Tiger Mom Amy Chua's frightening new recipe for success

Kelly Yang says Amy Chua has it wrong in her new book about success: a sense of superiority and insecurity don't get us very far in life

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:08am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:08am

Amy Chua is at it again, this time with a new book called The Triple Package, which is already racking up criticism for being out of line and "full-blown racist". In her book, co-authored with her husband Jed Rubenfeld, Chua argues that eight groups are superior to others in America. They are: Chinese, Jews, Indians, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles and Mormons. What these groups all have in common is a three-part recipe for success: a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control.

The fact that certain people believe they are superior is a good thing, according to Chua. Such a superiority complex is especially advantageous if it is coupled with deep-seated insecurity.

This logic is disturbing. What Chua says about race - including the claim that African-Americans surrendered their chance of success because the civil rights movement destroyed all feeling of superiority - is simply preposterous.

Her cocktail for success is frightening. Students who feel they are better than everyone else can ruin a class. I've come across many such students in Hong Kong over the years and it always takes a long time to undo the damage.

One of the worst things a parent can tell a child is that he or she should automatically expect to be the best - and, yet, this is something many Asian children are told. Its impact is far-reaching; at best, a superiority complex prevents students from working hard. At worst, it prevents them seeing what's great in other people - a tragedy far worse than a low IQ.

That's because success today is no longer defined by who has the best grades. Rather, it's about doing well after school. The most successful people I know did not get where they are by acting superior. They got there by working well with others, communicating effectively and being liked.

To better understand what it takes for children to do well, I recently read Paul Tough's How Children Succeed. Tough pinpoints key non-cognitive skills which are just as important as brainpower - skills like perseverance, self-control, curiosity, consciousness, grit and self-confidence. As parents, we are critical when it comes to cultivating such self-confidence.

One of the most important lessons from the book is that if we are responsive parents who are available for our kids, we can offset the damage of surrounding stress that we can't control, including poverty.

So, it's surprising to hear Chua saying that insecurity is the key to success. Insecurity runs contrary to grit, the notion put forth by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, that the ability to focus on a task without letting setbacks get in the way is the single best predictor of success. Kids with grit are incredibly secure.

The only thing I agree with Chua on is self-control. This absolutely governs success. Yet, self-control is not only lacking in children; many adults struggle with it, simply because it is so hard to resist temptation - the temptation to perhaps write an incendiary, racist, yet no doubt lucrative, book.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. [email protected]