Tag Archives: South Korea

Confucianism and the Drive for Self-Cultivation: Parenting Without Borders, Part 7

[Note: This series started two years ago! I had hoped to finish it last summer, but packing/moving made that a bit more complicated than I thought. I finally finished reading this book this past weekend, so I’m confident that the last several posts in this series will be published in the coming weeks. Thanks for sticking around!]

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own. In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.” In Part 7, we’ll explore what education is like in East Asia.

Early on in this chapter, Gross-Loh explained that Confucianism has a big influence in China and South Korea. In particular, learning isn’t seen as a means to an end, necessarily. Rather, learning is a way to better one’s self through self-cultivation. While my understanding might be somewhat limited to my experience, I don’t know that I’ve met many people through my extensive education in North America where the goal was self-cultivation and not a means to an end (i.e. get the degree and get out). That’s not to say that that’s necessarily a bad way of looking at education, but just to highlight possible differences.

There’s one passage that emphasizes this ideal of self-cultivation. Gross-Loh is visiting an elite boarding school in China. As her trip is wrapping up, she was meeting with some of the people at the school:

On our last day in China, I met with Gao Chen, head of the entire school, with two teachers and interpreters. After our conversation, something happened that really surprised me. Gao Chen asked my advice, my thoughts, on learning, on how to raise children to become successful in life. The moment I began to cobble together a hesitant answer, every person in the room bent her head down to the table and began writing down every word I said. No one, not even the illustrious head of one of the most elite schools in China, was going to let a potential opportunity for learning and self-improvement pass by.

Even these experts in education, at a well-regarded institution, thought that they could still learn something from their humble guests. How wonderful!

Earlier on in the chapter, we learn the importance that East Asian cultures place on learning “skills.” For instance, in the school discussed above, every student must be skilled in Chinese, math, and science. This ideal is shared amongst East Asian cultures, too. The quote that hammers home this idea of the importance of skills:

No one thinks it’s interesting if a calligrapher breaks rules of calligraphy that he has not totally, and utterly, mastered. Once he has mastered the rules, that’s when thinking outside the box is interesting.

There’s certainly merit to that. Sometimes, it takes knowing a topic inside and out before you’re able to see it from a different angle and appreciate that different angle.

As the chapter comes to a close, there’s a discussion about the level of children’s responsibility through adolescence. In North America, children feel a decreasing sense of obligation to “hang out with their family,” whereas in East Asia, this doesn’t happen. In thinking about the two different cultures, there appears to be a logical reason.

North America tends to be “individualistic” and so it’s natural that as children make their way through adolescence, they would stretch the boundaries of the individualistic culture. Similarly, East Asian cultures tend to be “collectivistic,” so you’d expect that there’d be a strong sense of family and community that continues as children mature.

The key difference in the research shows that this hands-off approach in North America might not be what’s best for children still trying to internalize goals and expectations:

Research on American adolescents’ drug and alcohol use shows that teens who are emotionally close to their parents and know they disapprove of substance use are more likely to abstain.

The researcher quoted goes on to note that there’s a dearth of research on what happens to children after early adolescence who’ve had a closer connection with their family.

“I think we could use a little Chinese parenting, and they could use a little American,” she said with a laugh.

Food is Meant to be Enjoyed: Parenting Without Borders, Part 3

It’s been almost five months since I wrote a post in this series. In fact, I looked back at the first three posts in this series and noticed that there was a rather large lag between some of the posts (Intro to Part 1 = 3+ months; Part 1 to Part 2 = ~1 month; Part 2 to Part 3 = ~5 months). I wonder if we can consider this some kind of metaphor for how it can be with parents who try to cross some things off their to do list. Anyway, my hope is that I’ll be able to post a few more parts of this series in the next month and a bit. Let’s have a quick refresher on the first three parts.

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Chapter 3, we’ll take a closer look at the different ways that children around the world eat.


One of the first things that struck me about this chapter was the aspect of neuromarketing. I’ve written about this in the past. From the book:

Food manufacturers spend enormous amounts of money to market their product to even the youngest eaters. The labels are brightly colored and appealing, and the foods are advertised directly to children on TV and the Internet. Supermarkets often put these kid-friendly foods at a child’s eye level so a child will be more likely to take them off the shelves and put them in the grocery cart when a parent’s back is turned.

Somehow, this seems… wrong. I totally understand the idea of free choice, free markets, and all that it encompasses, but is it really in our collective best interest to be pumping our kids full of sugar? More importantly, is it really in our collective best interest to allow an industry to surreptitiously convince our children that the foods they should be eating are found in the dry good aisle, rather than the produce section? Again, I totally understand that some folks are adamant about letting the ‘market’ correct failures, but it seems to me that in certain areas (healthcare being another one), there should be a bit more regulatory oversight.

On that note, I a little while back, I had what I thought was an interesting idea that incorporate some of the principles of Nudge:

The idea: a marketing campaign in which we tell people that, when they get unhealthy, their spouse or their kids will have to pay for it.

