Is Kiasu Fanning Your Flames of Fear?
The feelings of missing out on something don't last forever
How do you feel about those people you encounter on holiday who secure a sun lounger with their towel first thing in the morning and then take a leisurely breakfast or walk without thinking of their effectively empty claim?
Or what about the panic buyers who hoarded toilet paper and pasta at the start of the pandemic?
Kiasu is a Hokkien word that represents a mindset and resultant behaviour which is self-serving, competitive, and greedy.
Kiasu can be translated as a “fear of missing out” or a “fear of being left behind.” It has been described as FOMO on steroids.
But it paints a picture of everyone being out for themselves. Bulldozing ahead in life to get what they want, irrespective of who is knocked down in the process.
Apparently, kiasu is widespread in Singapore and deeply ingrained in their culture. This article about Singapore’s kiasu culture in the Los Angeles Times quotes an economist as saying:
“People feel like others have to lose in order to win.”
The fear of missing out on something is so profound in Singapore that there is even a company called iQueue, where you can pay someone else to stand in a queue on your behalf. It is not unusual for parents to queue for 12 hours to register their children in a private art class or for extra tuition.
Is kiasu just a frenzied hysteria?
How marketers exploit your fear
The thing is, it’s not just Singaporeans who are sucked into a cycle of competing against their peers. Look around you; many companies use a threat of scarcity to incite a subconscious fear to manipulate you into a purchase.
“Only a few left”
“Get it while stocks last.”
“When they’re gone, they’re gone.”
“Hurry, get it while you can.”
When I bought my house, I was told there had been an unprecedented amount of interest in it and that it would sell fast. Well, of course it sold fast because I was so afraid I was going to miss out and quickly put an offer in.
Is kiasu a tool of capitalism?
Reclaim your brain and beware of the herd mentality
It’s complex, clever, cunning, and manipulative. I understand the visceral disappointment of missing out on something. If we sit with our feelings long enough, we can overcome them.
I believe in community and kindness. Kiasu feels icky to me. Shallow and isolating.
I have experienced a sense of isolation from feeling left behind, all because I didn’t have the right shoes or an up-to-date gadget or missed out on a ticket for a must-see concert. But what I’ve learned is these feelings rarely last. And more to the point, there’s always an alternative option, even if it isn’t the most sought-after.
It must be pretty stressful living life with your elbows out and ready to pull the rug out from under someone else. But it’s not just about the stress. This whole dog-eat-dog culture is grotesque, yet it’s easy to get caught up in it. We can find ourselves running with the stampede with no idea of where we are going and what we are running from.
Reclaim your brain, and don’t allow the marketing collie to nip at your heels. Think for yourself before you join the crowd.
If you forget to lay out your towel to claim the best sun lounger, this could be a blessing in disguise. It may cause you to explore the coastline instead and happen upon mesmerising little nooks and crannies.
Kiasu is all about grabbing what we can to push ourselves up in the world. In the barbed discomfort of the threat of missing out, those under the illusion of kiasu forget to even explore their wants and desires; they follow like sheep without thinking for themselves.
Like everyone else, I ran on my hamster wheel for many years. Always running and never going anywhere. But still too afraid to stop and vocalize the ludicrousness of it all. Are you even missing out or being left behind if your heart and head aren’t invested?
I wonder what the Hokkien term for delight in being left behind is. I watch the circus of life play out around me and feel JOMO (joy of missing out) that I stepped off the hamster wheel.
Have you experienced kiasu? How do you ensure you don’t get sucked into living someone else’s life?
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What an interesting word. What a frightening mindset. I see this play out in the world of work where one persons success is seen as a loss to others. As if the idea that only one person gets to do well and therefore if the person next to me gets it I am less. I see this as a type of opposite to abundance theory. The idea that each of our successes can be build together and that there is an endless amount for all of us.