Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright…

My friend Pat has a knack for pushing other people’s buttons. There is nothing he enjoys more than throwing a  verbal  firecracker or two into a room full of people– just to see how they’ll react.

Something tells me that Amy Chua is a bit like Pat. The author of  “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is at it again, and this time she teams up with her husband, fellow Yale Professor, Jed Rubenfeld in writing “The Triple Package: How 3 Unlikely Traits Explain Success in America.”

The 3 traits are

1.A sense of exceptionality, the belief that “I am special.”

2.A sense of insecurity; the feeling that you haven’t quite done enough; that you need to do more to prove yourself.

3. A sense of self-discipline; the ability to resist temptation.

The authors are quick to point out that they are not criticizing the alleged shortcomings of any particular ethnic, religious or racial group; instead, they want to emphasize the important and yet too often overlooked connection between culture and success. (An aside: A good number UCC Old Boys have quietly admitted to possessing the first two traits, even though these characteristics seem to contradict one another. How is it that an individual can feel he is both exceptional and inadequate?)

Chua and Rubenfeld point out that Cuban Americans and Mormons, to name just two groups, experience this same sense of paradox. Both see themselves as islands of morality, a chosen people; while at the same time, both groups feel marginalized by mainstream culture. And it is this sense of being the “outsider” that directly contributes to their drive to succeed.

All of us would like our kids to have a healthy sense of self, while possessing tenacity and self-discipline. That being said, I am uneasy when it comes to talking about “group success.” The authors makes it too easy for us to look down on those who currently cling to a low rung on the economic ladder, and the they gloss over other variables that contribute to success. For example, one critic has pointed out that the US government made low interest loans readily available to Cuban immigrants, while making no such program available to any other Latino immigrants. (Take that, Fidel!)

If nothing else, though, Chua and Rubenfeld leave us with some interesting observations:

*  3rd generation Asian American students are no different than other American students in terms of academic performance. This suggests that the “Asian advantage” is cultural rather than biological in origin.

*2nd generation Holocaust survivors grew up under incredible stress, and they turned out to be a remarkably successful group. Chua argues that this stems from a combination of  tremendously high expectations  and enormous impulse control. “These children didn’t want to disturb parents, and they did need to succeed for all the others who never had a chance.”

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