What Cultures Value

Thanks to Eurasian Sensation, who posted this article: The One-Shot Society. The article is about the educational system in Korea, where students cram like mad for one college entrance test, a test which determines the career that they will have for the rest of their lives. In Korea, as the article mentions, people rarely change jobs, so it’s imperative that students get into the best university and then into the best company. We’ve spoken about this trend in Korea and how it limits their opportunities to make decisions later in life, which is why many Koreans try to become doctors.

I think this system is reflective of what Koreans value: intelligence, diligence, preparation, and consistency. This system will greatly help Korea in many ways, but of course, there are side effects as well. I like how the article mentions the tech entrepreneur who can’t find employees because he’s not Samsung. In the U.S., that guy would have no problems recruiting (especially with our high level of employment).

I can’t really say whether their system is better or worse than ours–they don’t seem to have the stagnation or unemployment that we do. What I would like to say is that America has an ambiguity problem. I think we like to think that we value education, but we really don’t. Whereas Koreans value intelligence, diligence, preparation, and consistency, Americans value selling and entrepreneurship. I remember one of Robert Kiyosaki’s books where he tells a novelist that if she wants to be a well-known writer, she should learn to sell, so that she can sell her book. Even our most powerful citizens, the politicians who run this country, spend much if not most of their time selling themselves to voters.

I think that’s ultimately our problem these days. We’ve got great salespeople and a great culture of entrepreneurship and sales communication. Outside of the low-cost computing innovations, we just haven’t invested in creating great new technologies to sell. Whereas in the past we were going to the moon, taking on nuclear technology, or miniaturizing transistors, we no longer invest as much in the new technologies that we need: green technologies, alternative energy, etc. We need to shift more of our resources into research, so that we have great new technologies to sell to the world.

Related to this topic, Shark Tank is back. Today, there was a great episode in which a manufacturing entrepreneur told the sharks he wanted to keep jobs in the U.S. and refused to outsource to Asia. The sharks told him he was being stubborn and short-sighted. One shark told him that he should follow Apple’s example. Another said that even though it was not cost-effective to manufacture in America, it would still create jobs here since they would eventually need sales and marketing people! So you can where our nation’s focus is.

27 thoughts on “What Cultures Value

  1. ahhh, a topic near and dear to my heart. lol.
    Granted I was born and raised in the US by Korean parents so my upbringing was probably not nearly as strict as if I was raised in Korea.

    It seems that many American kids do a lot of things that make them LOOK good versus doing things that make them BE good. And the lack of follow through can be abominable. Westernized parents and media highlight the successes of people as “being in the right place at the right time” or “dumb luck” or “lucky” or “good genes” or “rich parents,” etc…. It seems that they don’t highlight the hard work and dedication at all. Whereas many Asian parents – all they talk about is working hard and studying. I remember if I would make up an lame excuse to say why so and so got into an Ivy league school early decision or something (like they already had a sibling that went there and it’s so unfair!), my mom would retort back “So?!! if YOU got perfect SAT’s too, you would have gotten in!”

    In any case, my friends and colleagues would say I’ve accomplished a lot already in my life and may consider it a “successful” one. My Korean mother would say otherwise and still calls me to ask me “what are your plans? what are you doing with your life? You should work more. Your father is worried about you.” But I wouldn’t have it any other way. =) She keeps my ego in check, at the same time, keeps me wanting to accomplish even more, and also makes me someone who doesn’t need to hear “you’re great. job well done, etc…” all the time to keep pushing forward.

    Too many Americanized people need a frickin’ pat on their back all the time just for doing their job. But a lot of bosses have to give those pats (including me) b/c it can be rare when one does everything they are supposed to.

  2. I feel bad whenever the fun of childhood & adolescence is destroyed, replaced by constant study. Obama wants us to have a school system like theirs, mostly though so the parents can have free babysitting.

    I am not sure I want to know why the kid in the pic has a roll of toliete paper on his desk.

  3. It makes sense to study hard. And plainly, many Americans could benefit from the example. But there is another side to it.

    Achievement is something that often pays in ever-decreasing dividends. It makes perfect sense to reach for a certain level of success. You want to be able to pay your bills, to buy a home, and live in an area that will make your life rewarding and enjoyable. But at a certain point, you begin trading happiness for accomplishment. You stop running toward the golden ring, and instead start running away from the driving whip of competitiveness upon your back. You are no longer chasing your own dreams, but are instead trying desperately to look no less successful than those whom you are competing with.

