Teh Tarik with Walid, episode 3: Kuik Shiao-Yin

GE2020, Interviews / Saturday, September 5th, 2020

Assistant Professor Walid Jumblatt Abdullah of Nanyang Technological University spoke to former NMP Kuik Shiao-Yin on 12 August 2020, a few weeks after GE2020, as part of his ‘Teh Tarik with Walid’ interview series. The video and transcript are found below.

Walid Abdullah: So for everybody, thanks for joining us. So Miss Kuik was a two-term Nominated Member of Parliament. I didn’t know her personally, I only met her last week and we had a very lovely conversation that hopefully, today it will be the same again. Okay, so let’s get right to it. So Ms Kuik, as a two-term Nominated Member of Parliament right, would you agree with me that the Nominated Member of Parliament scheme is essentially an undemocratic scheme? And, in many ways, right, it is a very elitist scheme. It’s a bunch of elites choosing another bunch of elites to represent the commoners right? So what would be a good justification for having the NMP scheme and what is the value-add of the scheme?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: There’s a lot to unpack in there, but let’s start off with, is the NMP scheme an undemocratic institution. I think that opens up a really great question of actually what do we think is democracy? Right? So if we, if our idea of democracy is about, you know, you’re voting in a representative, you know, then yeah, no, we’re not voted in. Yeah. But that’s looking at one dimension of it, but I do think it’s an important dimension. And you’re right, there’s a lot of opacity, maybe in the way NMPs get into, you know, like, what is the process of them getting in? I mean, frankly, I didn’t even know what was the process of NMPs getting in. Until someone come and ask me, you want to send in your name or not, you know. So yeah, I do think the NMP institution can have more legitimacy if maybe the process in which they are nominated in, right, is maybe more transparent, more participative. I think the arts community has done a good job in trying to make up a more participative process to nominate their own like representatives. So I do think short of, like, you know, asking Parliament or the government to let you change the way you do the NMP thing. I mean, the arts community has proved that you can ownself do it, you know, so we could do that. I think that might help the legitimacy of the institution.

But that’s just looking at the, ‘are you elected or not elected’ aspect of democracy. I mean, the other aspect of democracy is, I mean, democracy essentially is about power. Power, beginning with the people right. That it’s rule of the people versus the rule of the elite if you look at the classic definition of it, so if you are an NMP and you kena that position right and you’re not elected in, I mean, how do you democratise the position? You know, I mean, you have to ownself decide, like, let me use this position or use this institution to speak for the people’s interests. Yeah. And I take it as there are certain people’s interests that are maybe more overrepresented because there’s so many people in the house already representing those perspectives, then the NMP can decide to bring up people’s perspectives that maybe are not as represented. Yeah, that’s my take on it.

As I speak to you more and more Singlish is coming out.

Walid Abdullah: It’s okay, it’s okay. I think it’s a largely Singaporean audience, so it’s fine. So on that, I think I do agree with you. I think there’s value to that. And, you know, that’s the system we have, we have a one party dominant, one dominant party system, a dominant one party system and therefore, while the NMP may be undemocratic in a sense that it’s unelected, it can actually add to democracy because NMPs are not bounded by party rules right. Like even the opposition they cannot say a lot of things right? Because like individual opposition MPs may want to say something but they cannot say something because they are bounded by the party whip or the party rules but NMPs are not and I think people like yourself, people like NMP Viswa, Walter, Professor Walter Theseira have made substantial contributions. But would you- what about the elitist part? But would you say that NMPs can become an elitist thing?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: It can be if we, okay, so it’s like all democratic processes, right? If we don’t participate in it, or we don’t think about how to make use of it, then yes, it can become the—it can become like another elitist thing if I put it that way. But I think one of the things that people don’t realise about the NMP thing and I didn’t realize it either until I talked to an ex-NMP, you can nominate yourself. Like, like that also can one huh? So yes, technically, any one of us regular voters, if we care very badly about being in Parliament, yes, technically you can submit your… submit an application and then you know, get all the letters and whatever submitted, but then of course the committee has to let you in. But I the guess that is a gatekeeper of elites if you like, but you can try and I—yeah, and what’s interesting is it was an ex-NMP who told me that’s what she did so no one scouted for her. She applied herself but she was a scientist. So maybe that’s, I mean, maybe people decided that okay, let’s let in a scientist la. Yeah, there is a gatekeeping aspect that we don’t see la.

