Above all, be good

My favorite comment in the column “Pursue meaning rather than pleasure” (July 9) came from Peter Coyiuto, the chair, president and chief executive of First Life Financial.

Peter and I have known each other for decades, and our usual banter revolves around the fact that he is from La Salle and I am from Ateneo.


Apart from this school one-upmanship, our chats have mostly been on business matters. A year ago, when he requested I talk about family business dynamics in a First Life gathering, I readily assented.

Peter and I seldom talk about the “softer” side of things, so it was with a bit of surprise and a lot of gladness that I read his lengthy text: “I love your column. There is something more important than being happy.”


Peter goes on, “[According to] Anthony Campolo, if you ask typical American parents, ‘What is your hope and dream for your child when he grows up?’ They will say, ‘I hope he will be happy.’ Typical Japanese parents will say, ‘I hope he will be successful.’ But Campolo will say, ‘I hope he will grow up being kind to his fellowman.’ Virtue is better.”

Campolo is a sociologist, pastor and a spiritual adviser to former US President Bill Clinton. He is no stranger to controversy in his pastoral work, but he is an esteemed social scientist, and his contention rings true.

Cross-cultural research does reveal differences in child-rearing between Eastern and Western parents. Japanese, Chinese, Korean and other East Asian cultures focus on success, sometimes at great cost.

“While this is a universal parental aspiration, the preoccupation with success in Japanese culture has had serious deleterious consequences for the well-being of some adolescents, namely an unrelentingly stressful experience in school and a high suicide rate among adolescents,” says Patrick Bassett, the former president of National Association of Independent Schools in his article “When parents and schools align.”

On the other hand, American parents (and those in other cultures heavily influenced by American values and norms, including many middle class and affluent families in the Philippines) focus primarily on their children’s happiness, often also at a great cost.

“In American culture, the preoccupation with happiness has had serious consequences of its own, and it may explain the growing need among youth for constant approval and gratification, the growing incapacity to transcend id-driven pleasures for ego-necessary tasks, and the alarming devolution into hedonistic excess,” says Bassett.

“When parents keep saying and signaling, ‘I just want you to be happy,’ they send dangerous signals and set unrealistic expectations that life is supposed to be one continuous rush towards Nirvana, located somewhere between bliss … and ecstasy.” Like Aristotle put forth a millennia ago, Compolo contends that virtue is paramount. Goodness is virtue. A good person is a virtuous person.


“The pursuit of success or happiness leads to neither, but young people who seek to be good end up, disproportionately, to be both successful and happy,” says Bassett.

Bassett cites research by educator Douglas Heath, which shows that schools that develop both mind and character give rise to children who are reflective and motivated self-learners, qualities that are sorely needed by students to do online learning effectively in quarantine.

“A combination of three factors—psychological balance, [holistic development] and virtue—track with the most successful (and, yes, happy) people,” Bassett says.

Bassett cites as an example Tony Jarvis, the head of the elite Roxbury Latin School in Massachusetts. Jarvis tells anxious and demanding parents (mostly Harvard professors and other top professionals) that Roxbury can only promise two things: “That your son will be known and that he will be loved.”

I echo similar sentiments in webinars, to parents worried about guiding children in online distance learning. More on this next week.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at www.lazada.com.ph or call National’s Jennie Garcia at 0915-421-2276. Contact the author at [email protected]

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