Besides people telling us that we look the same, there's another experience most Asians share in common. It's almost like a rite of passage if I'm honest. You can be playing on the swing set and having the time of your life, but once sixth or seventh grade comes around, you get hit in the face with a Harvard pamphlet and all of your parents' anxiety about your future. There's nothing that worries an Asian parent as much as their child's success which is usually quantified by an ivy-league college and a nice job with a good income.
Honestly, it's perfectly reasonable. Most parents probably love their children and want the best for them. The best in this case just comes in the form of having enough money to buy a house to settle down with a family. One thing my dad told me was, "Money can't buy you happiness, but you need money to be happy." And it's true; I probably wouldn't be happy if I didn't even have enough money to buy a $1.25 cup of instant noodles. I guess what I have a problem with is not the end but the means parents use to get to the end.
Perhaps they find out from their WeChat groups or in little circles at parties where they try to upstage each other by bragging about how accomplished their children are. All I know is that one thing Asian parents do to motivate you is share how successful others are in an attempt to get you to do the same thing. The idea is that if someone else can do it, their children can too.
Most of the time, these little statements sound something like,"Oh my! Ling Ling made it into Harvard!" or, "I can't believe Ling Ling is valedictorian!" Eventually, they change into praises for her numerous accolades before the focus shifts onto you. Approval for Ling Ling turns into remarks like, "Why can't you do that?" or, "If Ling Ling manages to save forty drowning squirrels, you can probably save at least thirty!"
These comparisons are constantly used by parents to encourage improvement in their child. Whether they actually work is up for debate. I just know they always manage to make people feel worse about themselves. What's always implied or has already been said in these seemingly innocuous sentences is that "If Ling Ling accomplished something amazing, there's no excuse for you to not do the same."
And who knows? Maybe some people believe this and use it to inspire themselves. However, I think more often than not, these comparisons hold everyone to some sort of universal standard. They seem to make personal worth based not on who you are but what you earn. And if you get more than someone else, you're better than them. Conversely, if you can't earn that prize or acknowledgment, you are less of a person than they are.
Of course, it's been said many times that everyone is great in some way. But I think it needs to be emphasized again. Everyone is great in some way. Some people are better at different things than others, whether that means being kind or working hard. These comparisons seem to infer that everyone has the same potential to do something. In reality, potential varies depending on the strengths, weaknesses and interest of a person in that specific subject area. Comparing an entire person with all their values, beliefs and traits to another and then judging which person is better based on accomplishment seems pretty unfair.
So while what you win may reflect your character, oftentimes, traits more valuable than a material achievement get overlooked. People only seem to recognize if you're brave, kind or caring after the fact that you've earned something. As Asians, I think some of us have come to view success as the criteria to evaluate how good a person is. At the least, success now has a connotation with personal value.
Though we can still make comparisons if we really want to, we should stop associating the awards we get with the worthiness of an individual. Instead, we can still acknowledge that some people may be better at one thing, but that doesn't mean they're a better person. It means that while someone has strengths in one area, there are people who have strengths in other places that make them just as awesome.
And equating success with greatness has a ripple effect that makes children feel bad in many other different ways. For one thing, it makes everyone want to achieve the same goals, careers and life path. The way an Asian community idolizes an orthodontist makes children think that if they want to be something different, they won't be accepted or good enough. Monotony is now a norm that is easily accomplished by making children think that the most important thing in life is a trophy.
It also makes everything a competition. When parents constantly emphasize how good someone else is, it can be hard not to feel like they would rather have that person as a child. It can be hard not to think that they appreciate you less than another person. The motivation behind achievement is so that your parents will love you as much as Ling Ling instead of any reasons for personal growth or interest in the subject. It makes what's supposed to be a simple hobby into a ground for competition. And when you're constantly being told there are people better than you, enjoying what you do can be extremely difficult.
Lastly, it makes people scared of failure. When accomplishing less than someone makes you less of a person, it means you cannot screw up. After all, failure is the antonym of success, and success is good. It's not an opportunity you can grow from and embrace but something to be avoided at all costs. Making failure the ultimate taboo means that when we do encounter the inevitable, we feel worse about ourselves. Instead of learning from our mistakes, we put it quickly behind us or punish ourselves for it. It goes the other way too. Idolizing a seemingly perfect person makes them feel shame or disgrace when they don't succeed.
All of these comparisons are what make children's self-esteem so low. It's what makes them want to strive to be another person instead of focusing on accepting themselves. Instead of motivating someone, they can present a disincentive to children who have lost the will to try or are committed to something they hate. Even though many parents compare their children to others out of love so they can improve, it's often a counterintuitive measure that gives children the impression that they're not good enough. And the times they prove effective are at the cost of a person's happiness and belief in themselves.
So what's a solution to this growing problem? To be honest, I don't know. I just like complaining about things without suggesting a result. I'm no expert on parenting or encouraging people. However, let's just find a way to compare people without making them feel bad or stop doing it already.
After all, we already compare ourselves to others too much; we don't need another person helping out.