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What is NS like? If I had to choose one word to describe it, it'll be 'prison'. Welfare prison, to be exact. Because life isn't that bad and there's still a certain amount of freedom.
(Note: this essay transitions into an extremely different one halfway through. If I was doing this for a paper, I'm sure I'll be penalised for writing out of point. Lol.)
First of all, I would like to make it clear that my intention is neither to rant, so that I feel better, nor to criticise the organisation. I am merely stating my observations, and my personal perspective resulting from them.
Serving NS is like serving a prison sentence in many ways, but the top two noteworthy ones are 'slavery' and 'waiting'.
Slavery - noun \ˈslā-v(ə-)rē\
1: drudgery, toil
2: submission to a dominating influence
Wait - verb \ˈwāt\
1: to stay in a place until an expected event happens, until someone arrives, until it is your turn to do something, etc.
2: to not do something until something else happens
3: to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon
For the guys who don't exactly enjoy being soldiers, I'm expecting them to relate instantaneously. For the females and boys who have been exposed to the media's fun, admirable and humourous depictions of the army through the hugely popular Ah Boys To Men and also Channel 8's 啊兵新传, I'll have to explain a little more.
And here's the point of time where I have to highlight that I do not, in any way, support the notion that NS should be scrapped. There will always be someone who will say something about it. Which will, indefinitely lead to I-don't-know-what-will-happen-but-I'm-certain-that-it-won't-be-anything-good. We absolutely need to have NS because our country needs a defence force just in case some nutcase decides to attack and attempt to conquer our beautiful little island and also to be on stand-by least we join the dark side and become terrorists and start killing one another like a zombie-apocalypse. Prevention is better than cure, right?
Let's talk about slavery. NSFs are at the mercy of higher-ups. Especially regulars (sign-on personel), who seem like they have all the power in the world. Half of them who are, very frankly, incompetent leaders. It's the case of "with great power comes great responsibility", and you know what happens when a country has an evil ruler. I am not kidding! They abuse it. What's worse, is that their power is amplified by a few times more, due to the fact that there are many men under their charge, and it is absolutely not by choice. It's by law. That every Singaporean son has to serve NS. And many end up serving the regulars instead. Like I mentioned earlier, it's not all of them who are like that. There are many kind and benevolent leaders in the army as well, who work with both their brains and hearts. But the problem is when incompetent commanders give out absurd orders which, make life hell for NSFs. And there's not much that can be done about it. Orders are expected to be followed. Or else, punishment ensues. That's what slavery is: 'Submission to a dominating influence'.
The second thing is about motivation. The lack of motivation among NSFs is so common that it becomes accepted as a norm. And that is totally understandable. Motivation can be divided into two types: intrinsic (internal) motivation and extrinsic (external) motivation.
Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself. Well everyone is made differently, and I would say that only a minority are truly passionate about the military. It's like how you can't make a hundred people dance five days a week for two years and expect all of them to like it. But since we need a defence force, let's skip that.
Extrinsic motivation refers to the performance of an activity in order to attain an outcome, whether or not that activity is also intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of the individual. Common extrinsic motivations are rewards (for example money or grades) for showing the desired behavior, and the threat of punishment following misbehavior. What happens when there are no rewards, but only punishment serving as extrinsic motivation? You can immediately see the tilt in balance. That is how NS operates. Lots of punishments, like extras (extra duties), confinement (not allowed to book out), and detention (military prison), but almost no rewards. Yes, there's the thing about 'Best Soldier of the Month', but most of the time, it's just for show. There are many good-natured and hardworking soldiers who never get anything. As for titles and ranks, they're only for those who require external validation. For the NSFs, it is as if they are expected to do ther jobs because 'it's their duty to serve the nation'. Offs (like that in the working society) are always appreciated, but think about it for a while. The reward, is 'to not serve'. How ironic is that!
