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t r i b u n e . o n l i n e
the students' voice


The 'Kiasu' Syndrome by Cherie Yang

Picture this. Underwater, a fish sees a worm and snags it, ending up on the hook. The rest is history. Why does it fall into the trap? Is it just a spur of a moment choice?

What my real question is though, is this: do humans need a certain driving force behind them that spurs them to do certain things, or do they have initiative?

Take the NKF charity show, for example. For the past years, prizes have been included in this charity show. The purpose? Undoubtedly, it is to encourage people to make more calls to support the National Kidney Foundation. I have to admit that the purpose is good, but the method is wrong. This indirectly shows that we Singaporeans are greedy, and implies that we give not for the sake of giving, but for the fervent desire to give and get at the same time! Of course, it is undeniably true that there are some kind souls around who are really willing to give their all, but do not hope for anything in return. But can you also deny the fact that some callers are picturing the car of their dreams while hogging the phone lines?

Perhaps it's the 'kiasu' mentality of Singaporeans that is the main problem. The producers of the NKF charity show know that too - that's why they use it to their advantage. The prizes are the bait, and we are the fish. But instead of using such costly methods to encourage the public audience to donate generously, why don't the sponsors donate the money straight to the National Kidney Foundation instead? Why not simply rely on the MCs of the programme, or screenings of touching scenes of the NKF patients to persuade the audience? Everyone has a heart, I'm sure, and there is bound to be a way to move their hearts - not by mercenary means. And now I also wonder - is the true meaning of the National Kidney Foundation Charity Show lost?

Another example of when the 'kiasu' mentality is used to advantage in Singapore is when parents reward their darling children by mercenary means. Yes, it may work most of the time, but the children may grow up to become spoilt brats, or start to work hard for the wrong reasons. Parents may set achievable goals for their children and reward them with their favourite toys or books, but definitely not "bribe" their children to do well with incentives. It not only trains the child to be very money-minded, but the child might also boast of the matter to her classmates. It is a very common practice for children of today to work hard for exams - not to do well and get a sense of achievement and satisfaction, but to get the prize that they are yearning for! I believe that parents should make it very clear to their children that exams are a form of assessment of your standard and level of understanding, and not to take a chance to get higher grades than your friends and boast about it, or to get rewarded. Rewards are bonuses for doing well, and they are meant to spur and encourage you to work harder, but are not the only reasons for trying hard. Would children who have been brought up with that mindset - that work is done for the sake of rewards - attempt a minor assignment as well as they would if they knew that the task was crucial?

Every time a teacher gives out assignments to do, the sentence that is always heard will be "Is this counted in the exams?" If the answer is 'yes', screams or shrieks will be the response, and the classroom will be silent in minutes, everybody working hard at the assignment, attempting to perfect it. If the answer is 'no', sighs of relief are heard in every corner. In a relaxed manner, the pupils sit leisurely and take their time to do the worksheets. In this case, the driving force behind us doing well is the simple word 'exams'!

Does this mean that if the worksheet were not counted in an exam, it wouldn't matter if we flunked it or not? That is the mindset of many people. I admit that I'm guilty of it too. However, it is a wrong way of thinking, and I believe that we should try to correct it. We do not do a worksheet and make sure it's a hundred percent correct just because we know it's counted for an exam - on the contrary, we should work hard at making sure that every worksheet is a hundred percent correct!

I believe that everyone has their separate schools of thought. However, I feel that with regards to this matter, everybody should have an intrinsic driving force, and not wait for something to push them forward. They should not donate generously to charitable organizations in hopes of getting prizes; try do well in exams because they want rewards; or slog hard at a worksheet or assignment because they know it is counted in examinations. These are all symptoms of the much heard and much feared 'kiasu syndrome'. We should do things that we want because we want to, and not because we have to, or we need to.