Walid Abdullah: Right. Right. So ultimately, it’s what the NMPs make of it that determines its impact on democracy.

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Yes, I think that. Frankly, I’d love to hear from many of the ex-NMPs like what the heck they made out of their time in the institution, because when you are put in there I think a lot of people don’t understand that you’re put in there as an individual. And nobody gives you a ten-year series to tell you how to be an NMP. You know, you just sort of like, you know, at least for me, I didn’t know what I had signed up for. Like, okay, let’s do this. And then when you’re in there, I was like thinking of very existential questions: what am I doing here? Like, what am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to speak about? And I think those were very important questions to ask myself. And I am curious, actually on what the other NMPs made of them. Like, did they ask themselves these things as well? Yeah, but I was very bothered by it because I really didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing in there, exactly. You know, you kind of know but yet you also don’t know.

Walid Abdullah: You mean procedurally, or? What—

Kuik Shiao-Yin: No no no, I mean, existentially. Yeah, politically like, you know, like, are you supposed… or what are you supposed to speak up for? Because you look at other MPs in the room, and you know, they, a lot of them speak up for their residents. Right? And if you’re not an NMP who was put in there, let’s say by the Arts community, or like the union, you know, usually sends an NMP in there, then technically you don’t have- you don’t have a base, you know, you don’t have a constituency right? Yeah, I had to, I mean I was put in there because I was supposed to represent the youth… What does that even mean?

And, yeah, so I had to make a lot of sense out of it. But when I was in that position, I saw how some VWOs and outside were using the institution in a good way, and I think in a beautiful way, and you saw that play out more, I think, in NMP Walter and Anthea. Yeah. So what I realised was why I’m sitting there trying to figure out what to do. There was only like, maybe a small handful of VWOs on the outside or organisations on the outside who were actively writing to me every session with like, here’s what we are interested in. Here’s why. If you are interested to talk about this, then we can show you our research or we can talk about, these are the questions that we are interested in. And that to me was a godsend, you know, NMPs have to ask five parliamentary questions. Right? And you kind of don’t know what to spend your quota on if no one’s giving you information. So I found those VWOs super useful, especially those who backed it up with research. Yeah. And then they send you the research to take a look at so that was, that was great. And I think that’s an example of how the people can use this institution for the people’s interests.

Walid Abdullah:

Okay, okay, so that’s an excellent point. So I think for those who are listening we should write to the NMPs more. Yes. Write to the NMPs more and if writing to our MPs don’t work out we can do both. We can do both to MPs and the NMPs as well. So do elected MPs take you seriously? And what’s the vibe you get from them when you see them during lunch? Do you guys discuss policies or do they say, ‘hey, why did you say that’ or is there any indication that your speeches are heeded or are at least taken seriously and considered?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Okay (pauses)

Maybe that says a lot.

Okay, so seriously though. Okay, first, do the MPs take NMPs seriously and did they take me seriously? The answer’s I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know, because I didn’t have those conversations with them. And I don’t know because uh… yeah, I think that’s an excellent question though, to ask your MPs. Well, if they are interested from an institutional point of view, like not so much are they interested in this particular thing? That’s a great question to ask the elected Members of Parliament. What do you- what do you think of what these NMPs say? Especially if they bring up points of view that are quite different or quite divergent? You know, like, do you take them seriously? And if not, then I think that’s a huge conversation to be asked out there. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I actually don’t know.