Circling back to the chapter, here’s another bit that I found startling:

It’s not just what kids eat, but how much. In the past thirty years, portion sizes have grown astronomically: a cookie today is 700 percent bigger than it was in the 1970s.

Seven hundred percent! That’s incredible. And that reminds me of one of the anecdotes I talked about when I wrote about how I stopped eating dessert:

There’s a story that I remember being told about Kate Hudson. I tried to find it just now, but Hudson recently mentioned something about a story in France that has similar keywords to the search I ran and so I’m not able to find it. It may or may not be true, but let’s just say that it is. When Hudson was young, her mother (Goldie Hawn), taught her an important lesson when it came to dessert: only take one bite. That is, when you’re served a piece of pie or a piece of cake, it’s not necessary to eat the entire piece. Instead, just take one bite of the dessert to “enjoy” the taste of the dessert and let that be it.

Can you imagine a sugar-starved kid only having one bite of their cake and leaving the rest? The stereotypical child that I’m imagining — of course — couldn’t do that, but I wonder if we move back to smaller portions (and smaller plates!) and teach our little ones about the importance of moderation, might this venture be a bit easier?

Before we close out this post, I wanted to share a couple of bits from the chapter about how food socialization of children in other parts of the world. In Japan, for instance, food is part of the education system. In the earlier grades, kids are learning about all the different uses for soybeans and by the time their in middle school, they’re already learning the basics of how to cook. I think most folks know that the school calendar is different in Japan (longer school days and longer school year), which allows for time for other learning. Rather than strictly focusing on academic instruction, Japanese students receive an education fit for the ‘whole’ of the person.

You might also find Sweden’s way of doing things refreshing — kids get to pick what they want to eat. The small catch is, the fridge is stocked with only healthy/good choices. In this way, a child in Sweden will never make the ‘wrong’ choice.

Eating in South Korea is similar to eating in Japan. One of the things I didn’t mention about Japan, but that is very important in South Korea, is that the family eats together. Everyone is eating the same things and there’s a real emphasis on a shared eating experience.

Moving west to France and Italy — food is meant to be enjoyed. A quick example from France:

School lunch in France is a class in itself. Children get one and a half to two hours to eat a leisurely, three-course lunch, followed by a recess. A typical menu for preschoolers in Versailles has children eating sliced radish and corn salad with vinaigrette dressing and black olive garnish, roasted guinea fowl, sautéed Provençal vegetables, and wheat berries, Saint-Paulin cheese, vanilla flan, and wafers.

I suspect that the meal above probably sounds better than what you had for lunch and probably sounds better than what you’re going to be having for dinner tonight.

It’s All About Perspective: The Blind Men and the Elephant

BQxiYHmCAAE9dmQA few days ago, I shared a photo on Facebook that epitomizes what I believe to be one of the hallmarks of life: perspective. I’ve included the photo in today’s post (you can see it there on the right). I can’t tell for sure because I don’t read Korean, but the photo appears to come from advertisement for house for sale (or for rent). In the first frame, we can see what appears to be a lovely shot of the house featuring a nice pool. In the second shot, a different angle of the house where — again — the pool is featured. In the last shot, the big reveal — the pool is not what it appeared to be in the first two frames.

Some may look at the surface-level lesson — someone could have been severely swindled had they not gone to see this place (if they were going to rent/buy). I prefer to look at in a broader sense: it’s all about perspective. Without considering all of these photos together, one would miss the perspective that the pool certainly isn’t anywhere near as large as it appears. There’s certainly a “swindler” streak to these three photos, so let’s at a story that you may or may not have heard before:

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a WALL!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho, what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a SPEAR!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a SNAKE!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he:
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a TREE!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a FAN!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a ROPE!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

That story is iconic of what it’s like to have an opinion. We’re all looking at things from our own perspective and believe that what we’re telling is the truest truth. I wrote about this very thing with regard to watching the news a couple of years ago. Depending on where we get our news, we’ll be listening to a different man who’s describing the elephant. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it’s important that we recognize that we may only be getting one perspective on the news (or elephant).


This is one of the things that I’ve tried to do on this site. Two of the categories I write under: Fresh Perspective and Perspective. When I write posts for one of these two categories, I’m trying to shed light on the story like we get when we look at the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. I’m trying to look at the story from the same perspective we have as the reader of the story. That is, we know that all of the men are right in some way, but that they can’t connect the dots because of where their perspective lies.

To give you a sampling…

Fresh Perspective

Just yesterday, I wrote a post about the plethora of weak characters in movies that are women, but aren’t men. A few weeks ago, a post about having less written tests and more oral tests in education. What about having young people run the country? Or a reexamination of the US and terrorism? Maybe we don’t need to workout at all?


Is there a modern day version of writing yourself a $10,000,000 post-dated check? Does market economics tell us that we need to pay politicians more? Do you know how long the US has been dependent on oil? Do you think that your team made a blunder with that trade? What would the world have looked like without the “I Have A Dream” speech?