Last summer while watching the National Spelling Bee finals on ESPN, (Hey, it was on ESPN, so you know I’ll watch.) I noticed some things about the young contestants. They could spell words that I didn’t have a clue that even existed and couldn’t pronounce; much less spell. And, with their proud parents watching, I also noticed that most of the students were probably children of first or second generation immigrants to this country.
I was reminded of that when recently I heard a couple of authors on a talk show discussing their new book, “The Triple Package.” Written by husband and wife Yale Law School professors, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, “The Triple Package” attempts to examine why certain cultural and ethnic groups in America have been more successful than others. The book has already caused controversy, which I’m sure the authors hope will increase book sales. They define success primarily in terms of money and position. (The problem is that success can’t be measured just based on your position or your wealth.) But based on those ideas of success, they determined that certain ethnic groups, like the Chinese (yes, she is Chinese-American) and the Jewish (and yes, he is Jewish-American) are successful, along with other groups, like the Mormons, Indians and Cuban-Americans.
Chua and Rubenfeld found that there were three attributes common to each of these groups that led to their success. That’s why they named the book, “The Triple Package.” First, these groups have a feeling of exceptionalism, that they are a special people. Second is a feeling of insecurity; that they must work harder to make it inorder to avoid failure. The third characteristic they found in the successful groups is impulse control. I suppose we could call it discipline. But, interestingly, the authors note that the success is not long lasting. After about two or three generations, the groups tend to assimilate into our culture and the level of success declines.
I found the three attributes of success more interesting and important, rather than focusing on the ethnic or racial dimensions of the book. Some feelings of exceptionalism, some feelings of insecurity, and a lot of impulse control can lead to success, and not just in terms of money and position.
The early church started out as a small, ragtag group, with their leader crucified by the Roman government. But, three hundred years later, this ragtag group would be the most powerful force in the known world, and even the Roman emperor would be a Christian. The early Christian Church had those three attributes. They felt they were a special people. The apostle Peter told the First Century church that they were “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.” (1 Peter 2:9) But yet they were, in some ways, an insecure people. While they were secure in their faith in God, they lived in a very insecure world of persecution from the Roman government and others around them. Knowing that you can easily end up in prison, or fed to the lions, can make you feel insecure. This made the early Christians invest even more of their lives in their faith and its growth. And they definitely were a people of impulse control, of discipline. They knew that discipline now would lead to better days in the future; if not in this life, then in heaven.
The authors point out that the three attributes highlighted in “The Triple Package” not only lead to success in ethnic groups, but also can in individuals. Believing in yourself (exceptionalism), not taking anything for granted (insecurity), and discipline (impulse control) have been time-tested ideals for success. But it appears our present culture and government is determined to counteract those ideals.
Exceptionalism. If everyone is special, then no one is special. If every kid in school gets an award or medal, then what is the award really worth? And why make the effort to get one? If everyone is going to get the same raise at work, why should I work harder than my co-worker?
Insecurity. Being unsure about the future can motivate one to action and work. But if I know the government is going to take care of me, no matter what; or if I know my family, a friend, or some charitable organization will be there for me, I might not be so motivated.
Impulse control. Our culture screams, “You can have whatever you want, and you can have it now!” So why wait?
The truth is the so-called Triple Package has little to do with ethnic groups or cultures. While there may be certain ethnic groups that emphasize these attributes for a couple of generations, there are individuals from every group you can think of who have had those character traits and have succeeded. And there have been those from those same groups who don’t and have failed. It’s the individual and their choices, not the group they belong to, that make the difference.