8 Things Lee Kuan Yew Said 52 Years Ago That Still Make Sense Today

You probably know it by now, that Lee Kuan Yew is the man who has seen everything in life. Having taken up the role of Prime Minister at just 35 years old, one would have to have loads of foresight, intellect and stout courage in order to steer a nation forward.

He’s also someone who made powerful statements back then that still make sense today.

We found a speech that Lee Kuan Yew had made 52 years ago, and found it still relevant today. He was speaking at Singapore Insurance Companies Employees’ Union’s 10th anniversary celebrations on 30th October 1965, barely three months after Singapore separated from Malaysia.

(Singapore Insurance Companies Employees Union has since been renamed to Singapore Insurance Employees Union, SIEU.)

1. Organise yourselves in order to have a good life

“I am gratified to find so many of your younger people showing more interest not just in living a good life, but also in making sure that they have a good life to live — and this. I think, is the more important thing.

Everybody wants a good life and everybody wants a happy life; but not everybody knows that unless you organise yourselves whether it be in Insurance Employees’ Unions, in trade unions or in political societies and ensure effective government, there will not be good life for all.”


Whether it’s the government, or the unions or whichever organisation that you’re with. The important thing is to get organised in order to ensure things don’t go awry and that all run smoothly. That way, we can all enjoy a happy life.

2. Read beyond the headlines

“Many of you … and when I was your age, I too never read beyond the headlines and perhaps the centre page and then the sports page — the few things which interested me.”


The millennial in us knows this very well, that nobody has time to read past a two page article nowadays. But reading beyond our interests can go a long way. Think about how it could help if you understood things from a broader perspective.

3. On making the economy thrive

“Whether it is in unions or in athletic associations or in Community Centres and so on, there is a growing understanding that unless there is an overall stability and security to provide the basis upon which the economy can thrive, so that business hums and your work becomes worthwhile, then the whole thing collapses.”


Nothing works well unless there is a stable environment that supports it. Being in a union or an association can help businesses run better, and with strong industrial relations, these businesses can thrive and prosper for the long term.

4. He’s seen the worst of society during and after the Japanese Occupation

“And, I can tell you that in several parts of Asia … things are still very wrong.”


Having lived through the rough years in the 30’s and 40’s, Lee Kuan Yew knew the many societal problems that plagued the region. So even in 1965, those problems persisted. Take a look around you today, are parts of Asia still as problematic as it was over 50 years ago?

5. Make your views felt

“Remember this: make sure that these sound conditions continue for us. Organise yourselves whether it be in your unions, whether it be in athletic clubs. Make your views felt.”


Feel a need to vent? Ranting on Facebook might not help. Instead, organise yourselves into an organization. Better yet, join a union that helps further your cause and get your views heard.

6. Never take a good life for granted

“This is what we always take for granted when things are working well. It is good that you get used to graceful living, but never take it for granted.

Most important, I want to make sure that you have got a stake in this graceful society so that when any man sets out to upset our applecart you will stop him, put him out of the way and never allow union leaders to shout stupid slogans. By all means, more pay; open the company’s accounts; have more bonuses. But if you are going to break the bank, then I say you are a foolish man because in the end, it will end up in unhappiness for all.”


We’ve all been there, spending way too much or made foolish decisions at some point. But progress must be made step by step, and if we can do that, we can prevent unhappiness for all.

7. Remember the people who are doing their jobs

“Finally, you know, whilst you are having a party, there are people who are doing a good job for you and for me: there are people guarding Pasir Panjang Power Station; people guarding your local streets, the Vigilante corps and so on. Patriotic citizens are very necessary.”


Whether it’s the workers on their late night shifts or the police out on their patrols, they are there safeguarding the progress we have built together as a nation. So while we are out partying, let us not forget about them.

8. We can all play a part on the road to prosperity, to the future

“So from insurance salesmen to insurance clerks, to stenographers, to supervisor, to manager, all to survival, to prosperity, to your future.”


See how Lee Kuan Yew’s words still ring true today?


Lee Kuan Yew addressed the union members during the 10th anniversary celebrations of Singapore Insurance Companies Employees’ Union (now known as Singapore Insurance Employees’ Union, or SIEU) 52 years ago. Much of what he had said then is surprisingly still very relevant today, and in fact can even serve as advice.

And the bigger picture is this: every worker can play a part, yes, each and every single one of us.

Bonus! Here’s a rarely-seen photo of him in his younger days.


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