Raised in the tumult of Japan’s industrial powerhouse, the 11 men and women profiled in A Different Kind of Luxury have all made the transition to sustainable, fulfilling lives. Based on Andy Couturier's popular articles in The Japan Times, this lushly designed volume has a wealth of stories about real people who have created an abundance of time for contemplation, connecting with the natural world, and contributing to their communities. In their success is a lesson for us all: live a life that matters. Read an excerpt of the book here or here. Read a review of the book here, here, or here.

Friday, January 27, 2012

I haven't read "Tiger Mother"- I prefer "richness and great beauty"

Apparently there's a book out called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  But I'm not going to read it.  I know this is a provocative idea to put out in public, but I feel firmly about it, and I hope to persuade you.  

Do either of these people look happy?
What I do know about this book comes from a review I heard on the radio, and from a caption of photograph in the NY Review of Books in which the author refers to herself as  "mean me" while glaring at her daughter practicing the violin.

Apparently in "Tiger Mom" the woman contentiously brags about her daughter performing the violin at Carnegie Hall, and that she is "mean" to her daughter, pushing her to succeed.  The reviewer on NPR doesn't like the methods, but expresses a wistful longing at the results and laments that she (the reviewer) will not be sending out invitations to her friends to see her own  daughter perform at Carnegie hall.  That daughter expressed some laziness of some kind about her violin practice.

The mother of this girl is a professor at Yale, a fact that the NPR reviewer also presents as something wondrous and awe invoking.

To me, this is a lot of "same old, same old."  The question imbedded in the review is, "Is it worth it to make your children suffer, to discipline and punish them, if they achieve 'success'?" After uncounted millions of heart attacks and other stress related-diseases throughout the past century, I often wonder why we are still debating this.  Is acclaim that important?

But maybe I should address why would I presume to criticize a book in public without even reading it?  Here's a quote from my friend Kai's (amazing) blog.  Kai quotes from  "Tools for the Transition to Sustainability" in the book, Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update:
Information is the key to transformation. That does not necessarily mean more information…It means relevant, compelling, select, powerful, timely, accurate information flowing in new ways to new recipients, carrying new content, suggesting new rules and goals. When its information flows are changed, any system will behave differently.
(And by the way, Kai's blog is the perfect example of not "more information" but relevant, select information".)

I know some people feel like they need to listen to Fox News so that they can counter those toxic arguments. I disagree.  You are what you eat.  Do we have to taste mercury regularly to be sure it's poisonous, or to build up our immunity to it?   I feel it's ridiculous to spend the days of my short life drinking in ideas I feel are heinous and destructive.  I want to spend my reading time with poetry and beauty, and if it's information, it should be "relevant and select powerful information" that will help me have a better life, or will help me in my work in, and understanding of the world.  

The article in the Wall Street Journal is titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior."  It shocks and saddens me that we are still mired in such debates.  A Different Kind of Luxury is many things, but one of them is an extended look at the utter destruction of our souls by being over-busy, striving for success in the eyes of "the world", strangers mostly, and of course the destruction of the earth and everything for our future generations along with it.  Carnegie Hall??  Is it really worth that?

I heard this quote once, I don't know who said it. It is about a famous movie director, talking about his reputation after he dies: "It's wonderful to live on in the hearts of your audience, but it's better to live on in your apartment."

Here's really fabulous quote, by Jiddu Krishnamurti.  I found it on a blog called Whiskey River, which is great in itself, and really gives an example of what this quote says. 

"You know, it is good to hide your brilliance under a bushel, to be anonymous, to love what you are doing and not to show off. It is good to be kind without a name. That does not make you famous, it does not cause your photograph to appear in the newspapers. Politicians do not come to your door. You are just a creative human being living anonymously, and in that there is richness and great beauty."- Jiddu Krishnamurti
I will close with a short excerpt from the book. Chapter 9, from the introduction to that chapter:
Koichi Yamashita in his rice fields

            So many wisdom teachings talk about humility.  Yet our daily habit is to admire people with advanced degrees or important positions.  We may even, if we have certain socially-recognized accomplishments ourselves, fall prey to the all-too-human tendency to get proud.  Even if we don't, we tend to think of them as a safety blanket, trying to blunt the edge of our own worries by saying, "I'm established in my field."  In tandem with this, many of us look down on manual labor.  "Anything but!" our psyches seem to cry.  But how much are we letting these assumptions choose our priorities for us?  Is it possible that we are losing something nourishing without even knowing it?  Koichi Yamashita has gone in his life from being a university professor to, as he calls it, "an artist of farming."  He's found a living philosophy, in the true meaning of both of those words, and a feeling of sympathy with the entire life world in that most basic of acts, growing his food.

[later in the chapter]

            When I ask Yamashita about his studies, he tells me that he studied the Upanishads in Sanskrit, can read classical Chinese and published the first book on Japanese grammar in English in India.  With his wife Asha, he published a book of on the culture of Darjeeling and the ancient to the ancient Buddhist kingdom of Sikkim to the north.  It has much of his research on festivals and folk religions, and is also a walking guide to many of the temples and monasteries there.   But I can tell that he doesn't have one shred of attachment to these accomplishments, or any feeling of entitlement about the respect he should get for having these letters after his name.  His voice is exactly the same answering my questions about them as it is when he tells me about raising chickens or the paperwork he has to do at the elementary school where he teaches.


  1. I saw this woman on TV a while back and in my humble opinion she is a lunatic. How someone could treat their child the way she bragged about treating hers is beyond my comprehension. My daughter is a beautiful, talented and well loved young woman and she was not punished one day in her life. She is in film school and just had her screenplay accepted for production, she meditates, she practices buddhism and she will contribute great things to our world one day. Love and compassion win out! BTW, I still reflect on passages in your book when in my studio or thinking about my art work. Such a great book!!!!

  2. Thank you for an excellent post, one which resonated with me significantly -- as a son who was pressured to be "successful" in American society's traditional sense of the word, as a brother who watched a sibling's relationship with his father be destroyed because he was not interested in that kind of success, and now as a father who wants nothing more of his daughter than for her to be a good person and happy in life.

    I cannot understand why we insist on punishing, and ruthlessly squandering the natural creativity of, our children, and it bothers me to hear of people who do so primarily to elevate their own status in life.