Tuesday, January 11, 2011
True Happiness is Success in and of Itself
Like most people I found this article by Amy Chua frustrating: Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
The reason why I found it so frustrating is best summed up by the title of this blog post by Betty Ming Liu: Parents Like Amy Chua are the Reason Why Asian Americans Like Me are in Therapy
Seriously, what is the point of being talented and successful if you're unhappy for the rest of your life? Isn't happiness success in and of itself?
This article by Amy Chua illustrates one point that I make in The Alpha Asian Mindset: as a whole Asian Americans are highly intelligent, driven and talented, and yet we have incredibly low self esteem. We have high skill but low confidence. And a lot of this is due to strict Asian parenting, which stresses academics over emotional and social development
Of course we all know that not all Asian parents are like this Amy Chua. But I can say for myself that my parents were strict and often berated me. My mom actually bought a math book and made me do homework during the summer.
But I understand some of what Chua is trying to say:
"What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up."
I think the Chinese adhere to the 10,000 hour rule, the idea that the more you practice the better you become. Success is directly correlated with effort. If you failed, then you failed because you didn't try hard enough. Talent is not innate. It is cultivated through consistent practice. Any athlete, any musician will tell you this.
The problem that I have with Amy Chua and other strict Asian parents is when they try to shame or humiliate their kids into behaving. You want to build confidence in your children, not destroy it. If you grow up in an environment where you are constantly being judged and deemed "not good enough," then you will internalize that view of yourself long after you've moved out of your parents' house.
On the other hand, I think Amy Chua has a valid point: parents in modern Western society coddle their children. Western parents praise their kids for everything, whether or not the praise is justified. And this has created a society of assholes who feel entitled to everything.
Praise is important, but it has to be constructive praise. You praise effort and hard work. You don't praise a kid for just being there. An excellent book on this subject is Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.