Singaporeans are a unique bunch. Just take a look at the morning crowd at the train stations where people rush into trains before letting passengers alight. Just take a look at coffeshop customers reserving “chope” tables with tissue paper packs or even handphones!
Why do they do that? What makes a culture Singaporean? In fact, what defines culture?
Some say Singaporeans are kiasu (scared to lose) and kiasee (scared to die). They always want to get the best bang for their buck, or the most time-saving option. Analysing why a culture does what they do is difficult when you are part of it.
We can separate the issue into two parts: Culture and Worldview. A simple analogy is a tree and its underground roots.The leaves above ground level is likened to culture while the roots below represent worldview. Just as the roots provide nutrients for the plant, worldview produces culture. We can’t change a culture or enforce our own culture on others. That would be outward conformity and not true change.
We have to go deeper – the worldview. The worldview is the real deal where our beliefs and values lie. It’s what shapes our behaviour, leading to a certain culture. You could say our fear of losing out (kiasu) leads Singaporeans to barge their way into trains for a seat or reserving/”chope” a table. That’s our internal worldview is buried past the layers of culture.
What are the implications for engaging another culture with the gospel of Jesus? To understand a culture, we must understand the worldview first. This requires digging with sensitivity and persistence. Once we have hit the “mother lode” of the worldview, we can ask if the world view lines up with Christian values.
Let’s analyse the cultural example of “chopeing” tables. We fear that there will be no empty table after we buy our food. That’s pretty obvious so it’s not that. Maybe it boils down to efficiency to have a table ready. Why do we need to save time? Because the boss only gives us one hour for lunch and if we take too long, I might need to work longer hours. Working overtime is bad, as this means less family time at home. So, we’re ready to take a jab at the worldview (this might be a stretch)!
The reason why people “chope” tables is because they want to spend more time at home with their family. Okay, that’s a very simplistic treatment but it would apply to me at least. Worldview shapes culture.