The USA and Singapore share a love for democracy, prosperity, and freedom. While there are differences – the size of the country, population and weather come to mind – nothing stands out to me more than its view on languages. In the US, the language is English. Spanish is increasingly viewed as a second language, however many find the subject a difficult one. Culture and identify are wrapped up in their embrace of the language. A sense of defeat is found with adopting a second language. While others would add one or more languages to the official list, the traditionalists defends English as the glue that binds a melting pot together.
Singapore takes a very different view. Officially, four languages are part of its national culture. English, Chinese (Mandarin), Tamil, and Malay are an integral part of everyday life. The business and first language is English. I would observe that there is a fifth language, Singlish. Singaporean do not seem to worry about the language someone uses. They are concerned about what someone communicates. Forms of criticisms – about religion, people, communities, and government are carefully observed. When one crosses the line, the response occurs on many levels. This is a country that believes good news is helpful, church leaders should be careful, and life is about everyone moving forward. Respect and diversity are foundations to what make this society work.
As I travel between both, it seems that the differing views on language are metaphors for how one looks ad diversity. Singapore sees diversity as its strength. For many Americans, diversity is suspect.
I wonder how one should wrestle with the diversity question. A writer left us with an observation; “God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12.4) Some see different languages, religions, and cultures as something to be feared. My experience reminds me that strength is found in diversity, especially when combined with respect and a sense of more.
My appreciation for differing cultures, languages, and food continues to grow. Today will be an opportunity to experience more.