we could not see eye to eye and our further discussions only unveiled more differences, I can safely say that I have not disagreed more with anyone else before in my entire life.

Ordinarily, this would mean a falling out between both sides, with perhaps one party even blocking or blacklisting calls or messages from the other in a fit of rage.

Yet, quite remarkably, we managed to salvage the situation and continue our conversations. This boiled down to both of us putting in efforts to agree to disagree.

First, we agreed that despite our differences and deadlocks, neither should be afraid to continue listening to alternative voices.

We accepted that our views are shaped by unique experiences that can be vastly different, and listening is a key skill for a productive and fulfilling conversation in spite of disparities in perspectives.

Secondly, we had a common wish for peaceful and respectful communication and enlightened behaviour as opposed to obstinate shouting matches born out of stubbornness and insistence on changing another person’s mind.

Although we did not concede to the other’s viewpoint, there was a shared understanding of the importance of a harmonious and civilised conversation.

Indeed, opinions and political inclinations only form part of a person, and not all of him or her.

We also found some common ground in other aspects of our lives. These helped to defuse any high-strung situation or sentiments.

For instance, we share a love for animals, as well as passion for local tourism and businesses.

Adorable animal photos and videos quickly became a tool to soothe any charged conversations or emotions, and we would sometimes focus on our similarities rather than differences in our exchanges.

Managing to agree with a person I have most disagreements with so far in my life has been a useful lesson for me.  

It has helped me to keep a sharp and open mind, maintain a thirst for curiosity and be unafraid of differing viewpoints whilst keeping the peace.

I believe this experience would open up new possibilities and ideas in other spheres of my life, such as building cultural awareness and forming connections in a diverse world.

I look forward to engaging more with others with whom I don’t necessarily see eye to eye.



Alvona Loh Zi Hui is a junior doctor who works at a public hospital in Singapore.

Related topics

charles yeo online Politics GE2020 Ang Mo Kio GRC

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