• August 23, 2019
  • Blog

How we lost to KIASUism


“I just don’t get her. All I want is for her to have a happy life!” a mom was sobbing to her therapist. I was searching for a video to use in a Chinese parenting workshop and this one leapt out at me.


Ironically, the mom was screaming and yelling at her daughter five minutes earlier, forcing her to do extra math questions— and that is on top of the school’s already hideous amount of homework. You might think the mom was just worrying for her only daughter’s performance in school, but that girl is already one of the top ten students in her class and top fifty of her grade (out of over one thousand students)!


I don’t speak Hokkien, but the word “Kiasu” appears so frequently in our society that it is hard to ignore.



Kia” = afraid, “su” =lose.


And this word is what I would use to describe the mother in that video. Being kiasu has made people do many funny things out of fear: parents sign their kids up for five enrichment classes, because some friend signed their children up for three; we buy things we can’t afford, just so we can look better than others around us; and you probably have heard stories of some people joining in a queue without having a clue of what it’s for, then discovering that it’s just a line for the toilet— simply because we are scared of missing out on something that might be good. 


Now, I am not saying that it is wrong to strive for better; in fact, it is good to be motivated. A study has shown that the right amount of pressure does help with performance in daily lives. But the Kiasu spirit has become a fear that people carry with them constantly. And when the brain is constantly feeling fear, it loses its ability to appreciate things and sense happiness, and this eventually leads to anxiety, stress, and even depression…


One of the most mentioned words in our training programmes, is “calm”. It is also perhaps the one deemed “most challenging” by many parents; how to stay calm when children are not behaving as instructed; how to stay calm when your spouse doesn’t understand you; how to stay calm while trying to balance family and work day by day? The book of Matthew in the Bible talks about how God provides even for the sparrows and the little creatures, and how no amount of worrying can add a single hour to our lives. So let’s try to take a deep breath, put the troubling thoughts aside, and focus on the calm. I hope this little quote can also help you as it has helped me—


“Freedom from desire leads to inner peace.”

— Lao Tse



Wish Zhang
Executive, Training, Family Wellness Division


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