Kiasu: To Be or Not To Be

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Kiasu: To Be or Not To Be

Kiasu: To Be or Not To Be

How has ‘kiasuism’ influenced Christians and can we overcome the ‘kiasu’ syndrome? Pastor Bernadette Loh discusses this topic from a pastoral perspective.

How has the ‘kiasu’ attitude impacted Christian living?
To determine if the kiasu attitude or ‘kiasuism’ has influenced Christian and godly living, let us first consider how this attitude has seeped into daily lives.

The term kiasu’, translating directly from Chinese dialect to mean the fear of losing out, has become well-known (or infamous) and widely used. When the iconic local comic character, Mr Kiasu, popularized the concept in the ‘90s, we used the term to describe ungracious behavior and excessive competitiveness. These include calculating and self-centered attitudes that show up in queue-jumping, hoarding and scurrying for freebies.

Besides the brusque behavior that is often criticized as a social malaise, kiasuism has also shown up in corporate and educational settings. The fear of losing out on promotions and performance bonuses propagates a kiasu behavior at work. Hence, rather than promoting interdependence that contribute to team success, self-centered and kiasu actions have surfaced. It is not uncommon to encounter those who resort to insensitive backstabbing to garner favor from bosses. Furthermore, instead of sharing information, kiasuism withholds knowledge for selfish ends. Such practices disrupt collaborative teamwork and generate division.

The rise of student enrolment in educational agencies also highlights, to some extent, the growing kiasu attitudes of parents toward the demand for exceptional academic grades. It is likely that the fear of losing out on a good academic future has led to the emphases on grades and admission to elite schools. High parental expectations and competitive attitudes inculcated in children can lead to self-centered behaviors that generate unwarranted rivalry and affect friendships. Additionally, some children may also find difficulty keeping up with such high expectations and experience major challenges to study, play and even socialize. Consequently, kiasuism impacts lives in adverse ways and spoils relations.

Interestingly, being kiasu has also taken on a neutral-to-positive meaning to justify the desire to cover all bases, doing everything necessary to be sure of success and safety. I have had conversations with believers who are convinced they need to be a little kiasu to ensure their gears turn continually so that they do not lag behind!

How should Christians overcome the kiasu attitude in our daily lives?
The kiasu attitude sheds light on a person’s basic outlook in life and reflects a dissatisfaction of desire. To overcome this attitude, we shall consider three basic truths for application in our lives.

Firstly, our identity is found in God alone.
Knowing our identity in God is a vital part of living the life He has set ahead for us. We were created to reflect the glory of God. God’s aim in creating and governing the world is so that He will be glorified. We are defined by God, who has set His seal of ownership on us and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit. (2 Corinthians 1:22) As we are now identified with Christ, we have the Holy Spirit working within us to enable us to align our lives with God’s eternal goal.

If the main goal in seeking an identity outside of Christ is to bring glory to ourselves, we soon realize that it is futile to find lasting fulfillment apart from Christ. Neither would the approval of others or achieving success satisfy us completely and perpetually. However, when we seek to find our identity in Christ alone, our desires are channeled toward setting our minds on things above and not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:2) Our identity and confidence, rightly placed in the Kingdom of God, enables us to overcome the lure of worldly success, not be bitterly crushed when others do better than us, and triumph over the fear of not being in first place.

Secondly, our needs are met in God alone.
Our security as children of God is derived from the confidence that through Christ, we have direct access to our Heavenly Father. God is sovereign over every moment of our life and we can trust that He will provide us with everything else that we need in this life according to His will. Christians ought to guard their hearts against the desire to make comparisons with others, so as not to fall prey to the envy and dissatisfaction that fuels the kiasu behavior.

In Philippians 4:6, the Apostle Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Afterward, he shares the uplifting promise that: “My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

When we model ourselves on Paul in his attitude of complete trust and confidence in the Lord, we are liberated from the endless craving to compare possessions, status and achievements. We live by faith in the promise that God will supply our every need. More importantly, the understanding of God’s faithful provision will yield greater contentment as we learn to relinquish control and the desire to determine the results of our endeavors.

Christians can make a big difference when it comes to our relationship with the Lord. Instead of craving for what others have in life, we can lead others to desire what we have in Christ alone. Our lives lived faithfully in Christ has the potential to invite others to desire the same freedom from the emptiness of continuous striving and pursuit.

The final point is to let our actions be motivated by love.
Of the many important instructions Jesus gave, the two greatest commandments given were: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself’.” (Matthew 22:37-38)

Jesus says everything else hangs on these commands of love. However, try as we may, we realize that the commandments display our human inadequacies to love completely. Of ourselves, we are unable to fulfill the commandments entirely since our love is usually conditional and based upon how other people behave toward us. This realization ultimately compels us to consider what God has done for us out of His love.

Divine love is the motive in which God sent His Son to the saving and transforming work that sets us free to live a life of faith and love. Love opens our heart to God and enables the Holy Spirit to renew us. When we love God, we learn to look away from ourselves and focus on Him. Our love for God helps us lay our self-centered ways aside, and focus on God’s will and how He wants us to relate to other people. Expressing this love through our life means that love must be the underlying motive for every word and action in our life. Practically, this means that we act in ways that draw people to God with the hope that they will seek God and be reconciled to Him.

As we persevere in living according to the daily instruction of the Holy Spirit within us, He enables us to take on God’s character. In accordance with God’s character, we shall seek to consider the needs of others rather than to compete, and to practice generosity rather than to hoard. May the Lord fulfill in us Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 16:14 to: “Do everything in love.”

About Pastor Bernadette Loh:

Pastor Bernadette Loh is the Senior Pastor of The Harvest Force.

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