Tiger Mom, Why Not Raise a Little Mensch?

My Alternative to Amy Chua's Tips for Success

Tiger Mom: Amy Chua offers some insights as to why some cultural groups, like Jews, succeed while others don’t.
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Tiger Mom: Amy Chua offers some insights as to why some cultural groups, like Jews, succeed while others don’t.

By Elissa Strauss

Published February 11, 2014, issue of February 21, 2014.
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The success of Jews has long been framed as a riddle to solve. Was it all that studying? The centuries of involvement in the money-lending business? Or maybe, the most controversial theory of them all, it’s genetic? The Chinese, for one, think our recipe for money-making lies in the Talmud.

The latest attempt to crack our code comes from Amy Chua, you probably know her as the Tiger Mom, and her husband and fellow Yale law professor, Jed Rubenfeld. In their new book, “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America,” they argue that Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban Exiles, Mormons and, yep, Jews do better at school and make more money because they all impart on their children feelings of superiority, insecurity and impulse control.

The sour, and potentially toxic, whiff of racial exceptionalism aside, there is something unsettling about this recipe. And kind of un-Jewish too. So I came up with an alternative.

On the pages of the New York Times Sunday Review, Chua and Rubenfeld warned of the potential pitfalls of their triple package. Too much impulse control can “undercut the ability to experience beauty, tranquility and spontaneous joy,” too much insecurity and you always feel bad about yourself, and too much superiority, and you become a supremacist.

They also own up to the fact that even when the triple package performs, it can still be imprisoning, “precisely because of the kind of success it tends to promote.” It is achievement built of material rewards and prestige rather than fulfillment and a sense of purpose.

And then they quickly move on, going back to the importance of imparting upon our young ones the importance of perseverance and grit so that they can bring themselves, and America, prosperity and power. So much for the beauty and joy.

Chua and Rubenfeld’s call to arms is a departure from the much larger conversation going on over the past few years about work/life balance and how old notions of success have begun to ring hollow. Even the very successful, very ambitious media guru Arianna Huffington has jumped on board and started something called “The Third Metric” which aims to redefine success “beyond money and power, to include well-being, wisdom, wonder, compassion and giving.”

Inspired by Huffington I’d like to propose another measure, one that can serve as an alternative to the “Triple Package.” I’m calling it the Mensch Metric and it’s how I want to raise my kids and think you should raise yours. Because while it’s possible that Chua and Rubenfeld have discovered the formula that made certain groups reach great heights in the past, that doesn’t necessarily make it an ideal blueprint for your kids or mine.


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