by Elaine Teo
for the Birthday Book 2018, “The Roads We Take”
What is a spearhead for?
We talk so much about “spearheading”.
What does it mean, to spearhead?
What does it mean, to be a spearhead?
Spears are ancient tools, weapons of hunting, and of war.
They were made of durable material, worthy of their task. Like flint. “Flinty.” Iron. “Iron fisted.” “A will of iron”. Steel. “Steely.”
Our language is rich with connotation.
So why “spearheading”?
And how does this connect to “The Roads We Take”?
Spearheads clear paths.
Through vulnerable flesh and blood. For better or worse. For survival. For conquest. Sometimes they’re necessary. Sometimes they cause great damage. But they work.
Wikipedia informs me (for what that’s worth) that spears are “the most commonly used weapon in history.” I wouldn’t contest that.
Like any tool, any technology that mankind has ever invented, their power is neutral. They are employed to serve their wielder’s will. That choice could be for good or for ill.
Likewise, the poet Robert Frost reminds us in his great poem, “The Road Not Taken”, we, too, all each have the simultaneous freedom-and-responsibility to choose:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The poem reminds us that our choices have consequences, by which we must abide, though they may stretch far into the yet-unfathomed future, subject to influence we cannot possibly know.
How, then, should we choose wisely?
And – how will the wisdom of our choices be gauged? By ourselves, and by history?
Sometimes, we just don’t know.
Sometimes, that’s just not good enough.
Sometimes, we have to choose anyway.
And then, to help us choose, we have to reach for something. Deep inside.
Something, that tells us “this is right.”
How do we know, what is right?
How did our forefathers know?
We’ve all watched the black-and-white clip of Lee Kuan Yew, uncertainty and anguish writ large on his face as he announced our nation’s tumultuous and unwanted birth as an independent life. With the immediate necessity thrust upon it as an infant entity, to summon the will and the way to ensure its own survival, against all odds.
To answer the question posed to a previous cohort of Birthday Book writers: What should we never forget? I say – we must never forget the pioneering spirit of our founding parents.
The women and men who silently and collectively found themselves becoming the spearheads for us.
It takes honing, to become a spearhead.
To make the sharpest, strongest, most enduring spearhead, even that is not enough.
It needs more. It needs the raw material to be subject to great heat, pressure, force.
It also needs the guiding hand of a master, skilled, experienced, with the highest standards, who knows what they are aiming for.
Then can the transformation, from latent potential to greatest utility, be effected.
But the raw material must be able to trust the process.
For the going is tough.
This is why it’s so easy to forget that pioneering spirit of our founding parents.
Because it’s just so easy, in general, nowadays.
Many of us have forgotten what daily hardship feels like.
, to reconstruct as a visceral experience within ourselves – soft and comfortable and prosperous as we are, full of achievements and accolades, global metropolis that we have forged ourselves to be, generation after generation over the years.
Anyone in the luxury of ease will struggle to remember, or even imagine, how hard life used to be.
But why is this important to remember, anyway?
Not just because we owe it to those who spearheaded the ways for us.
But because we need to remember that each and every one of us carries within us the very fact that we are alive. We are the raw material to become spearheads ourselves.
See – we each have our own roads to take.
Whether we want to see it or not. We all do.
Are we each able to face the process of transforming ourselves?
And here’s the rub about becoming spearheads ourselves –
We are both raw material, and guiding hand.
We have to choose, to subject ourselves, to the hard, rewarding, necessary work of self-transformation.
This process is not a one-off, either.
It is a lifelong process. Of self-invention and reinvention, of self-examination and evaluation, of self-determination and forgiveness, of self-challenge and celebration.
We all get to write our own stories. And choose our roads.
It’s high time we started to realise that.
What do you want to fight for?
What do you want to protect as sacred?
What do you need to survive?
What do you need to flourish?
I can offer you a clue.
Your answers to these questions will involve not only you.
It will include the people, the things, the places you love.
And when you ponder this question – “What do I love that much? To want, to need to be a spearhead for?”
You will discover another precious thing along that path, which is –
You’ll discover what’s right.
This brings us back to the first edition of the Birthday Book. I posit that Singapore’s “Next Big Thing” is this.
The collective awakening of our individual spirits, in living honour to the pioneers who spearheaded the ways forward for us to follow in their wake.
A true example of “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Just that in this case, the “imitation” is an imitation of spirit, not deed.
And like any true pioneer can tell you, as they make their own brave, uncertain, daring ways forward, following the clarion pull of their hearts’ deepest desires, their souls’ highest callings, a vision that must by definition include unselfish service of the good of others –
The pioneers will tell you that the true spirit of spearheading, that we would all do well to imitate, is originality.
For every pioneer, every spearhead, is by definition an original. Tracing a new path untrodden by anyone else.
That can be intimidating. And lonely.
Take courage, because this is what will happen when you follow your heart this way, and your vision of the road you must take comes gradually into sharper, brighter focus.
You will find others. Walking the same path as you. Or they will find you. Either way, your roads will converge.
You will not be alone for long. And you will get to taste one of the highest joys known to man. To have truly worthy companions for the journey. As you will be for them in turn.
That’s how a spearhead is made.
How it gains its power.
And how it fulfills its task.
** ** **
Elaine believes in showing up for life in a dizzying array – observer storyteller wordsmith, scientist philosopher musician, teacher life coach mum-of-3, strategist interculturalist entrepreneur, connector orchestrator problem-solver. All she bends to a single purpose: to help as many people as possible live to their full potential. To this end she is working with schools, parents, researchers, businesspeople and policymakers to bring life skills to students and the workforce internationally. She takes life itself as her lab and her inspiration, seeking out excellence, truth, universal goodness, and beauty. (She believes these converge.) She likes things that really work.