Tiger Mom’s controversial book

I’d not heard of “Tiger Mom” author Amy Chua until yesterday when my curiosity got the better of me. Evidently this lady who understands that controversy sells books first made herself infamous by launching a broadside in the Mommy Wars with a book claiming that Chinese mothers raise more successful children because of cultural tendencies. Now she and her husband are back with a book claiming that certain groups within America are more successful than other because of their values, culture, and beliefs.

I still wasn’t all that excited until I saw the list Chua identifies as the “successful groups”: Jews, Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons. That perked my interest, since I’m in one of those groups–perhaps the only one not defined by race. But what do these groups have in common? Why would my religion belong on the list? Chua identifies three qualities: A superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control, according to nbcnews.com.

Whoa. That’s not exactly a complimentary list. And yet it’s spot on. As I look around at LDS culture I have to admit that, while they’re not the terms I would use, they fit well enough. Of course there is certainly more to it than that; those three qualities don’t really begin to tell the real story of my culture, just like I imagine it doesn’t really describe any of the other cultures described. But to quote Obi Wan Kenobi, all these things “are true, from a certain point of view.”

But it’s the last one that caught my eye the most: impulse control. I’m not sure that’s the right word. I suspect you could also substitute discipline, self-denial, focus, prioritization, or a number of otherwords. But it says to me that though the world mocks my culture for its rigidity and “outdated morality”, not giving in to every indulgence has its advantages. Maybe it is impossible to live up to the standard we feel we should, but perhaps it’s also better to aim for the stars and miss and the aim for a pile of excrement and hit. American culture seems increasingly determined to hit that manure pile.

Of course Chua’s book has called down a firestorm. Many are taking it as trying to paint certain races as superior. The authors (Chua and her husband) claim that is not their intent:

“That certain groups do much better in America than others — as measured by income, occupational status, test scores, and so on — is difficult to talk about. In large part, this is because the topic feels so racially charged,” the authors write in their introduction.

However, they go on to note that “the Triple Package is accessible to anyone. “It’s a set of values and beliefs, habits and practices, that individuals from any background can make a part of their lives or their children’s lives, enabling them to pursue success as they define it.”

I’m willing to take them at their word until I read their book (if I do). The fact that Mormons are on the list supports that theory. We are not a race. We are a culture growing up around a religion. And while a majority of our members in the US are probably white, that is not true of our membership worldwide. Yet many elements of Mormon culture transfer well to other parts of the world. We value strong families. We value education and self-improvement. We encourage community involvement. We encourage thrift and self-reliance, but also helping one another giving one another a hand up.

And yes, there’s the “superiority complex” and “insecurity” elements, which we certainly can take too far. Those words are MSNBC’s, not necessarily the authors’, so I’m interested in what words they choose, and why they apply them.

I’m sure this book is going to stir up lots of trouble. I think it was designed to, really. Large parts of America are obsessed with race, and large parts of America are actively trying to alter the culture. For a book to come along and tell them “Hey, you’re getting it wrong” is not going to make them happy. But if the authors are correct that these attributes do contribute to increased success and can be adopted by anyone, people might do well to pay attention rather than dismiss it out of hand.

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