    It doesn’t matter how far you have run in a race, if the same whip is lashing you no matter how far you go. An even greater difference than successful vs. non-successful is the difference between those who are constantly being whipped and those who have set themselves free of it. Slavery comes in many forms, and you don’t get a second life to live.

  4. ^
    Is there any wonder why so many people retire as soon as they are able? If most people could be doing anything they want they would not spend their time working, especially 40+ hours a week.

  5. Hey, the guy in the middle has a sonic youth shirt! Go him.

    Is it any wonder why so many Americans love motivational books like Kiyosaki’s? Not just the get-rich-now variety, but the “5 second abs”, “the 10 secrets to blah blah”, etc etc. The culture is generally fixated on shortcuts to success. That so-called “Protestant work ethic” seems to have long since dried up.

    I tend to think the class divide in the U.S. will only steepen in the coming decades. The problem of income is wealth disparity is already enormous. The very heterogeneous nature of American society/culture combined with the sink-or-swim attitude of most American politicos and “upper class” ensures it will be difficult to see any ground swell for a transforming the culture.

  6. “I tend to think the class divide in the U.S. will only steepen in the coming decades. The problem of income is wealth disparity is already enormous.”

    When you say “class divide” and “wealth disparity,” can you explain further what your fears are in regard to this?

    I tend to worry more about the lifestyle and freedoms available for the majority rather than about if there is a wider differenced between their income levels and that of the super wealthy.

  7. “When you say “class divide” and “wealth disparity,” can you explain further what your fears are in regard to this?”

    Sure, I see an America where the middle-class is eroding, more debt-ridden than ever with more and more people falling out of it. There are many parts of the U.S. where around half (or more) of the kids do not finish high school. Yet, I don’t see much in response besides apathy (“As long as its not MY kid”). There is little sense of civic duty.

    I think America’s wealthy and connected are more isolated and privileged than they’ve been in generations — with greater exclusivity than in a long time, perhaps ever. It’s mainly because they can afford to be. America’s top 1% has approximately 40% of the nation’s financial wealth, the top 10% holds approximately 80% (last I checked). Compare that to after WWII, when the top 1% held less than 10% of the nation’s wealth.

    That’s not to say you need be wealthy or even middle class to perform well in school. Of course not. But there are way too many kids who don’t even have a chance because of incompetent parents, crappy school environments, crappy crime-infested neighborhoods, concentrated poverty, etc.

    I don’t think you can solve America’s problem of failing, unmotivated children without broader financial commitment from the public sector to install more programs for at-risk kids AND at-risk parents.

  8. I don’t think you can solve America’s problem of failing, unmotivated children without broader financial commitment from the public sector to install more programs for at-risk kids AND at-risk parents.

    True, but at some point, people need to take responsibility. Do we really need to limit ourselves to the failings/weaknesses of our parents? I’m not saying that someone who grew up in an undernourished environment should be a straight-A student and get into Harvard, etc. But at what point does personal responsibility come into play? What about looking out for yourself and doing well because it benefits you? Government support is helpful, but the individual needs to be self-motivated to make use of it.

  9. “True, but at some point, people need to take responsibility. Do we really need to limit ourselves to the failings/weaknesses of our parents? I’m not saying that someone who grew up in an undernourished environment should be a straight-A student and get into Harvard, etc. But at what point does personal responsibility come into play? What about looking out for yourself and doing well because it benefits you? Government support is helpful, but the individual needs to be self-motivated to make use of it.”

    I hear you. Personal responsibility is important. There are many people given ample opportunity to succeed and fail anyway, for whatever reason. That’s going to happen and there’s not much you can do about it.

    I just don’t think the U.S. is anywhere close to the point where every child has “ample opportunity.” It just doesn’t seem reasonable to me to expect that a kid from gang-infested ‘hood, with a young single mother who didn’t finish high school, is going to wake up and suddenly “get it” and pull himself (or herself) up from the bootstraps.

    So much more can be done to target kids who are more or less victims of circumstance.

  10. @Fun – the roll of toilet paper – likely he is using it as a kleenex box. It’s common for Koreans to use a toilet roll as kleenex or napkins etc…. Americans like to use lots of napkins, especially thick heavy ones. Such a waste…..

    I don’t understand why in America the school day never matches a general work day, so parents are always stressed to find after school programs, babysitters, etc… Which costs more money. And the parents that can’t afford it have their kids just hanging out at home/hood unsupervised and this is where they can get into trouble. Or if they are Asian, the kids tag along with the parents to where they work. lol….In any case, it’s another way the wealthy and upper middle class have an advantage and poor or just making it families don’t. Now I don’t fault for families that can afford their kids to be in all sorts of programs and sports after school while the parents are at work. It is a necessity for their families to keep their kids occupied, enriched, and out of trouble. My business actually lives on it. (one of my clients has a 7 yr old that has a DRIVER to bring him to such activities, including mine!)

    But for many families that can’t afford such luxuries, what a headache! What does one do w/ their kids when school’s out but parents aren’t home from work? I know I had my own house key at 8yrs old (!!) and my ‘rents let me stay home alone since then. They had no choice really – They were both at work. Holy moly – would they get in trouble today by child services. But back then, there was no internet and no cell phones and really nothing to do besides watch tv and play in the creek, and of course, do homework.

  11. I don’t understand why in America the school day never matches a general work day, so parents are always stressed to find after school programs, babysitters, etc… Which costs more money. And the parents that can’t afford it have their kids just hanging out at home/hood unsupervised and this is where they can get into trouble. Or if they are Asian, the kids tag along with the parents to where they work. lol….In any case, it’s another way the wealthy and upper middle class have an advantage and poor or just making it families don’t.

    It really is up to the parents to provide childcare for their children, not the state. I know of many lower-income families that make do by bartering childcare, working different shifts than the other parent, or just having one parent stay home. It’s not really about money, but preparation and research. Parenting was never meant to be convenient and there are many free/low-cost resources to be found if one puts forth the effort.

  12. Linda,

    As a working father of two, I agree. It shouldn’t be too hard for the state to find a way to at least attempt to extend the day by another 1.5 hrs so that parents could work and then pick up their kids after school. The costs of afterschool care are huge.

    Stele:

    It really is up to the parents to provide childcare for their children, not the state. I know of many lower-income families that make do by bartering childcare, working different shifts than the other parent, or just having one parent stay home. It’s not really about money, but preparation and research. Parenting was never meant to be convenient and there are many free/low-cost resources to be found if one puts forth the effort.

    Good comment, and highly relevant to the question of “what cultures value.”

    It depends on what state/country you’re in and what your state values. If the U.S. valued childcare, they could provide it. Clearly there’s no natural law mandating that kids have an education, but the U.S. provides it for free (not exactly free when you take into account all the costs, but close enough). There’s no natural law that says they shouldn’t pay for childcare in order to protect children and make life easier for working parents. Other countries have much better laws that support children.

    In Sweden, for example, a place with a highly developed economy and high standard of living, the state takes it upon itself to mandate benefits for families. You get mandatory maternity leave when you have a child. Fathers get paternity leave too–it’s expected. They expect dads to take time off. And this is the land of the Vikings!
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/10/world/europe/10iht-sweden.html?pagewanted=all

    “The United States — with lower taxes and traditional wariness of state meddling in family affairs — is not among them.Portugal is the only country where paternity leave is mandatory — but only for a week. Iceland has arguably gone furthest, reserving three months for father, three months for mother and allowing parents to share another three months.

    The trend is, however, no longer limited to small countries. Germany, with nearly 82 million people, in 2007 tweaked Sweden’s model, reserving two out of 14 months of paid leave for fathers. Within two years, fathers taking parental leave surged from 3 percent to more than 20 percent.

    It just happens that the U.S. system hasn’t moved in this direction. You’re right in mentioning that poor parents often have alternated shifts, but that’s not exactly great family living. If a low income family has one parent stay at home, I imagine that that isn’t exactly a great living situation either–it’s hard enough to provide for a family on two “middle class” incomes!

  13. i’ve been told that many koreans want to come to the US because the system in korea is so heirarchical. that here in the US, more people have a chance to succeed (especially women). whereas in korea its limited by class and test results.

  14. whereas in korea its limited by class and test results.

