The popular culture of post-sixties America celebrates individualism, personal expression, and instant gratification. And as the popular culture goes, so go our values. Yet while a rebellious, entrepreneurial spirit has been key to America's historical resilience, so has a formidable work ethic: that deeply ingrained self-discipline without which no growth is possible.
Amy Chua's parenting memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother ruffled the feathers of many American parents with its critiques of present-day western parenting, which tends to prize self-esteem above responsibility to others and obedience to authority. Stricter Chinese parenting, Chua claimed, teaches self-discipline, which is the essential basis of lifelong achievement.
As America sees itself somewhat diminished on the world stage, and China continues its rise to prominence, the question of whether and to what extent we've lost our cultural mooring with respect to self-discipline becomes ever-more relevant, macroeconomically speaking. And on the personal scale, we need to revisit the relationship between self-discipline and our cherished "pursuit of happiness."