I resisted writing about this earlier as the correlation was first made not by me, but by a friend of mine.  At that time, she had watched the movie Lorax but I didn’t.

Recently I caught the cartoon on cable TV.  And I still felt strongly about it.  Hence decided to share it here.

My friend was sharing with me how she felt the story reminded her of Singapore society, and how someone did what he felt was good for the society but may not be in fact good for them.

She said the character of Once-ler is kinda  like our Government or ruling party.  He is not evil at heart, and sets out to benefit people with his invention of Thneeds.

But he became so intent on his cause, he turned blind to the harmful effects of cutting down trees at a rate too fast, that it destroyed the environment.  And someone else came along to plant synthetic trees in the town.

My friend and I went on to talk about how people nowadays are always so eager to make announcements of achievements, that they also plant synthetic trees.  We stop planting the real seeds and giving them time to grow into real trees.  Takes too long to see the result.

Take for example the traffic and train congestions. People’s travel patterns that lead to travel peaks are tied to working hours and school hours.  People inevitably bunch around a specific timing.

We should study travel behaviours and try to modify patterns e.g. can we encourage employers to stagger start-work timings. Can we stagger school start-times. Can we experiment with our train system to stagger passenger flow too (like maybe line A only stops at alternate stops).

But today we plant something fast, like slapping higher ERP rates, or expand roads which sometimes hasten the jams cos more traffic now flow into bottlenecks.

Then there’s the baby issue.  It’s quite an impossible situation for women today.  We are expected to be super-women, to hold down jobs that pay enough for the HDB flats, but at the same time have children and have enough energy and time to teach them right values.

We also lack the right childcare support – childcare centres are crowded, they don’t give options when the child falls sick, and even grandparents don’t want to stay home to look after children anymore.  We lack physical space for our children to grow – everywhere’s crowded.

Much of this are rooted in the culture and attitudes of urban living which will take astute social governance and designs to modify. But today, the Govt throws baby bonus at us and when that does not work, more immigrants.

Same for many other policies.  Introduce some solutions quickly and expect a success story by tomorrow.  No wonder people end up planting more and more synthetic trees!  They are the fastest to see.

But who are planting the real seeds?

Many things take a long time to germinate.  For instance, capability building is like planting seeds.  You don’t see the fruits today.  When you go for a training course, unless it’s a technical skill, you don’t get to apply it straight to your work the next day.

Work circumstances need to arise for people to practice and hone a competency. It’s like practicing a particular martial arts stroke, or practice throwing basketball hoops.  They are mundane and “useless” until the moment comes in a real situation, and then your reflexes just come in.

But it takes too long to see the effects.  Companies go out of patience.  Workers go out of patience.

To reap the fruits of capability building, it has to be constantly seeded, watered, and nurtured.  It needs to be subjected to the rigours of the sun, the rain, the wind, before it’ll grow into big strong trees.

The story of Lorax left us a key.  It’s called UNLESS – unless someone cares enough to plant the real seed, nothing will change.

Plant the seed today.  The longer we wait, the longer it’ll take for the real tree to be grown.  And soon, we’ll be surrounded by synthetic trees.  There’ll be no more real trees left.  Just like the town in Lorax.


  1. More cynical people call this “short-term-ism”. (My favourite account is probably Dmitri Orlov’s: http://cluborlov.blogspot.sg/2013/02/monkey-trap-nation.html)

    Critics of modern finance (like Naked Capitalism) talk about this in terms of stock market behaviour (people hold shares on average for seconds! Talk about short-term-ism!), in terms of shareholders’ demands on CEOs, in terms of how CEOs manage firms.

    You guys here at five stars and a moon are really cheerful. I’m glad you are – it’s nice to hang out with cheerful people. (And you’re identifying the same problems as the depressing people – only you’re more positive about it.)

    But you know, whenever I read the serious analyses which involves empirical data, I get depressed.

    Often it feels like choosing to live in the Matrix or not – live a happy deluded Singaporean – or be aware, be depressed, be compelled to act for change (and risk getting hammered down like the proverbial nail that sticks out).

    Don’t change though, I suppose. The internet is big enough for cheerful people and pessimistic people. It’s kind of cool to stumble across people seeing the same problems I do, and being positive about it. :-)

  2. hey eremarf,

    my own view about happiness, is that happiness is not delusional or living in a bubble. it’s confronting brutal truths head-on, and decide what to do with it.

    we can see an ugly fact and turn our heads away with bitterness and complaints, or choose to make changes towards better.

    glad you find 5 Stars worth your while. Pass it on!

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