Success is simple, failure is complex.
— Roy Charles Henry
When it comes to problem-solving in America and assessing how successful we are at doing that we seem to be unable to see the forest (Oneness) for the trees (individual reactions). We tend to over analyze, using our intellect to accept what seems to be true (sensory input) instead of relying on our intuition to provide the insights into what is really happening. We are constantly shooting from the hip seldom hitting anything. As a consequence, both the problems and the anxiety-driven reactions are multiplying.
For example, how does one become successful in American society and indeed, how is success in our culture defined? Two professors at Yale Law School have authored a book attempting to address these and other related questions. Alas! They have failed. That’s OK. Nothing personal because two professors of philosophy at Yale wouldn’t have done any better. Plus we know how narrowly lawyers define success; something on the order of “survival of the fittest.”
The book by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld is entitled The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. Two of the three traits referred to in the book’s title are not only “unlikely,” to explain success in America they are part of the illusion that characterizes the definition of success in the jungle of American exceptionalism. Many of us admire the stereotypically “successful” hairy-chested king of the jungle (they are mostly male albino apes) gracefully swinging from tree-to-tree grabbing more than their share of the bananas; success, however, in a less primitive community would be something entirely different.
Taking the first paragraph in the author’s “review” of their own book written for The New York Times (January 26, 2014) we find an unwitting but severe indictment of the “American experiment.” “A seemingly un-American fact about America today is that for some groups, much more than others, upward mobility and the American dream are alive and well. It may be taboo to say it, but certain ethnic, religious and national origin groups are doing strikingly better than Americans overall.”[i] In other words, one thing that can be said about equality and fairness in America let alone rationality; there ain’t any.
Let’s take the first phrase in their review, the “un-American fact” which corroborates our contention that for far too many people, the American dream has failed them. Or we can also blame the victim, as many conservative Americans tend to do, believing that those who are unsuccessful have failed due to their own shortcomings. The authors are immersed in the delusional beliefs, attitudes and values of the American story so we cannot fault them for failing to see more deeply into what is really happening in our nation today. They are admitting, however, that something is wrong with a nation that promised so much but failed so many, an “un-American fact.”
Secondly, the authors err in attributing the lack of success (upward mobility) to the ethnicity, religion or national origin of those people who remain in the 90% who might also lack personal traits which we will look at in a moment. The authors are right about one thing; it is un-American and hypocritical to continue to pretend that equality of opportunity exists in this nation today (or actually ever did exist). The reality is just the opposite as the gap between the 10% and the 90% continues to grow. That is one fact that reveals a shrinking opportunity for many and an unfair advantage for others. Taking a look at the author’s explanation on why some cultural groups fall and others rise we first examine the so-called evidence supporting their thesis.
East-Indian Americans earn almost double the national median household income which is $50,000 (2014). Lebanese- and Chinese-American also have high incomes. “Take New York City’s selective public high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science, which are major Ivy League feeders. For the 2013 school year, Stuyvesant High School offered admission, based solely on a standardized entrance exam, to nine black students, 24 Hispanics, 177 whites and 620 Asians. Among the Asians of Chinese origin, many are the children of restaurant workers and other working-class immigrants.”[ii]
The strange thing about the children of Asian-American immigrants is that when they no longer have the identity of “children of immigrants” their advantage disappears. Remember what we learned earlier in the content of Simple Reality: our identity is determined by our story. “Thus while Asian-American kids overall had SAT scores 143 points above average in 2012—including a 63-point edge over whites—a 2005 study of over 20,000 adolescents … found that third-generation Asian-American students performed no better academically than white students.”[iii] It seems then that not all “favored” groups can sustain their advantage over time. That’s because by the second generation their “story” has changed.
Most of us know about the success of Cuban-Americans most of whom arrived in the U.S. following the victory of Fidel Castro’s Communist insurgency. “Cuban-Americans in Miami rose in one generation from widespread penury to relative affluence. By 1990, United States-born Cuban children—whose parents had arrived as exiles, many with practically nothing—were twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to earn over $50,000 a year. All three Hispanic United States senators  are Cuban-Americans.”[iv]
The authors of Triple Package contend that successful groups in America share three traits. “The first is a superiority complex—a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite—insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.”[v] Let’s do a little analysis of their thesis from the perspective of Simple Reality.
Belief is a key component of the worldview of an individual or a group. Hence, the authors are correct in identifying the importance in believing that one’s ability to succeed is a prerequisite to success. “We know that group superiority claims are specious and dangerous [think the Nazi ‘master-race’], yet every one of America’s most successful groups tells itself that it’s exceptional in a deep sense. Mormons believe they are ‘gods in embryo’ placed on earth to lead the world to salvation; they see themselves, in the historian Claudia L. Bushman’s words, as ‘an island of morality in a sea of moral decay.’”[vi] Mormons have a definition of success that includes both moral and financial components. “Mormons have become leaders of corporate America, holding top positions in many of America’s most recognizable companies.”[vii]
One group that does do well consistently over time while suffering discrimination are the Jews. Perhaps they are able to maintain the matrix of their story, identity and behavior resisting acculturation more than other groups. The authors don’t specifically address the causes of the success of Jews in America per se other than observing selected evidence. “Although Jews make up only about 2 percent of the United States’ adult population, they account for a third of the current Supreme Court; over two-thirds of Tony Award-winning lyricists and composers; and about a third of American Nobel laureates.”[viii]
Seth’s central message in The Nature of Personal Reality by Jane Roberts (1974) is that we create our own reality primarily by what we believe, our worldview, the story of our group or nation. Both religious Jews and so-called “cultural Jews” endeavor to pass on a belief in Jewish “uniqueness.” “At their first Passover Seders, most Jewish children hear that Jews are the ‘chosen’ people; later they may be taught that Jews are a moral people of law and intellect, a people of survivors.”[ix]
Conversely and ironically, some groups, especially immigrants, tell their children a story that emphasizes their inferiority which seems to propel them to success, for a couple of generations at least. “Feelings of inadequacy are cause for concern or even therapy; parents deliberately instilling insecurity in their children is almost unthinkable. Yet insecurity runs deep in every one of America’s rising groups; and consciously or unconsciously, they tend to instill it in their children.”[x] So two of the traits that some parents in America try to persuade their children to believe are contradictory; one is that they are superior, and one is that they are inferior. Both groups are being told that they are profoundly different, indeed, that they are the Other in America.
