A Clashing of Philosophies


What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.

I hate to say it, but it’s true.

Perhaps it’s not true for everyone, because there are people that enjoy a good challenge and people that enjoy discovery and the act of problem solving and research, but for many people this phrase is more than true. I recall there being a talk from one of the staff when I was in high school though I don’t recall the occasion.

If it's not fun, it's because you're not good at it.

And therefore you should work harder to make it fun.

Although this ‘hilariously bad’ article which appeared in the Wall Street Journal is as described, it does hold a grain of truth. And in fact, many grains. In many ways it describes my own experiences all too well, but I feel also a sense of satire.

Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun.

My problem is that I never seem to make it to the ‘excel’ stage, only ever dominating the ‘mediocre’ section. Even assuming I made it to the ‘excel’ stage, my twisted self image means that I doubt any of said ‘praise, admiration’ as simply comments made through sheer politeness and obligation. Instead of building confidence, it builds self-doubt and avoidance of doing an activity that could have been fun.

...my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

It doesn’t seem to have done my brother any ill either, although the dramatic wailing cries of my brother as my parents threw insults of ‘retard’, ‘stupider than a pig’ at him when he was 11 were shocking enough.

My parents have been lenient in many ways that Chua isn’t, because I was never the kid that came home with a 90 mark or had any motivation to practice piano, but I’m also demonstrative of ways in which the Chinese parenting method doesn’t work, and it has somehow returned in my late teens and early twenties to be destructive to my psyche.

For some people their parents’ strict ways have taught them to work hard, have discipline and not to quit, be better, achieve more and not to settle for mediocrity. For me though, it appears to have resulted in good intentions not carried out and an abhorrence to the point I withstand what I must only as long as I must.

How does it make sense that just by growing up in Australia I would be so different? I want to know. Or is it just me?

As I ponder this, in the meantime Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother sounds worth a read and maybe will allow me to internalise something within myself to proceed forward again.