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The Power of Exaggeration

From Clear Thinking Communications and Susan Parker
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Article: The Power of Exaggeration

Amy Chua's oldest daughter Sophia had done the unthinkable--she had come in second on a multiplication speed test. This could not be tolerated.

For the next week, Chua made Sophia do twenty practice sets of 100 problems each every night, checking her with a stopwatch. Chua was relentless. And it paid off. After that grueling week, Sophia always came in first on those tests.

Chua recounts her "Chinese mother" approach to raising Sophia and younger daughter Lulu in her controversial book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother."

In the book, Chua tells the story of obsessively overseeing her daughters' school work and piano and violin practices, forbidding sleepovers and play dates, banning television and computer games and refusing to accept any grade less than an A.

In the often murky world of navigating how to be the best parent to one's children, Chua is clear about what she thinks.

"I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem," she writes. "They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are, notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently."

Chua's seemingly unwavering approach to child rearing hit a nerve, especially when the book was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal under the provocative headline "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." The article garnered more than one million views and 7,000 comments.

Chua's book also sparked a conversation about one of the most important topics there is to many people: how to best raise their children. Five months after her book was released it was still on the New York Times bestseller list and Chua was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

Chua received this recognition because she took a stand. At times, she exaggerates her stand (and apparently some of her stories) to make a point. When I read Chua's book I found myself respecting her. It wasn't necessarily because I agree with her approach to parenting but because she is so clear about what she believes in. Her clarity was refreshing.

Sometimes it's hard to know what many foundations and nonprofit organizations really stand for.

Too often, the statements made by foundations and nonprofits are coached in caveats, references to logic models, or referrals to peer-reviewed research. It's as if some people in the nonprofit world are afraid to just say it.

Some people in these organizations make measured statements because they understand that the world is complex and that no one solution will solve everything. They see nuances.

But where is the passion? Where is the clarity that allows anyone reading about an organization to have absolutely no doubt about what it stands for or what it believes is the correct solution?

What if more foundations or nonprofits stopped for a moment and made a bold statement about the right course of action?

They could say something like this:

* Our economic future hinges on all children attending high-quality preschool.

* Structural racism is the most critical issue to address in ensuring that everyone has access to health care.

* A vibrant arts community is the solution to reviving our dying small towns.

* Randomized control trials are the only way to know if programs to help poor people really work.

The power of a bold statement is that it tells you what's important.

It forces you to take a stand. The beauty of taking a stand, of even exaggerating your stand, is that it connects you with what you and your organization truly believe in. It gives you a guide, a goal, a clear purpose to work toward and to talk about. And people understand strong stands.

Taking a strong stand doesn't mean that you must sacrifice nuance. In Chua's book, for example, she talks about several ways in which her approach to parenting doesn't work, most notably with her younger, headstrong daughter Lulu. As a result, Chua makes adjustments to her parenting. And yet, Chua still believes that her overall approach was best for her daughters--and for all children. The same is true for the nonprofit world. Strong stands and nuance can co-exist.

Think about what your organization truly stands for. Make a bold statement. That's where you will find your passion--and get others to take notice.


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