Walid Abdullah: Right, right. Right. Yeah. I think we should ask that of our MPs as well. And also it’s about the institution right because we need to ask our MPs that in order to assess the efficacy of the NMP as an institution, right, so I think I’ll definitely, the next time I see my own MP, I’ll ask him that. Yeah, and there was a question. Are there other countries with nominated Members of Parliament. There are, for instance, Kenya has a Nominated Senator to represent the youths and persons of disability and another question – this year’s, the next batch of NMPs have not been chosen. So you guys can nominate yourself as Ms Kuik has said. So, now, moving on to the broader point of MPs. What is the role of MPs, not just NMPs but MPs in general because are you- because you are supposed to reflect and follow public opinion right? But at the same time as people in such a position of privilege, are you supposed to shape and lead public opinion as well?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Hmm, okay, that’s a really good question. And I think, okay, the short answer is it’s both. Right. And I, and I suspect I’m going to be saying ‘it’s both’ quite a lot. Yeah, because, yeah, I, this question of should an MP just reflect the public’s opinion or should it shake the public’s opinion is like, it’s like a false dichotomy, right? You’re like trying to make it binary. But it’s not, you have to do both. And this is also tied up to the other false dichotomy that we see floating around a lot about, like, is an MP, a manager of an estate, or is he a leader, a thought leader of a community or a thought leader of a country even right? The leader of a country is not just the Prime Minister; the leader of the country is whoever is like, in charge of like making laws, right? Which is like, all of us have to be in there. So and this, again ties up to another false dichotomy I talked about. So is an MP’s work all about deeds or is it all about words? Right? Because the work of shaping public opinion, the work of leading thoughts for a country or community has a lot to do with the work, the work of words, right, not just the work of actions and deeds. And the thing is: these are not opposed to each other. They sound like they’re opposed to each other, but they are not, they are complementary, and they are needed.

So I do see that the role of an MP is a very difficult one, right, where you have to be both really good at just reflecting the public’s opinion, regardless of where you stand on it, because it’s your constituents’ point of view. And yet you also have to put your own point of view out there and shape public opinion because that’s what people also want, because that is the role of leadership, right. A manager of an estate has to do a lot of deeds, a lot of actions a lot of ‘let’s take care of the things’ and your job in there not to question or challenge the boundaries of a system if you want to put it that way, but to do the best work possible, working with what you have. But the role of leadership is to do that work of theory, of abstraction and you’re sort of examining ideas and that does require you to question, to talk about or even challenge the boundaries of things.

And a great MP I think, has to balance both which is a really tall order. It’s a really, really tall order. And that’s why for me personally, I cannot imagine doing this work part-time. Simply because it’s such a crazy job description. It’s damn difficult work. Yeah. So yeah, I find if you have to do both, then yeah, you need to invest full time on it.

Walid Abdullah: Right. So, would you say for NMPs then, because you do not have the manager aspect to your job, right? So essentially NMPs by default are thought leaders, right?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: We should la. Theoretically, it’s like, you know, you’ve been nominated to represent some interest and you still keep your full time job. You know, you have a little stipend given to you by Parliament. Like if you don’t go in there and shape thoughts, or share thoughts in a constructive way, then it’s a bit like what you are you doing there, I mean… Because if you don’t have an estate to manage.

Walid Abdullah: Right. So I like the challenging of the dichotomy between words and deeds because I find it strange as well when people say you shouldn’t judge MPs by what they say, but by what they do, when speaking is a part of their job scope, speaking in Parliament? Yeah, it’s an important part of… yeah. So that—it just seems a strange dichotomy there. And thanks for bringing that up. So would NMPs be in a better position that to be thought leaders than MPs actually since you guys are not bounded by parties?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Erm, yeah. In that sense. I mean, I guess there’s a bit more room for independence, a lot more room maybe to express what you think. But I mean what’s really interesting is… I mean that now this makes me think of like one of the very early tea sessions to welcome all the MPs that we went through. And I think it was one of the ministers who, who told us like you know, when you’re in here, you’re not here just to express your individual point of view, you’re here to express the collective interest as well. I think that’s a good reminder. But again, there’s another dichotomy there. Right. That actually the best way to express the collective interest is to also share your individual point of view, your individual interest, and it all has to show up there la. Yeah. So it’s, yeah, it’s…

Walid Abdullah: What is the collective interest? What is the collective? Because there are different groups which have different interests, right. So what did he or she mean by collective interest?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: I suspect what the Minister meant by collective interest is Singapore, that mean’s, the whole country’s interests. Yeah. But my thing as a parliamentarian, the ability to see levels of the systems have been helpful because yes, if you the individual and you have a point of view that is legit because you are part of the system. And you embody many identities, right? That link you to different communities. So you also want to express those community points of view. Right?  And they are also collectives within the collective. And then of course, you got to talk about the national point of view. And then you want to give yourself even more headache, and talk about the global or regional point of view at the same time. And that is why that position is so challenging, technically. Yeah, we haven’t even gotten into the perspective that an MP also has a role to play in talking about regional or global. This is even more difficult. Right.

