cactus kate wrote a post in response to this one of mine on the article by dr amy chua published by the wall street journal. naturally, kate disagrees with me & i wrote a pretty long comment over at her place. but i've realised i have more to say, and thought it would be better to put it in a post here rather than write another missive over there.
the thrust of kate's post appears to be that dr chua is right and that the message "it's all right if you fail" is a weak one that will inevitably lead to failure. she sees it as a fear based approach, and believes that success can only be measured economically.
the bit of her post that i want to address here is the notion that the message "it's all right if you fail" is a bad one. the chua style of parenting demands success and doesn't accept failure. this is seen as motivational for children. and it seemed to work for dr chua, even when she took it to the extreme.
however, there are downsides to the approach of "you will succeed, no matter what it takes", some of which i wrote about at kate's blog so won't repeat here. but there's another one i didn't mention, which is that this type of approach strongly discourages risk-taking. i've seen it with children who are programmed for success: they will simply not take on activities where there is a strong risk of failure.
this can actually be reduce the chances of a person being successful (using chua's and kate's definition of success, which i still don't agree with, but that would take a whole other post to deal with). i've seen an example of a young child refusing to go into a maths extension class because the problems were difficult and this child didn't want to risk failure. the child preferred to stay in a lower group where success was assured.
and this doesn't only apply to parenting. i've seen it applied in companies that invest heavily in R&D - those that allow their employees to have several failures tend to get the big successes, because those employees are more likely to take a wider range of risks which increased the likelihood of coming across something really spectacular.
the message that it's ok to fail is actually one which liberates the mind and encourages a much wider variety of experiences. not only that, it enriches the mind as we learn from our mistakes and improve our situation. i've found that it has actually improved performance, motivation and the level of happiness. successes are just as sweet and as keenly sought after, and often more easily achieved. in fact, i'd say success is more valued when you've taken a huge personal risk to achieve it.
so i'd rather ensure my kids get the message that it's ok to fail, as long as you put in a solid effort. i know they are better human beings because of it.
on another note, i mentioned in my previous post that we hadn't heard from dr chua's daughters. one has now entered the public arena, and totally supports her mother and her mother's parenting style. make of that what you will. there have some terribly sad stories coming out of this discussion from children who didn't do well in similar situations, and one could also argue that we don't know how successful this young woman might have been had she been brought up with a different style of parenting. on the other hand, here is an obviously intelligent young woman telling us how she feels, and we have to respect that.