Friday, June 3, 2016
The Drive to Succeed
An African-American friend/colleague of mine in Bangkok used to meet me for coffee or dinner away from work and we got into some really good conversations. He was at least twenty years older than I was and grew up on the West Coast, in Los Angeles. I remember once walking with him from the skytrain station (Rajdamri) to the school where we worked (AUA), when he asked, "What are race relations like now in Alabama?" I don't care what knowledge and experience you think you have, and what kind of understanding you may think you have come to on topics of the day, there's nothing quite like being in a situation where side-stepping a question is just not an option and bullshitting your way with an answer is not going to get you any respect. As I told my mother once, when I was recounting some of these stories, I really did not become an Alabaman or an American until I lived overseas, certainly not in a deep way. I also did not become really interested in my family's history and genealogy until I lived overseas. I had a slight interest in some of these topics, yes, but certainly not the sense of wonder I have now. And so this American friend, in that situation and in others, through mutual respect, engaging dialogue and sometimes debate, bettered my life those three years I knew him. Likewise, through my questions and curiosity I got to learn more about his culture, life experiences and opinions. This was good for him as well. He told me so. We each had our pet topics. Mine were religion and politics. One of his was the US educational system. He was a teacher in the public school system in Southern California for many years, and had become jaded and disillusioned by the whole experience. A few years after Kade and I had settled back in the USA, I reached out to this friend through e-mail and brought up an issue that always rang true to him - some groups (e.g. Jewish Americans) excel more so than others (e.g. black Americans) in big part due to greater accountability in pushing all to succeed. And for those who don't cut it, social shaming is employed with great efficiency.
Here's the e-mail I sent him:
I remember you said that when you were in school, growing up in LA, a Jewish classmate said aloud to another Jewish classmate, "Stupid Jew," because he did not know the correct answer to a problem. This stuck with you. You came to believe that Jews have much higher expectations of one another. You also said a Jewish friend of yours told you that when a Jewish child is born it's a celebration, and everyone in the community is made aware of the new arrival. And this friend said there's a community belief that the child will grow up to be successful. After living in Thailand for a period of time, I have come to believe that the Thai-Chinese community has this mindset, and it's a big reason they are successful. And perhaps in every culture and nation, certain groups thrive more because they have a high belief in themselves. Take a look at the info I found below:
Two-thirds of all adult American Jews between the ages of 25 and 64 had graduated from colleges or universities, worked as professionals or managers, and lived in households with incomes over $50,000 per year.