Would you call yourself kiasu? We Malaysians are certainly no strangers to this term; we encounter kiasu people every day. In the work place, at shopping malls, on the road, and within our education system… “Aiyoh, these people ar, so kiasu wan!” is not a phrase we are unfamiliar with. But have we ever stopped and evaluated if we ourselves are also actively playing part in contributing to our collective kiasu society?
Or maybe we recognize that we are kiasu, but don’t really think of it as much of a problem. Is kiasuism bad? After all, what is so wrong about wanting to be the best at everything? Isn’t that a good thing? It gives us drive, it gives us motivation—it pushes us to our limits, and it stretches our abilities.
True that. However, while drive and motivation are usually positive catalysts for productivity, kiasuism stems from a negative train of thought, and eventually leads to negative consequences in the long run.
Let’s journey back 2000 years and see what Jesus thought about kiasuism. While we may be inclined to attribute kiasuism to people on our side of the globe especially within the last decade, kiasuism has existed for as long as people have existed, and is especially demonstrated by the Jews in Jesus’ time.
When God gave the Israelites the Law in Leviticus, He gave it to them for very justified reasons. He knew their hearts, understood their sinful nature, and therefore presented them with a set of instructions to protect them from themselves and what He knew they were capable of.
If we really analyze each and every Law given to them, they all had very good reasons and were for the people’s ultimate benefit. God instructed the Israelites on how they should or should not live and what they should or should not eat for the sake of their general wellbeing. He took all things into consideration—from their morality and code of conduct to their health and comfort.
However, thanks to kiasuism, the Israelites went above and beyond God’s commands, blew the Law completely out of proportion, and even added their own laws according to what they saw fit. They began to take it so literally and made their faith in God so based on their ability to follow the law to the latter, that obedience to God faded into the background, and recognition and piety became priority.
By the time Jesus began His ministry, the Jews had managed to make a complete mockery of the Law. Instead of being something beneficial to them and their relationship with God, the Law had become an obstacle between the Jews and God—and Jesus was not happy about it.
In fact He condemned their behavior and criticized those who encouraged it. Jesus was so averse toward their obsession with showing what “good” and “religious” Jews they were that He confronted their actions without reserve and told them to do just the opposite.
While the Pharisees would stand in the streets and pray loudly “to be seen by men,” Jesus told the people to hide themselves in a closet when they pray (Matthew 6:5-6). When the Pharisees confronted Jesus and His disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath, Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-28). When His disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest, Jesus told them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant to all” (Mark 9:33-35).
God never has been and never will be interested in performance. He looks at the heart and desires obedience and fellowship—not empty acts of sacrifice or good deeds for the sake of being noticed by fellow man. God expects excellence from His children and asks us to do our best, but only so that He might be glorified and magnified when we place our dependence on Him.
Kiasuism takes root in our own selfish desires to be admired and held in high esteem. We enjoy the feeling of being better than others and draw energy from boasting about our successes. We strive to be the best and to achieve fame and power, and become disillusioned when our efforts fail.
The effects of kiasuism are far reaching. Back in Jesus’ day, the entire Jewish community was robbed of experiencing faith in God the way God meant for it to be, and God had to send Jesus to amend that problem. Today, we see all sorts of issues that arise from a kiasu society.
Children are not able to enjoy childhood for fear that they would fall behind their peers, students literally have no life outside of school and tuition, and working adults have no life outside of work. The joy of living has been sucked out of society, leaving us as a bunch of unfulfilled, frustrated, and restless people who work all the more harder to achieve satisfaction.
We begin to care less and less about other people in our efforts to attain self-improvement, all the while losing ourselves in the process. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:21) and “consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) becomes a foreign concept. This “harmless” mentality that has been ingrained in us and is being implanted in our children is causing much more destruction than we realize.
So ask yourself the question: Am I kiasu? If the honest answer is yes, it is not too late to begin making changes. Live more, laugh more, love more, and life will be so much more worth the while. God did not put us here to compete with each other and to make each other miserable. Instead, He has called us to Himself, to find joy and satisfaction in Him, and to enjoy our communion with our family and friends as we spread His love His Gospel!
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