    Well, one can certainly make the argument for test results as the college you graduate plays a big role in being hired. As for class, I don’t think it’s the case as if you are graduate of one of the SKY schools, you’re just the same as other SKY graduates, rich or poor.

    Parenting is a privilege, not a right. I would say that it is better for society that there be cheaper options for childcare, but I do not believe that parents should delegate childcare to others. Ultimately, it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that their child is cared for. And if that means having one parent stay home, then so be it. I do think childcare should be provided for single parents without a partner active in their child’s life, however.

  15. Please delete my post at 3:16PM.

    whereas in korea its limited by class and test results.

    Well, one can certainly make the argument for test results as the college you graduate plays a big role in being hired. As for class, I don’t think it’s the case as if you are graduate of one of the SKY schools, you’re just the same as other SKY graduates, rich or poor.

    Parenting is a privilege, not a right. I would say that it is better for society that there be cheaper options for childcare, but I do not believe that parents should delegate childcare to others. Ultimately, it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure that their child is cared for. And if that means having one parent stay home, then so be it. I do think childcare should be provided for single parents without a partner active in their child’s life, however.

  16. Stele,

    But that’s my point. Not everyone can afford for one parent to stay at home. Think about it–if one member of a couple makes $30k and lives in a bad neighborhood (and $30k is fairly typical in many areas), he/she is supporting THREE people, one of whom has to buy diapers, for around $1,900 a month after tax. If rent costs $900…well, it doesn’t leave much money for everything else. Your house gets broken into, your baby gets sick, your pipes freeze…it’s really only doable if both parents work.

    So the only other solution would be for people making $30k not to have kids. And some of these $30k’ers do important work, like journalism, teaching in private schools, waiting tables, cooking, working in the arts, providing executive support, etc. Do we really want to live in a society where children are only for the rich?

  17. @jstele – I’m not suggesting the state be responsible for childcare. I’m suggesting that the American Education system be revamped, b/c we know the children here (I think) need a lot MORE learning and life skills taught before they graduate highschool. In that regards, the US should make the school day longer b/c it will only benefit the US as a society. More schools should incorporate leadership programs, cooking & nutrition programs, music and sports, etc…. which would extend the day. It’s not about simply babysitting. It’s about continuous teaching and engagement for more of the day so that the majority of our kids aren’t being sucked into a 4 hour Youtube hole or jumping some other kid 7 to 1, at 3pm when they get home from school, but hours before their parents are home.

    @majo – yes, in Korea and Japan – many professional women are choosing to not get married or have kids b/c their career will suffer a lot more than if they took maternity leave in the US. Also – it is generally harder for these women to move up the corporate ladder in companies traditionally run by Asian management in these countries. Lots of US and outside companies that have offices in Japan and Korea are actually recruiting a lot of their female workers from these companies since they have more flexible work policies. It’s a shame b/c 1/2 of the intelligent workforce is women, but they are not being utilized. All this only contributes to the fact that the population in Japan and Korea is actually shrinking!

  18. I think the school day is as long as it is, so just providing a supervised area for students to do their homework/get tutoring would be enough. Attendance should be optional and parents should be able to get a tax exemption if they provide other activities for their children or don’t participate in the program. I do think there is a place for teaching students from distressed backgrounds things like good citizenship, civic values, empathy, time management, etc.

  19. Pingback: The Other-Directed Personality | bigWOWO

  20. A bit late to this, but bigwowo, you grossly underestimate the anti-work and anti-intellectual ethic here in the US of A. The only chance america can hope to maintain it’s supremacy is not with our young sprouts in the failed schools (in general), but our open immigration policy that sucks in the best and brightest from the rest of the world.

  21. @Colin. Dont you belong on a Lord Of The Rings filmset? Thats where most white trolls dwell isnt it?

  22. @trolldetector

    @Colin. Dont you belong on a Lord Of The Rings filmset? Thats where most white trolls dwell isnt it?

    I’m not white. Just stating facts.

  23. @Colin.Apologies I misinterpreted your Lin is more Taiwanese than Asian debate, as divide tactics.

  24. The war drums beating over iran should have gotten people thinking. It should have gotten them thinking on how america intends to get involved and what the cost of involvement will be. My guess is 6 months of intense bombing to reduce the entirety of iran’s public infrastructure to ruins, followed by ten years of continuous drone and air cover, plus american troops stationed on the iranian coast indefinitely.

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