Sunday, January 16, 2011

American and Chinese Risk Tolerance; Writers' Risk

Two things this week resonated with my understanding about risk taking in the US and in China or among Chinese Americans today. First, I read an article in The New York Times for Sunday, January 16 about Architects Finding Dream Jobs in China. In part, it read, "The American mentality is, 'if it's never been done before, then you shouldn't do it. It's all about risk, risk, risk. The Chinese have a kind of fearlessess about building.' " The article described buildings in China with holes through them, with a five story park underneath the building, etc. When my husband and I were in Shanghai in 2005, we were astonished at the remarkable large buildings everywhere, with architecture that was far beyond anything we had seen in the US, so this attitude rang true to me.
Then there is a new book by Amy Chua about Chinese American parenting. She claims Americans are unwilling to expect very high achievement from their children, don't want to risk losing their affection, and thus don't insist that their children work at their activities enough to allow real achievement. Again the theme of risk, now in a very different context, but still saying Americans are adverse to risk.
Writers cannot really abjure risk. Writing is inherently risky and the scarier the places in a writer's soul that she explores in writing, usually the stronger the writing that results. So we need to buck this trend, or pretend to be Chinese American and learn to take these risks. Revel in the danger and enjoy the good writing that results.


Anonymous said...

Danger is inherent in writing, I agree. You put yourself out there on paper for people to read and judge, but often we as writers are not open to their judgements. I am thinking about JD Salinger who basically hid out his whole life from the readers. More risk reaps more reward, as far as I can see.

Anonymous said...

I really didn't like that woman, saw her on TV. She sounds really tough and mean. She's a Yale Professor. I hope she is nicer to her students than to her kids.

Anonymous said...

As usual the truth is somewhere between the two extremes. It IS good to have some standards and expectations for your kids. But NOT to threaten to burn all their stuffed animals. You don't have to go all the way to dragon to get them to practice.