General

A one-issue community

John Naisbitt is probably amongst the first pioneers if not the first in social forecasting and trend analyses. He published his Megatrends nearly 20 years ago. Much of what he said therein had become facts while the rest can hardly be disputed. Little wonder why he has been a much sought after speaker at international conferences and adviser to many multi-national corporations. Naisbitt carried out extensive content analyses of news reports from different sources on the same community over time and concluded that a community, similar to an individual, can handle only so many concerns at one time.

His theory has certainly been proved right once more in the past few weeks when the media, both local and international, gave blanket coverage to only two issues, first the war in Iraq and second the severe acute respiratory syndrome disease (SARS), not necessarily in that order, depending on the particular media and the time of reporting. Then Baghdad fell; and SARS took the center stage. Today, it has become the single most important issue for the entire community of Hong Kong.

Looking back, Hong Kong has often, if not always, been a one-issue community. In the late Forties and early Fifties, it was immigration: people were fleeing the Mainland for political and economic reasons. Many of my peers or their parents came here this time. In the Fifties, it was housing for the squatters, which was made very acute after the many squatter fires and which resulted in a new housing policy willed by a passionate and visionary colonial governor, much hailed at first, but which has today developed into a major problem for both the Government and the community. In the Sixties, it was first more immigration and later the riots, homemade bombs and large-scale street violence which some said were spillovers of the Cultural Revolution in the Mainland. In the Seventies, it was the oil crisis and the economic uncertainties. In the Eighties, it was first the Boat People and then the Sino-British talks and June 4th incident which saw mass emigration and loss of confidence on a grand scale. In the Nineties, it was the drafting of the Basic Law, political reforms and 1997 itself.

At many points in these years and every time there was a crisis, Hong Kong was written off by the international community. Hong Kong had died many times. Interestingly, Hong Kong has always bounced back, learnt from the past and become stronger and more resilient.

It is worth noting that none of these crises in the past half century could be said to be self-inflicted or caused by the people of Hong Kong. History would show that Hong Kong had weathered past crises through sheer hard work, single-minded determination to succeed, creativity, calculated risk taking, and most important of all, through a willingness and readiness to put aside individual differences and to work as a team and a community. Very seldom had we received assistance from the international community, if at all, though we have been sufficiently gracious to thank all our friends for the quiet support while we were battling through the storms.

Then came 1997, and we seemed to have changed. Hong Kong has since been grappling with the economic fallouts from the Asian financial crises while muddling through the hopes, fears and expectation of a community learning to manage its own affairs. It isn’t easy, but then nothing easy would be worth the efforts. Let me pause here and go back to a conclusion of John Naisbitt in Megatrends. He said, “The most reliable way to anticipate the future is by understanding the present.” It is never too late to study the present, as long as one starts.

So here we are today in another crisis. We hear bad news every day, and it gets from bad to worse, with promises that the worst might yet to come. The media appear intent on reporting deaths and bad news, on grounds that the people have the right to know. Really? One asks whether the media have the right or the access to report tactical errors in the Iraqi War or troop deployment before and during the operation. One asks how many civilians were killed or wounded and how many non-military installations were hit. One asks how news was gathered or promulgated shortly after 9-11. One never gets the full answers, but nobody seems too bothered.

It is never wise or politically correct to confront the media, for they are in control of weapons that one is not, weapons as powerful as and potentially more lethal than what an average government may possess. On the international front, it is gratifying that we have many serious and dedicated journalists who understand what they are doing. They work with multinational media and observe best practices and a code of behaviour, and they have common sense. If only our local brigade would follow suit. One asks whether they are stakeholders of Hong Kong. One asks whether some of them still regard Hong Kong as borrowed place in borrowed time. Lest I am misunderstood, I hasten to affirm that I am all for openness and good governance. I am saying that there is scope for the media to be more restrained and to scoff sensational reporting. At least, they should seek to provide a more balanced view.

It is therefore rather refreshing when out of the blue last week we had at least two new groups formed spontaneously seeking to change the mood of the community and their mindset, namely Operation Unite and Fearbusters. Both are not funded or instigated by governments and are quick to declare their independence from any political affliation.

Operation Unite bills itself as a multi-sector, action-oriented campaign to draw the community together to fight against the challenges posed by atypical pneumonia or SARS. They launched their campaign over the Easter weekend, aided by all six electronic media. It was one of the rare times I listened to the radio past 1a.m. I heard Rosanna Wong chatting to Stephen Chan by another name, who in turn got very excited when programme hosts from other stations called in to register their support.

And we heard how Rosanna would compose and collect herself in the heat of the night through prayers, through bible reading and through silence; we heard about her vision and commitment to public service; we heard stories of heroic deeds of the doctors, nurses, paramedics and volunteers who have been working tirelessly and selflessly caring for the patients; we heard that Oxfam was planning a charity walk to raise funds for SARS patients; and we heard what other groups are doing, including one calling for Sustainable Action for Rejuvenation of Society (SARS)

Turning to the Fearbusters, this is a civic effort in response to the SARS outbreak and to encourage individuals and organizations to work to their strengths i.e. do what they are good at; and to help them network within their own sector and across sectors so that experiences and best practices can be shared widely at minimum cost.

Fearbusters seek to prepare for a safer and healthier life in Hong Kong, to rebuild trust and reliance in our everyday activities, to galvanize Hong Kong’s civic energies by sharing experiences and best practices, to live and celebrate life and to get ready to welcome visitors again. Their next event is a Fearbusters Workshop to be held next Saturday, 26 April 2003 at the Atrium Room, 39/F of Island Shangri-La in Pacific Place. Call me if you are interested.

On a more personal note, Rosita started a new course of chemotherapy last week, using a drug the body had not encountered before. So far so good. If all goes well, i.e., if the body in particular the renal functions hold up, the course would last for 18 weeks, which would be the minimum period we would stay in Hong Kong to minimize infection. In any case, it is not a popular proposition to travel these days.

Retirement seems to be a full time job so far. There has never been a quiet moment. I wish you well and I wish you had a Happy Easter. Talk to you again soon.

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