Walid Abdullah: Okay, thanks for that. That was very comprehensive. So on GE2020, and you know, you interact with a lot of young people in your work, in your line, right? And you were a representative of the youth at one point in time, so do you see a difference in how the young voted or talked about voting or talked about the election versus the older people or the older voters?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Yeah. Oh, there’s just so much to unpack there. Um, okay. So I think first, it’s—I think we need to be aware that for young people, there’s obviously a range of political inclinations of young people. I mean there are there are those who veer more establishment and conservative and there are those who are more liberal leaning, right? But I do think there is some pattern, some cultural pattern that they kind of fall into.

So what I thought was unusual about this election on social media as opposed to before, if there were a lot more open expressions of like, ‘I used to vote this way, but now I am voting this way, and this is why’, and then they’ll break it down. You know, and you get a sense that the breaking down of like, why I am switching allegiances or why I am deciding that this style of politics is not for me and putting it there in public and quite candidly and using their own names. It gives me a sense that there is a new generation that is not afraid to talk about such things. Right? I think for like my… I’m Gen X and I think for like Gen X and older, maybe there was a lot more hesitance in expressing ourselves about what we think and what we feel, but I think that this gen, which has grown up on social media, they’re like quite indoctrinated like in their, in my opinion matters to be shared with you, even though it’s just an opinion about my cat you know, and everyone clap for you. It’s sort of like validation, is like you know, your point of view matters. I mean, it’s a silly point but I do think it has an impact you know on like, yeah it has an impact on political discourse.

So the same desires that they had for regular social media etiquette if you like, carries over to the political etiquette because they, you know, you don’t see any difference like you know, if someone posts on Facebook, you kind of hold them to the same standards that you hold your friend la. So it’s like if a politician posts on Facebook, like a takedown, you know of someone else right, then you’re like, ‘oh, what’s this?!’ You can see a social media war happening between two people online who are older than you. You’ll be like wow, ‘Why are you behaving like my brother?’

Yeah, so, I do think there is a… I don’t know what’s the best word for it, but I can’t think of a better word, like a healthy, not naiveness about questioning? You know as in questioning of why do we talk like that? You know, is this okay or not? Not feeling this baggage of it’s—it’s wrong to question it, which I think is refreshing. Yeah.

Walid Abdullah: I never made that connection. I always felt like this validation culture was entirely negative. This desire to seek validation, I never thought about how it carried into the political sphere in terms of affecting voter behaviour. So, thanks for that. So, now moving on to civil society right and you have been active in civil society. So, there’s always a conundrum or a bind that civil society organisations find themselves in. On one hand, if they try to work within the system, they will get things done, but they entrench the system. They contribute to the entrenchment of the system. On the other hand, if they challenge the boundaries, probably they are not- they are going to suffer some punitive action or depending on how much they challenge the boundaries. So, what should civil society organisations or individuals do? What should activists do?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: I think our system, I guess first let me get this out of the way. I think our system does have to show a lot more appreciation for the work of activists and not make it like a dirty word. And apparently it’s not a dirty word because like, you know, if we can say ‘PAP activists’ and not see it as a bad thing, then it’s not a bad thing to be an activist in other spheres. Um, but I think yeah, I think the the role of the activist or how the activists can play the game. It’s not terribly different from what I said about MPs actually. Arguably MPs are a kind of activist right, an activist for the people. You’re an activist for Punggol. You’re an activist for Sengkang. So it’s similar. It’s similar like, like, so this idea of, should an activist work within the boundaries that have been prescribed to him or her, or should they work- should they challenge the boundaries? And the answer is both. Again, you know, it’s very annoying, but it really is both.

