Lee Wei Ling’s ‘child-like’ friend-categorisation process

From ‘I have friends, but not because I’m Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter’, 3 June 2012, article by Lee Wei Ling, Think, Sunday Times

I wrote about the distinctions I made between close friends, true friends and comrades some months ago. After that article appeared, I received a sarcastic e-mail from a reader who said: ‘One would be extremely fortunate if one can count to two the number of comrades one has in his life. If it is so hard for an average person to find true friends, it is manifold harder for you because of your family relations.

‘It may be arrogant for me to call you child-like since you are older than me. But I have no better word to describe your friend-categorisation process.’

…His reference to my family relates to the fact that I am the daughter of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the sister of current PM Lee Hsien Loong. The writer suggested that my ‘family relations’ may induce people to act friendly towards me. He misunderstands the Singapore system. Being a member of the Lee family may mean that I do stand out, but that does not afford me any special power.

My friends – NNI staff or otherwise, doctors or something else – are friends because of mutual goodwill. We either share common interests or have in some way helped one another.

…Take, for instance, the security officers (SOs) who have protected my father and family for decades. Some of them are my close friends – having remained so even after they left the police force. The SOs are paid by the Government to look after us, but they often go beyond fulfilling their duties. And the goodwill goes both ways, for I have always helped them whenever they have approached me with their problems, usually medical in nature.

…There are the friends I made while pursuing various other activities, including writing columns and what I call ’tilting at windmills’ in pursuit of certain causes. This heterogeneous group, some of whom I have known since childhood, are also comrades, for we share the same aspiration – to make Singapore a better country and a better society.

…I do not think, however, that my family connections alone can account for my having so many friends, close friends and comrades. I have become friends and stayed friends with various people as a result of the conscious effort by all concerned to help each other, and also to help others when we can because it is the right thing to do.

Perhaps I have so many close friends and comrades because my family’s position brought me into contact with many good people whom others may not have had a chance to meet. But I think the more probable reason is that I am willing to extend the hand of friendship, be it to colleagues or people I meet in the course of my life. Perhaps my sarcastic letter writer short-changed himself with his cynical attitude towards mankind, which may explain why he has pitifully few close friends or comrades.

According to a previous piece ‘Close friends from all walks of life’, Lee Wei Ling categorises her friends as such:

I categorise people I know into enemies, acquaintances, friends, close friends and comrades. This is admittedly a rough and perhaps simplistic way of classifying people, but it serves my purpose.

I personally can’t think of anyone in my social circle befitting of a ‘comrade’ since I have no evil Communist dictator to topple, but Wei Ling’s clinical dissection of the people around her may well come in handy for someone of her ‘pedigree’, where one has to keep her close friends close, but enemies closer. She describes friends in terms of ‘mutual goodwill’, as in ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’, a pragmatic approach to networking which also applies to her employees and  ‘Security officers’ (SOs), or should I say ‘Bodyguards’.That admission alone would either make her more attractive as a ‘friend’, or scare you off totally because of the possibility of someone shuffling you off with a bag over your head in the middle of the night if you so much as forget to reply to a text message.

I wonder if she knows anyone that she actually enjoys ‘just hanging out’ with, or has a ‘best friend’ for that matter, someone who has a common passion for ridiculous amounts of exercise and not afraid to admit it.  Someone who doesn’t need to beguile you with intelligent discussions to be worthy of company. Someone to, God forbid, gossip with. Her defensive article betrays none of the emotional, and less cerebral,  stirrings that characterise what most of us refer to as ‘true friendship’. We usually don’t have to think so hard about altruism, trust, aspirations or incentives to appreciate the people around us. We just enjoy their company, for who they are, not what they can do or what they have done.  But as a neuroscientist and borne of a man like LKY, you probably would expect otherwise mundane, instinctive perceptions of people to go through the higher brain before ‘hitting it off’ like the rest of us do. Subordinates aside, it’s only natural if you’re a high-profiler to mix and click with people of a similar calibre and background, simply because it’s lonely at the top and these people are all you have. But I can’t speak for the author; she could have a roti prata seller as a key confidant for all I know.

The question of how many of your friends are ‘true’ applies to anyone else in a similar position of prestige and power, whether you’re the daughter of a man renown for striking mortal enemies down or a benevolent king who rules the land and beyond. Perhaps that was the intention of the evil (and quite fearless) ‘fan’ (who just got him/herself filed into the ENEMY basket), not to question Wei Ling’s ability to retain so many ‘friends’ (that’s a given), but whether any of these folks are genuine at all. One may be entertaining fawning syncophants who would benefit from your skills or influence, or people submissive and accommodating to you because of Daddy’s paranoiac, tyrannical shadow looming over like a thunderous dark cloud.  But I suppose that’s up to the good doctor to decide, and being a neuroscientist, I’m certain that in her private capacity she would be able to tell the friends from ‘people who just want something in return’ and ‘people who are nice to you but really just freaking terrified’.

She claims that she has no ‘special power’, but the very act of highlighting someone’s fan-mail and shaming him in the press does stink of a little petty malice. And looking at what her own brother Lee Hsien Yang has done to the TR website despite not being in the business of politics, one can’t help thinking that such crowd-pleasing modesty on the lack of any ‘powers’ as a Lee whatsoever  is a tad too far-fetched to be believable.

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One Response

  1. I find it hard to believe that a ‘princess’ of a ‘royal family’ does not enjoy any power or influence, but that’s just me. We may not have a lese-majeste law, but it exists in some unseen form, the ‘you know-and-I-know-but-we-don’t-talk-about-it’ format.

    And we all know where some former comrades or adversaries of Lee can end up. Personally I would rather be a work associate or a subordinate of that man. At least I just need to suck up real hard and not get exiled.

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