On the Monday after the county fair, I went to the fairgrounds to help exhibitors check out their artwork. As I reflected on the nostalgia of the art show where 7,500 attended, I was met with the lovely sight of six children, presumably on a treasure hunt. I was both impressed and amused when three-year-old Kiersly told me that she and her siblings were just having a good time picking up trash.
My friends like to tease me for having a Chinese proverb for every move we make, and one certainly came to mind on this occasion – san sui ding ba shi (三岁定八十). This proverb speaks of the positive influence we can have on impressionable three-year-olds, so much so that we can help lay the foundation of their lives for the next 80 years. By the choice of these children in getting up at daybreak to quietly and cheerfully clean up a deserted venue, I can imagine that they must have creative and thoughtful parents who are helping them lay a firm foundation for their long-term development.
That commendable parental support reminds me fondly of participants at the county fair art show who support merit-based rewards. “Less is more when it comes to ribbons,” says Tamie Wardle. As the Arts Chairman and a former Assistant Professor of Global Business Strategy, I can see the promise in her teenage daughter Emma, of Sky View High School, who adds, “You will go through life competing for almost everything and it is good to learn that you won’t always win – and that’s OK! As long as you try your best, you should be happy with yourself, even if your best isn’t always better than others.”
The source of self-esteem and confidence for children is not so much the accolades they receive but the good attitude, sportsmanship, and vision their parents and mentors instill in them, as is evident in Emma.
Choices abound for us as leaders and stewards, parents and grandparents, in the making of a chosen generation. Rather than expecting constant successes and triumphs, we can support our children in their worthwhile interests and pursuits by spending more quality time with them and preparing them to cope with victories, defeats, or the mere lack of recognition. Instead of letting technology and programmed entertainment replace imagination and effort, we can inspire our children to get back to the basics in making an activity both fun and productive, as did little Kiersly and her siblings.
We can support our youth in their quest to figure out who they are and what they are really good at, including being good at constantly trying and daring to explore the unknown, rather than constantly “winning” and being handed what was expected. The former is a survival skill and the latter, a misnomer in the world of competition. We can choose to encourage and guide our children when what they want now does not help them get what they need in the future. Sometimes it seems easier to give children what they want than to endure their protests, just to have peace. But as I was reminded on August 1 at my oath ceremony to become a U.S. citizen, neither peace nor freedom is free. As we exercise our freedom in grooming the future’s leaders, may we be mindful of the consequences we are indirectly choosing for them and our nation.
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Dr. B. C. Sun is a Rotarian and the Founding Executive Director of Little Bloomsbury Foundation, an arts-related peace organization. She was Vice President of Global Consumer Banking at Citibank and Basil Blackwell Fellow at London School of Economics (LSE) where she earned her PhD.
This article contains excerpts from her Chinese proverb-based radio show “La Doctora Sun, La Filósofa China” which is broadcast live in Spanish every Wednesday at 10:00 A.M. on Juan FM (104.5 FM). She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.