Because they are—it sounds opposing but it’s complementary. So the wisdom comes from reading the situation or I suppose, or reading the, the player that you’re up against la, you know. So there’s going to be an authority or the authority to speak about the boundary, to move the boundary to investigate the boundaries of it, the authority to do that is based on the authority of what other deeds that you have done la, you know, so it can’t just be words activism, it has to be deeds activism. And there are a lot of long-standing activists who have been doing both. Right. And I think we, I think we have to, I suppose, appreciate can be a very triggering word for some, appreciate that part of the role of an activist is not just to manage the problem as it is but it’s also to take the leadership. And leadership is essentially about working at the boundaries, with the boundary, through the boundary and to question the boundary, right and, and an activist has to do that and that becomes very uncomfortable because nobody likes their boundaries challenged, right. It’s deeply uncomfortable, and I don’t mean the government or the politicians or the leaders. I mean, anyone who, like, yeah, anyone who’s involved in, okay, let’s just take, like, let’s say the conservative activists who, let’s say wants to lobby for banning of abortion, right? And that sort of is their democratic right to challenge that boundary and to question it and to hope to move it. But of course, they’re going to trigger an immense discomfort in everybody because boundaries are not just political boundaries. They are representative of, of communities, psychological and emotional boundaries as well. And I think an activist who is wise needs to be very wary of what you are doing.

You’re not just challenging a political boundary. You’re challenging people’s psychological and emotional boundaries as well, which is why boundary work needs to be done very carefully with a lot of discernment. And a lot of intention with what words you are using, because it’s sensitive territory. It has to be done. It has to be done. Right? Because that’s how we grow as a community. But we will only grow if we are getting better and better skilled at just standing at the very uncomfortable boundary, asking people to please take a look. Please take a look, is this the right place to lay that boundary or not? Yeah, rather than like bulldoze through la, then people will be like walao. Don’t be shocked when people- See, that’s the thing. If you bulldoze through and break the boundaries, right without preparing people for what you’re about to do, then the pushback is extremely violent. You know that, they will sort of reject you very fast. So it’s very psychologically intense work, I think and those of us who are maybe younger or budding activists, if you want to do that work well, then I think it’s good to understand the psychology of human behaviour and societal behaviours. So that you can do the work well.

Walid Abdullah: Right. Okay. So I think that’s an excellent point about boundaries, having a psychological and emotional dimension to it as well, which I think a lot of people do not—maybe they realise, but they do not have the wisdom to navigate it. But I want I want to push you a little on what you said about the deeds and words right. Why as an activist, do I need to “prove myself” in the realm of deeds before I can challenge the boundaries through words? Why is that—isn’t it a right of a citizen to challenge boundaries through words and not just, you know. What’s the motivation for this: because a lot of times when you ask ministers certain things, right, and certain uncomfortable things, and that they bring you to another… So you want to do volunteer in some other, some other realm that. So I’m thinking is that a fair ask of a person, when he or she is talking about something else and you’re talking about volunteering some other realm; that you are basically shifting the goalposts or shifting the terrain from an uncomfortable battle to something that is within your control. Yeah. Yeah.

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Yeah. And my— and the immediate thing that comes to mind is, and if you do have those deeds to back it up, right, you can you can say, I actually, I do, and actually, the whole of last year, I worked with 400 migrant workers, and out of the 400, 80% of them told me that this is an issue. Then you know, the person who’s that, okay, so when I talk about these two opposing concept things, we all have a bias you see, so let’s say the person that’s biased more with deeds, he kind of needs that from you. He needs you to sort of meet him where he is, which is, ‘I need to see your deeds first before I pay attention to your words’. Then okay la, here are my deeds. Now you see my deeds. Okay, now can you hear my words or not?

And actually very similarly, those of us who are, let’s say bias towards words, you know, you kind of need the person to give you the words first. Don’t show me your deeds. I want to see your words as well. So we all have a bias and, and I think it’s good, good politics or good activism or just generally good communication to work with people where they are.

