Here is David Brooks defending the upper middle class American approach to parenting. He declares that Amy Chua sheltered her daughters from the kind of social interactions that teach us how to deal with people in the real world. In Anglo culture, home schooling parents, though usually much less manic than Ms. Chua, have the same question directed at them – are not your children learning to get along with others?
But I thought it was Confucianism, rather than Christianity or Western neopaganism, that stressed ‘harmony’ above all things whatsoever. And I was reading in Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry and Jean Graves, that “American executives averaged 15 points lower than Chinese executives in self-management and relationship management” (p. 242), and “China seems to have a slight advantage here because of the culture in which Chinese execs were raised. If you grow up in a culture where emotional outbursts and careless self-gratification are not only discouraged but are also considered personally shameful, such an upbringing is going to affect the way you manage yourself and others” (p. 244-45). I’m trying to figure this one out. Maybe Ms. Chua’s daughter, in having to put up with her in an atmosphere where emotional responses had to be strictly controlled, endured the equivalent of a ‘sleepover’ or a ‘school cafeteria’ in spades from her own mother, so that social experiences would have been as nothing in comparison. And, Chinese people in China are a different thing from Chinese-American immigrants. We should know now how well young Chinese-Americans are doing in emotional intelligence.
I might add that Confucianism absolutizes both harmony and parental authority, while Christianity favors both, but does not absolutize them. A story my wife likes to quote a lot is “The Barnburner” by William Faulkner. In this story, a 10 year old boy grandly named Colonel Sartorius Snopes is the son of a layabout who periodically indulges a desire to burn barns. C. S. Snopes finally gets to see inside a truly beautiful and harmonious (sorry, Confucianism is on my mind) home, so to stop his father from burning the barn again, he turns his father into the police. To a Confucian, that would be an act of profound disrespect to one’s parents, and would be wrong. In Christianity, honor and obedience to parents are very important, but they are not absolute, and sometimes things happen that supersede them. We Christians are stewards of our children, and we can be concerned about how they represent us; but for us, children ultimately belong to God, not us, and we are merely stewards.
In this vein, by the way, I think that while Western individualism may have indeed gone to excess, one of its roots is found, oddly enough, in some of the hard sayings of Jesus: Matthew 10:34-38. “For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother in law – a man’s enemies will be the enemies of his own household.’ Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more then me is not worthy of me . . .” Here, not modern Western anarchic individualism, certainly, but a note of individual responsibility to God apart and above one’s covenant family, important as that is – is clearly struck. The West today takes that too far; but many cultures in the world need the liberation of this message.
Related: “Op-Ed Columnist: Amy Chua Is a Wimp” by David Brooks at NYTimes.com