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« Blame and the London Bombings | Main | The Secular as Sacred »

July 14, 2005

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Hmm...I think I agree that we are dependent on the wisdom and insight of our elders, but that doesn't necessarily make it any easier to accept it. As a son, I should theoretically adhere to the Confucian ideal of ultimately supporting my parents financially. I'm reminded of an uncle who has lived with my grandparents and taken care of them for some twenty years, certainly a paragon of filial piety. But then I know that given my current career track, I will likely be significantly less well off financially than relatives in my parents' or grandparents' generation. At this point I could launch into a tirade against the generally crummy pay of teachers and social science professors, but I won't :-) These thoughts occasionally lead me to self-doubt: as a (theoretically) good Confucian son, shouldn't I aim for a future that will enable me to support my parents? Am I being selfish in my pursuit of something that I am passionate about? without regard for the wellbeing of my parents?

This leads me into one of my own pet peeves as a teacher: counseling students who seem to be headed for "default" careers because they haven't thought about what they really love to do or because their parents have been priming them for that career since they were very young. I have no doubt that many of the students who seem lukewarm about their future career will do admirably in their chosen professions (often law or medicine), but I wonder if they will truly be happy (and, by extension, reach their full potential). Then again, if we live in a set of interdependent relationships, a job that brings happiness to oneself should be only one criterion. When I walk down Bancroft Way to the Political Science Department in the mornings I always pass by Boalt Hall Law School. I usually don't give it much thought, but occasionally I will pause and consider the road not taken...

What interests me is how filial piety in Asian American families has changed. Whereas before it was unthinkable to put your parents in a retirement home (and still is mostly frowned upon), there are a bunch of elderly care facilities that cater to the Chinese American community here in New York. I wonder at what generation it starts happening.

I'm quite certain that most first generation immigrants wouldn't put their parents in retirement homes, and even the most Americanized second generation sons and daughters of our family friends still maintain the tradition.

The more filial tend to share the grandparent(s) between families, so that Grandma's spends half a year with one son and the other half with her daughter. At any rate, I also learned plenty from my Grandma - how to make Chinese crafts, the delicacy of patience, and how to enjoy meijiang. All quality stuff that I would never trade.

And as an aside, Jon, if you were a lawyer I'd suspect that you'd wind up a judge. Don't worry about it - you will be able to sway far more minds as a teacher. Grad school was made for you, and you were made for grad school.

On the other hand, did I confess that I'm looking at the law path myself?

Caroline! Nice to hear from you. Another interesting facet of the question would be how sons and daughters take care of parents in contemporary China. The old Confucian values had been under assault there for decades, thought they seem to be making a comeback of sorts now. How many urban children look for nursing homes now in China? I do not have the data myself... if someone does, please let me know.

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