Walid Abdullah: Right and cover all bases. Okay fair enough. I find that buy that, I think that’s a good explanation. So I think we only have about seven more minutes, so I’m not sure… It’s been a fun conversation. So cancel culture. I do not want to mention names. Because I don’t want to have any libel suits. Yes. But let’s talk about cancel culture in general, I think okay, and and it’s not just in Singapore, I think elsewhere as well, this is thrown about a lot. So what are your thoughts on this? Is it really a problem? Is there such a thing as people being canceled too much, or people to the point that they are afraid to articulate their actual—their actual views because of political correctness and being afraid of being canceled?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Okay. Well, because we only have seven minutes. I’m just going to be very blunt about this. I think it’s not very productive to talk about this issue using the term cancel culture, because it’s just so bloody loaded, right, that people are like, I don’t know, you’re bringing all kinds of like other American stuff into it. And, and I think it’s cleaner, to not use that term and just talk about like, what are we doing here, which is basically a lot of like, if I don’t like what this person says, I don’t like what this person does, then I am going to take this person down, you know. And this whole cancel culture thing is using—so I’m going to look at it from an emotional and psychological lens, okay? So cancel culture is essentially about using shame, right, using the weapon of shame, as a… and shame is an incredibly powerful weapon, because what’s at stake here is social acceptance.

So if I use shame, I am sort of like weaponising that and the threat here is social rejection or social disconnection and we—most of us, normal people are damn scared of that. Even the most thick-skinned person will actually feel a lot of pain when masses or hundreds or thousands of people are all you know, I reject you, I reject you. I’m going to make sure all your whatever brands and all that reject you also, you know, and it’s—so the reason why a lot of people like using it is because it’s very emotionally satisfying to use it, but it is a very—but it’s not a sustainable, and I argue it’s not an effective weapon, not as much as we think. Right? So there’s a couple of reasons, right? The first is that from a psychological perspective, right, everybody needs a platform of self-worth to stand on, so that they can change. And if we are hoping to, if we’re hoping for the individual to change, or we’re hoping for that pattern of behaviour to change, or we’re hoping for society to change, right, then shame takes away that opportunity. Because shame burns down the platform of self-worth, right? The distinction between shame and guilt right, is shame is essentially grounded in ‘you are wrong’, or ‘I am wrong’, you know, it’s a very identity-based emotion, but guilt is about actions. I did something wrong, I said something wrong, right? So, when you see like, when you use shame on someone, shame corrodes the part of you that believes you can change, right. So if I am a mistake, if I am a liar, if I am like the devil’s spawn, or whatever it is that you’re trying to shame me into believing about myself or my identity level, then you’re not separating my identity from my actions, you know, it’s not like wow, you did something wrong, it’s you are wrong. And if you do that to me, so, two outcomes will happen. Either I get really so shamed and broken and I cannot change because I am so bad already then I might as well continue being bad, right? Right, or the other reaction is the aggressive okay, now you say I’m like that then what can I do, right? I am this way. So it sort of takes away that possibility of change. Right? And the second reason you don’t want to use shame is that it’s a- there’s this phenomenon called secondary shame. That is when you watch someone being publicly shamed, there’s a lot of audience watching and they both, ‘die, I also don’t want to be in that position.’ So they all like diam diam, they’re all like quiet. So it actually results in a lot more silencing, because people don’t want to be humiliated. So they keep back their points of view are a lot more and you don’t want that in a democracy.

And the third, and I think the most triggering one, right? And this is from the voice of an activist from the 70s. Okay. The triggering quote is: The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Right? That means you cannot use the same tools of oppression, to take up the oppressor. Because, because the horrible thing is once you do that you become the oppressor. So shame doesn’t just change the target, it changes you. So that’s why I think it’s good to not use canceling or shaming as the tactic. Right? What you want to do is use accountability and that’s different. Accountability is not as fun. It takes a lot more time. It takes a lot more work, but it’s about preserving your dignity as the accuser or whatever. But it’s also about preserving the dignity of the accused. Right so if you’re on the side of social justice or on the side of ‘let’s have reform’ then you have to do the damn hard work of accountability to keep you accountable, but not as fun as shame.

