Invitation and Kiasu in Singaporean Society

As I travel the world, I am always looking for the fears that are inhibiting society and the church. Whilst on a visit to Singapore I found the word kiasu. Kiasu (Chinese: 驚輸; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: kiaⁿ-su) is a Hokkien word that literally means ‘fear of losing’ Examples of kiasu behaviour includes accumulating too much food on one’s plate during a buffet lunch in case there is no more food later or joining a queue many days in advance just to ensure that one successfully gets hold of the limited free tickets to events, and promotions. This word is so widely used by Singaporeans and Malaysians that it is incorporated into their English vocabulary (in the form of Singlish and Manglish). It is often used in describing the social attitudes of people, especially about Singaporean society. Its widespread use is often because these attitudes are common: not to lose out in a highly competitive society, to the extent of parents imposing heavy study labour on their children in their wish to make them at the very top of all other students. In fact there are certain weeks in the school year when it seems as if it is the parents who take exams for all things come to a halt so exams are passed. Kiasu is commonly compared to Kiasi (literally, fear of death) and both are commonly used to describe behaviour where Kiasu or Kiasu-ism means to take extreme means to achieve success and Kiasi or Kiasi-ism means to take extreme means to avoid risk. Thus its manifestation in the church is that Christians in Singapore might not invite for fear of losing a friend, fear of losing an argument through not knowing what to say, fear of losing face.  So risk is avoided. After flying in from Canada where they there is an extreme fear of intruding on someone’s personal space, it is fascinating how yet another form of fear of rejection inhibits invitation.