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Is Your Success Your Success?

Updated: Mar 30

Recently, I was attending a class on Confucianism, and we were talking about filial piety, which basically means how to be a good son or daughter. Essentially, we should take care of our health, ease parents' worries, and fulfill their wishes for us. On the third point, the teacher said we should cultivate virtues and seek a successful career in order to bring glory to the family name. One of my Chinese classmates said, "I need to improve myself and become successful because my success is the success of my parents and teachers."


When I heard this, I totally supported her wanting to make her parents and teachers proud, but I thought to myself, "That's strange. In the west, your success is your success. It doesn't have much to do with your parents and teachers. After all, a teacher might teach thousands of students, why do only a few become very successful? It's the student's own abilities. If I am successful, people will think I have great abilities. They're not going to go praise my parents and teachers."


I raised this question in class. My teacher said, "That way of thinking is dangerous because it can easily make people arrogant. If a person becomes arrogant, their success will be short-lived. On the other hand, parents and teachers must not become arrogant either and think that their children's or students' success is all because of them."


From this, I realized that the truth is in the middle. It would be wrong to say that my success is only my success because without my parents raising me and my teachers teaching me, I wouldn't have the abilities and skills to achieve my success. At the same time, we can't say that my success has nothing to do with me. After all, my effort and perseverance are key factors too.


But a key insight I got from my teacher's answer is that we shouldn't focus so much on who should take credit, but rather focus on preventing arrogance. Why is this such a big deal? There is a Chinese idiom that goes,

"The arrogant will be harmed. The humble will gain benefit."


After all, no one likes an arrogant person, so arrogant people easily make enemies, while humble people attract others' support. Moreover, arrogant people tend to become careless and complacent, while humble people remain careful and diligent.


There's also an analogy of a cup of water. Arrogance is like a full cup of water. Once the cup is full, the water easily spills out, which is analogous to being harmed. Moreover, the full cup cannot receive any more water, which means it cannot improve. On the other hand, the non-full cup of water is analogous to being humble, it won't easily spill, and it can receive more water.


I have another teacher who teaches Chinese history, but his history class is not about memorizing dates and facts. Rather, he analyzes the rise and falls of past dynasties and draws lessons for our daily lives. One thing I learned from his class is that all the founders of new dynasties were humble and listened to their ministers' advice seriously, while all the emperors that brought their dynasty to ruin were arrogant, indulgent, and short-sighted. Thus we can see the importance of preventing arrogance.


Back to the topic of success, even though we know objectively that our effort is a key factor to our success, we should downplay that and highlight our gratitude towards parents and teachers. By remaining humble, we can continue to grow. By being grateful, we can continue to receive. This also sets a good role model to others.


Icon Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

If we are a parent and our child becomes very successful, we should not say, "Remember your success is all because I raised you, or else you wouldn't even be here today." That would be arrogant. Ideally, the child says, "My success is all because of my parents' support and teachings." As a parent, we can reply, "It's great that you understand humility and gratitude. And don’t forget the role that your teachers played in your success."


If we are a teacher, we can reply, "My contribution is small. The important thing is your hard work and perseverance. But don't get cocky. Stay humble and remember to be grateful to your parents."


If the child doesn't give credit to parents or teachers and starts to get arrogant, then we can remind the child, "Remember that you weren't born with these knowledge and abilities. If you didn't have your teachers, you wouldn't have your success today. You have to stay humble to grow and grateful to receive."



When people become successful, it's quite hard to not think highly of oneself. When we think we are great, it's quite hard to not get arrogant. When we become arrogant, it's quite hard to not offend others or make mistakes. When we offend others and make mistakes, it's quite hard to prevent disaster. Thus, it's very important to prevent arrogance in the face of success, and one way to do so is to emphasize the contributions of our parents and teachers. After all, without them, we wouldn't have our life, knowledge, and skills, so it's only natural to give them credit, and this sets a good example for others too.


Weekly Wisdom #273


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