Walid Abdullah: What about repeat offenders, right? Do they really not deserve to be shamed if after a few times of holding them accountable, but still nothing happens? And they have a lot of sway in society, for instance, or there’s a segment of people who listen to them, wouldn’t there be some room for publicly shaming the action, not the person?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: You can’t really shame the action. Yeah, shame is identity. Okay, so guilt is a much more fruitful emotion to use than shame if you would like, because at least in guilt there is—I mean, holding someone accountable, basically is asking them to take a look at what they’re of, right? And I think that is fair. It’s also very uncomfortable for you and then other person, but it’s a lot more productive in the long run. Because shame weaponises and if someone is a repeat offender, it’s quite horrible right, you shame them right, they’re going to become worse. They’ll become even more monstrous, which is the last thing you want.

Walid Abdullah: And they’re going to play martyr, right. So would more free speech be the antidote to hate speech, instead of shaming or cancelling?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: I think more intentional speech, yeah. Not so much free speech for freedom’s sake, more intentional, clear and kind speech would be damn powerful. It’s actually very difficult, to ensure that every word has intent to be clear and kind.

Walid Abdullah: Okay, thanks for that. So we are almost out of time. So there are two questions from the audience, one of them I’ll just answer: Is the process considered non-partisan if elected members get to pick who to nominate as NMPs? Well, it’s not non-partisan, but on the select committee there’s usually one opposition member. But obviously, it is very much a partisan process and ultimately as what Ms Kuik said, it’s up to the NMPs to decide how democratic they want their institution to be. The second question is, and we’ll end with this, and usually if elected politicians are on or party members are on, I will not ask them soft ball questions, but NMPs are different. There’s no need to be combative with NMPs. So somebody asked, what was your proudest moment during your parliamentary term?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Oh my god, my proudest moment… I have no idea what is my proudest moment in there. I can tell you many moments when I was pretty scared…

Walid Abdullah: Okay which moments made you scared?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Every speech I made that I know wasn’t exactly like a fun speech, or that I would say something that potentially pushes someone’s boundaries, like I said, that’s why it’s psychologically scary to speak your truth, or the truth that you see into the room, knowing that not everyone is going to agree with it. It’s uncomfortable la, so I suppose maybe the moments that I’m proud of is when I say it anyway? And I know I am the most scared when I don’t dare look at the other side of the room. Some of my speeches I delivered them looking at the gallery like, ‘you look friendly’. But that’s more about me, so I don’t know what they’re projecting on the other side.

Walid Abdullah: Right, so the more uncomfortable you make people, the prouder you are, because that’s a—

Kuik Shiao-Yin: In retrospect, in retrospect. In that moment I’m not thinking ‘wah I’m so good’.

Walid Abdullah: Of course, of course. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Well, let’s see, I only have a couple of things to say, since we touched on kinds of culture and politics and all that. I will end off with the three general rules of thumb, that I always tell people when I teach them about how to communicate. First of all, number one, you gotta meet people where they are, not where you wish them to be. Meet people where they are, and where they are is usually how they feel. So don’t engage with facts first, engage with feeling, and sincerity and care, even if you disagree with them. Because once you can build that bridge of trust, then you have built a nicer ground for you to start to talk about the facts, of where you agree and disagree and all that.

Second tip right, don’t be nice. You’re not going to get anywhere by being nice. But what you want to be is to be kind. Being kind is not the same as being nice. Being clear about the truth that you seek, yet you want to be kind and speak that truth with love. The harder the truth that you want to say, then the deeper the love you better be prepared to give. Because that’s the only thing that can make the bitter medicine a bit better.

And third pro tip, you can be so right that you can be wrong, so just remember that in all contentious debate, you’re not here to be right, you’re here to get it right. You’re not here to be right, you’re here to get it right. And if you remember that, then you can move the boundaries a little bit easier.

Walid Abdullah: Right, wow. So I came here for political talk but I got some life wisdom. So thank you very much Ms Kuik, and I’ll sure that the audience would agree with me that this was a thoroughly enjoyable conversation. We exceeded the time, but it’s fine. So thank you so much and I hope to see you as well. And I’ll be uploading this to IGTV. Okay, bye!

Kuik Shiao-Yin: Thank you, bye!

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