(More activity at my main website and on my FaceBook page in the last months, though I will continue blogging about dreamwork and metaphysics here. This is a re-post from my blog at Janetchui.com — go there for the full entry.)
Asians seem to have an extreme and fatalistic relationship with failure. We learn from childhood that failure is catastrophic and shameful. It shows in the student suicide rates in China, Korea, Japan, and Singapore, happening even with children under 12, always spiking around examination periods in the academic calendar.
The didactic stories in “Moral Education” class in my time (I have no doubt they still exist) delighted in underlining how important it was to be a good student and listen to one’s parents and teachers. After all, They Always Know Best[tm]. To fail or to slack off was to let down your parents, who gave you life!, and your entire ancestral line. (Fuck you, Confucius, for making guilt, obligation and conditional love from one’s own parents central to Chinese culture.)
Good little Asian students, brow-beaten into the belief system that exam grades determine their worth, if they managed not to kill themselves, ultimately enter adulthood transferring the measure of their worth to their career.
We were never taught that there is life beyond failing. We weren’t even supposed to be happy with “good enough”. The moral stories were always about persevering until we had outstanding outward success. They were (and still are) reinforced by educators and tiger parents.
I know this fear of failure is universal, whether one grew up with an Asian education or not. But this is my blog entry venturing that most Asian societies are so mired in this anxiety that the bulk of the population can’t see it’s there. They may have even more trouble fathoming why it’s so strong, and ten times more difficulty realising that there’s no changing society until they themselves grapple with failure and their fear of it.
Old moral stories can be too strong sometimes. I like when old stories are rewritten with more nuance and compassion. But some conditioning is so strong, the only stronger power is brutal experience.
Those who go through the dark time of the soul will experience failure in one way or another. Sometimes, over and over again. It requires a form of surrender, a release of other people’s expectations upon you, a rejection of other people’s definitions of success. It asks for unconditional self-love. Without a model to follow (depending on one’s upbringing), this task can be excruciatingly hard.