You want your children to succeed in America? Tell them this: “Be afraid, be very afraid and you will be successful.” Also: “You are different and an outsider, so be very careful.” Sound logical? Sound wholesome? “Moreover, being an outsider in a society—and America’s most successful groups are all outsiders in one way or another—is a source of insecurity in itself.”[xi]
Where is the nation that believes itself to be exceptional headed and just as important where has it been? Let’s ask our authors. “The United States itself was born a Triple Package nation with an outsize belief in its own exceptionality [superiority], a goading desire to prove itself to aristocratic Europe [inferiority] and a Puritan inheritance of impulse control [waiting for the second marshmallow].”[xii]
Sadly, say the authors, Americans have lost all of our triple package traits with the exception of our arrogance. The “prosperity and power [success?] had their predictable effect, eroding the insecurity and self-restraint that led to them. By 2000, all that remained was our superiority complex, which by itself is mere swagger, fueling a culture of entitlement and instant gratification. Thus the trials of recent years—the unwon wars, the financial collapse, the rise of China—have, perversely, had a beneficial effect: the return of insecurity.”[xiii]
Our head is spinning but did we just hear the conclusion that to fail is to succeed or to succeed is to fail? Disastrous policies undermine our beliefs in our ability to succeed which creates a sense of inferiority which drives us to succeed which creates the identity of superiority, entitlement and instant gratification which in turn creates failure. Are we chasing our tail here? No! We have simply lost our way as a nation and the solution is thankfully much simpler than academics would have us believe.
Revisiting the Triple Package one last time will add clarity as to how intellectuals get lost in the illusion of P-B. Belief in one’s exceptionality is an expression or reaction of an insecure false self betraying an underlying sense of inferiority. Hence, the first trait of successful people is nothing more than a false-self (egoic) reaction having nothing to do with true success. The inevitable result is the creation of suffering.
The second trait, never believing that you have succeeded, is literally to have failed and, more problematic, not knowing what success is. Such a person cannot ever succeed because they have the identity of a being a failure. Identity as we know is determined by one’s worldview, so we can see the inseparable connection between the story in one’s mind and one’s identity. The world of P-A and the True-self identity derived from that context knows that we were born successful, a perfect creation in a perfect world, and success requires nothing more than acknowledging that truth. Having, knowing and doing are not required, only being.
Impulse control? Bingo! Many of us know that trait as the ability to choose response over reaction. Those who have poor impulse control choose one marshmallow and get immediate gratification and a life of suffering. Those who can defer acting on their craving for sugar can get two marshmallows later as shown in the now famous study, lead t0 a satisfying life and enable us to transcend all suffering. Let us clarify. By deferring craving, we mean not reacting, we mean not wanting life to be different than it is. True impulse control is the ability to respond, to embrace what is—a foundational principle of Simple Reality.
As the authors conceived it, delayed gratification is not a behavioral trait of those who are successful. But the truth is, whether we obtain one or two marshmallows in life, the sugar laden reward (plenty, pleasure and power) will be unsatisfying, it will create suffering. Pleasure, the gratification of craving, is suffering not success. “Scientific” studies tend to reveal only illusions not the truth about human behavior. We all are capable through our natural intuitive insights to understand and experience where we are, who we are and why we are here. For this we don’t need our intellect or degrees from Yale.
Professors at Yale and a few other individuals enamored of their intellects look at what they think is reality then complete their studies, interviews and focus groups and impose “traits” on the information harvested and project these traits and explanations on human behavior. They publish their papers and books, which they must do to “succeed” in academia (publish or perish), get them reviewed in The New York Times and then fade into obscurity. Their fabricated knowledge also vanishes mirage-like because it didn’t exist anywhere but in the ether of the fabricated story most of us take for reality; one gigantic fraud.
One all-important reason any group or individual “fails” in America is because they are denied the opportunity to be successful because they have had the label the Other projected on them. For example, young black men are victims of an educational system that fails them, a criminal justice system that victimizes them and a society in general that refuses to “see” them or “hear” them.
Whites in America can build equity and security through home ownership. In an America that was true to its vision, its “exceptionalism,” we can imagine the African-American Other doing the same thing. That, however, would require denial of the truth and believing in “an illusion that depends on forgetting the redlining, block busting, racial covenants, contract buying, loan discrimination, housing projects, mass incarceration, predatory lending and deed thefts that have prevented so many black Americans from building wealth the way so many white Americans have.”[xiv]
What if authors of books, essays and papers, the sociologists, psychologists, philosophers, pundits and yes even lawyers are deluded as to what success is, especially the authentic “experience” of success?
A person’s worldview is all important in whether they live on this planet successfully. Living successfully is contributing mindfully to a sustainable global community and treating each other with compassion; that is the only valid definition of a satisfactory experience of success.
Simple isn’t it?
[i] Chua, Amy and Jed Rubenfeld. “What Drives Success?” The New York Times. January 26, 2014, page 1.
[ii] Ibid., page 6.
[vii] Ibid., page 1.
[ix] Ibid., page 6.
[xiv] Biss, Eula. “White Debt.” The New York Times Magazine. December 6, 2015, page 50.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry.