This post was originally a reply to LIFT's "Avinology and NS in Singapore: What did you learn?" It exceeded the 4,096 characters limit of Blogger, so I'm posting my reply below.
I didn't go through NS but observed during my university days the effects NS has on the young Singapore-citizen male undergraduates of my cohort. There is a lost of idealism, passion, increase in self-presevation, etc.
I had a similar rite of passage through my nursing training and work in Singapore. I shall share 2 examples here.1. Rationalization of workplace bullying
2. 自扫门前雪 [Sweep one's own doorway of snow]
I received similar advice (more than once), as you did, when I was a relatively new nurse in Singapore. To paraphrase your advisor, "Listen, the hospital is not like in school, we could get a patient who is really sick, and I have to give orders to get things done quickly, or the patient may possibly die. These new nurses are so green, they don't take seriously consequence of their actions and delays - maybe they're so pampered at home that they don't know what it is like to have to take orders. So our job is to break down their egos, teach them how to function as a unit, within a team, so sometimes, yes this kind of technique which you call 'bullying' is necessary - but it's not bullying really" and ending with "it weeds out the weak".
Yes, such "army-style" attitude exists amongst some old-style nurses from the historic "School of Nursing" and is also common amongst those foreign trained nurses who received the same shit in their own homeland. Ever heard of "nurses eat their young"? Yes, that's nursing in Singapore, and I know that I'm not the only one who experienced such bullshit. [Click here for a blog entry by another nurse who had left Singapore for Australia.]
To Singaporeans reading this, think hard about the effect this has on your hospital treatment. How would you like to be the patient involved in a medication error where the system is not improved to prevent future errors because real culprit escapes corrective action through bullying another nurse to be the scapegoat? [Click here and here for examples.] It happens more often than you think, it's just that we (new nurses) have learned to suck it up and move on.
While in nursing school, I experienced your example of "You and I never had this conversation, is that clear?" too.
One day, my main nursing lecturer J called me to her office to discuss something serious. One of my subject lecturer R was accused by an anonymous student of being bias in his selection of students for an overseas nursing trip, and using the school-funded trip as a Christian missionary trip. It was made known to J that I may be the student who lodged the anonymous complaint to the school's administration. J asked me some questions, to which I answered honestly: no, I do not know anything about the complaint prior to J telling me about it; yes, I did ask R to join the trip; yes, I know that I was not selected; yes, I know some of my classmates were selected (
mostly all Christians, except for 1 Muslim guy); no, I didn't care if I was selected (I didn't mention it but I had since signed new IT contract work with my clients then, so I had my hands full during the school break). At the end of our session, J advised me, "You and I never had this conversation, is that clear? I don't see, hear, or know anything. You don't see, hear, or know anything either, okay? If I were you, I wouldn't say a word to anyone."
Stupid me was naive and didn't want to see others get into trouble. So I told TT, who was one of my Christian classmates selected for the overseas trip, in confidence about the matter. I ended our conversation with, "Look, R is a good guy. Don't get him into trouble."
Hey, I used to work in IT and I consider most of my colleagues good guys. In fact, I even praised my colleagues in front of their respective partners that their husbands/fiances/boyfriends were good guys or great colleagues. Such is the trust and rapport between us that occasionally when my colleagues were too absorbed in their work to answer their partners' call, their partners would call me to help them check what's up with my colleagues.
Subsequently, it was announced that R would be removed as our subject lecturer at the end of the semester and transferred to teach other students. He would replaced by another (humorous) lecturer. My classmates didn't want to lose R who gave tips before tests. Thus they cajoled me (as one of the known outspoken students in the class) to speak up on their behalf for retaining R as our subject lecturer when the Course Manager was scheduled to meet the class. Frankly, I didn't care either way, but thought it would be good to help my classmates voice their preferences, and so I did.
2 years down the road just before I migrated, I returned to the nursing school to visit my supportive lecturer J once more. J told me in confidence that there was a rumour that I was in love with R and that's why he was removed as our subject lecturer. I replied, "Could there have been a mistaken identity? Are you sure that the student in the rumour was me?" several times, and she replied in affirmative that I was the protagonist in the rumour. I was thinking, "WTF!" So much for being an open, honest and helpful person. So much for "good" Christians not spreading lies too. Yes, I have since learnt to "sweep my own doorway of snow" ［自扫门前雪］.
Coincidentally, as J spoke to me while we were walking to a school canteen, R and the humorous replacement lecturer were walking towards us along the same corridor. We exchanged banal pleasantries when our paths crossed, all while my mind was still flummoxed by being the star of a 2 year-old rumour. Yes, I am a good actress.
Sorry I digress... but nursing in Singapore opened my eyes to the ugly side of human nature of some in the "caring" profession. Army is supposedly a "kill your enemy" profession (whether conscripted or sign-on), so I don't expect people inside to be any different or better.
p.s. Yes, I also learned about avoiding the tall poppy syndrome from my Singapore nursing experience. In fact, I was so good at pretending that my English was poor that my nursing colleagues were surprised by my IELTS result.
p.p.s. As for pleasing people and saying what they want to hear, I learnt that in my first career -- I was in the banking and financial services sector too. That said, if you read my blog, you'd know that I am selective about who I please. E.g. I couldn't care less about paper tigers like ADON G, but I sure gave 101% face to my DON and the other ADON S!