Friday, February 14, 2014

Why I Stopped Fidgeting



Well, the long knives are out once again for the “Tiger Mom.”  And this time they mean serious business, as in the slicing and dicing of Amy Chua (a/k/a the “Tiger Mom”) and her co-author husband, Jed Rubenfeld, who have dared to take on some sacred cultural cows in their newest book, The Triple Package -- How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.  Sound provocative?  Apparently, the critics think so.  I have not read either book, but I find the “controversy” surrounding them very interesting indeed. 




Authors Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld - Courtesy of Fadil Berisha, Gianluca Battista
In The Triple Package, the two Yale Law Professors take a look at an array of “successful” cultural groups and try to figure out (1) What qualities contribute to their success; and (2) Are these qualities cross-cultural.  In other words, do all successful cultures have certain characteristics in common? 
 
In an interview with Fox News’ Martha Maccallum, Rubenfeld explained it this way: 
 

“So we looked at these groups and found they were united by a surprising combination of three qualities which actually are open to anyone. Many people not from these groups have them but all these groups have them, and instill them in their kids, and the three qualities are one, a sense of being really exceptional. Each one of these groups tells its kids that they're part of something special, they're exceptional. And you can get that, by the way, not from a group but many other different sources.


The second is almost the opposite, a sense of - we call it insecurity - but it's basically an idea that you're not good enough yet so you're part of something special but you're not good enough yet. You have to prove yourself. You have to have that hunger you have to have that drive. And that third quality we call impulse control, the ability to resist temptation and be disciplined?”

I think Rubenfeld may be just a bit off when he describes the first two qualities as opposites.  I prefer to think of them as complementary.  This is how I would put it.  The best thing you can do for your child to prepare him for life is to make sure he knows that he is exceptional to you and those who love him, but that he will need to prove his worth to the rest of the world.  When little Johnny arrives at the HR Office of a Fortune 500 Company with his Harvard or Yale degree, the reaction is likely to be, “That’s very nice, Mr. Smith.  This degree tells me what you’ve done; now I need to know what you will do for the Company if I hire you.”  Life means having to prove yourself over and over again, and having loved ones in your corner to advise, console and cheer you on may not guarantee a successful life, but it will certainly make it a happier one.

Now, that third quality, “impulse control,” is the one I find most interesting and, indeed, elusive in a society in which children are no longer even expected to sit still in class.  How do you learn anything if you’re running around the room all the time?  Not that I am unsympathetic.  When I was a kid, sitting still went against every fiber in my body, but my parents and teachers still insisted on it. 

If I started to wiggle or wriggle around in my chair at the dinner table or (quelle horreur!!) in public, my Grandmother said, “Stop fidgeting!!”  My Mother snapped, “Stop squirming!!”  And my French Father, who had a creative way with the English language, combined the two and came up with the topper – “Stop squidgeting or I’ll GIVE you a reason to squidget!!”  ‘nough said!

By the time I was seven, my parents decided I had sufficient self control to take me to the opera with them.  I knew that one little squidget could do me in, but I was sooooo excited at the thought of seeing my first opera, that I couldn’t sit still (ooops!!) from excitement.  My Mother made me a special dress for the occasion in blue-green tartan plaid, and the silk taffeta material made the skirt stick out all around me like a ballet tutu.  The Peter Pan collar was edged in white lace and my black velvet Mary Jane’s matched my black velvet handbag with Mother-of-Pearl clasp. 

Finally, the big night arrived, and I got a penultimate lecture about sitting still before we left the house and the final one before entering the theater.  The opera was La Traviata by Verdi, and I sat there so utterly entranced by everything I saw and heard that squidgeting wasn’t even on the agenda.   At intermission, an elegant lady sipping champagne told me what a perfect little angel I was.  My parents beamed.  It was a glorious evening all around, except for poor Violetta, who died of consumption right before the final curtain.  But, hey, that’s opera! 

Today, when I go to the Met Opera and see parents sharing this most beautiful and uplifting cultural experience with their children, I have an overwhelming impulse to hug them and tell them how grateful I am.  These well-dressed, well-behaved, mini-Met goers are the future of opera.   And, some day, they will be dressing their own children in their very best and taking them to their first opera, as my parents did so many years ago. 

Sadly, no snapshots exist of my first night at the opera and that gorgeous tartan taffeta dress, but let me introduce you to some charming young members of the Met audience caught on camera “Last Night at The Met.” 







I can’t think of a better reason to stop squidgeting, can you? 

2 comments:

  1. An interesting debate about the foundations of success. Your example of self-control enabling positive experiences for children is one that I too have experienced. Good manners open doors for people of all ages and will continue to do so. They also show thoughtfulness towards others and enable society to operate successfully.
    As a mother and an educator, I feel that parents who do not instil good manners into their children and help them develop self-discipline as they grow, are being grossly neglectful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I could not have said it better, chère Elizabeth. As a former educator (we used to call ourselves "teachers" in the old days), myself, I always tried to instill those principles in my students, no matter their age.

      Hope you are staying warm. We are experiencing our umpteenth millionth (or so it seems) snow storm. I think I'm going snow blind.

      Warm hugs, M-T

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