I'd like to suggest that the army could put some thought into human resource management, because it's not an organisation where 'employees' can just quit if they don't like their working environment or their boss. This is a conscript army, in other words, a civilian army. Not an army-army. So I feel that it should be run differently and the HRM should be better than commercial organisations. Discipline is essential for an army to work, but it should be brought across by 'we need to do this because...' instead of 'follow the rule, or face my wrath'. Just like teaching a child. The more you disallow him/her to do something without providing a justification, the more he/she will be compelled to do it when you are not around. Ask around, do your male friends, after serving NS, pack their room or wash their homes' toilets more enthusiastically? It might jolly well be the other way round for most.
Next up, I'll talk about 'waiting'.
The fuel of life, is passion. Purpose. You can tell the difference between someone who is living for something, and someone who isn't. That boundless energy and enthusiasm, that makes you wonder, "Why is he/she always so positive and happy?" Those are the ones who have mastered their life to a certain extent. In addition, the truth is that everyone was made for a different purpose, born to do some things a little better than others, and success is when you find those gifts and work on them, and then be able to contribute to the society with the mastery you've achieved.
For some of you, reading the previous paragraph might just be like hearing an alien language for the first time. It might have struck a chord in you. Part of you, who has been 'pressure cooked' for decades by societal conditioning, will try to reject it. But the real you, the one deep down inside, the one whom you've muted, abandoned, and forgotten about, will struggle to... expand. That you, who existed in the early stages of your life, when life was magical, and everything was possible.
Where were we? Passion is the fuel of life. And everyone was made for a different purpose.
And because of that, most NSFs are constantly in a 'waiting' state of mind. Especially in BMT. Waiting for RO (routine order. i.e. the end of the day), waiting for bookout every weekend, and of course, the almost sacred three letters: ORD. (Operationally-ready date aka 'graduation' at the end of two years) Honestly I have never experienced the strong emotions of TGIF (thank God it's Friday) until I enlisted. I've never really understood why people loved Friday so much, because I chose the kind of lifestyle I wanted to have (at least in the past 4 years). And no, it doesn't mean being unemployed and spending money on entertainment all day long. Life is more than that. It's about living with purpose, and jumping out of bed enthusiastically because you can't wait to do what you want to do.
Sounds like a fairytale? Well that is what the lives of some of the richest, most successful people on earth are like. And the point to note is that, it's not being rich that leads to that passion, but the passion that leads to them becoming rich. Ah. Interesting, huh? That's why weekends and holidays don't mean much to them - they are having the time of their lives, and rest days exist just so that they can take a break and recharge, so that they can get back to doing what they love to do. That's what life should be about, doing what you love, and making tons of money because you are good at it. How can you ever become good at something you don't like?
That's the problem with society nowadays. People are too lazy to put in the time and effort to work hard and master a skill, and then they choose the easy way out: to do something 'simple' which can bring them the most money, often something which they do not like, and then go to work, but only waiting for the time to come when they can stop doing it, either at the end of the day or week. They design a life they don't like, and then they complain about it. When would be the time that we actually started... living? At the end of our lives? In case you got it mixed up, the term for it is actually 'dying'. How long more are we going to wait for?
You may be thinking, "Kenogi, that all sounds very nice, but I have a family to feed". Or "He won't let me do it". Or "I am not smart enough to do it". Or "I am too old for that". And myriad of other reasons. Or should I say, excuses? Who are you to doubt your own abilities? Why do you want to limit yourself? The only barriers in life are the barriers you create for youself. If you can't do it, it simply means that you haven't found a way to do it yet.
And then you hear a voice go, "Be realistic".
Do you think that the Wright Brothers (inventors of the airplane) were being realistic? Do you think that they were even being logical, at that point of time? When they said that they wanted to fly, everyone thought that they were nuts. Even their father, who was a bishop, who told them that they were going to burn in hell for even suggesting that they could fly. What about the inventor of the car? What about the inventor of the light bulb? They all broke through the barriers of 'being realistic'. Look at what they achieved. Look at what they did for the world.
My job isn't to prove it to you by being successful myself first. That will probably take a few more years, and of course, a huge amount of hard work. My job is to open your eyes, put a spark into your mind, and tell you that, hey, it can be done.
What are you waiting for?
P.S. The number one killer of success is the failure to act.