February 22, 2014
Lebanese success is more than the Triple Package
I am not a big fan of Amy Chua’s earlier book in which she introduces the techniques of “Tiger Mom” parenting, but my lack of enthusiasm is mostly out of self interest. Having spent the last 12 years assisting ailing parents, I foresee some benefit to having my children still like me when I am frail, decrepit and reliant upon them for care.
But Ms. Chua’s new book, The Triple Package, initially intrigued me, as it is the vindication for which I have been waiting for 30 years! My husband is Lebanese, which, according to Chua and her co-author/spouse Jed Rubenfeld, makes him a member of one of the eight most successful cultural groups in America today. Thirty years ago, all I heard was he was dating me for a green card. Chua and Rubenfeld have proven what I have known all along, it is I who got the better deal in this marriage.
I bought the book looking forward to reading more about why my husband is wonderful. Much to my disappointment, in 225 pages of text, the words “Lebanon” and “Lebanese” appear on only ten pages. In 70 pages of footnotes, only one page with nine citations relate to the Lebanese. The Lebanese are referred to as “an obscure example” of a successful immigrant group. The authors never make much of a case as to how the Lebanese share the other cultural groups’ Triple Package traits of superiority, inferiority, and impulse control, so I am compelled to share my own observations of Lebanese traits that explain their success.
The Lebanese have a habit of speaking simultaneously in at least three languages. While this tends to be annoying to those of us who have mastered only one of those languages (English), are struggling with the second (French), and have completely given up on the third (Arabic), this multi-lingual neuroplasticity has been shown to not only delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, but, I am convinced, fosters creativity and a unique sense of design and aesthetics.
Secondly, Lebanese are chameleons. Lebanon is a very small country, so they are knowledgeable about the rest of the world, even though the rest of the world is completely ignorant of them. The Lebanese have an intuitiveness that allows them to insinuate themselves into other countries and cultures. As the Phoenicians traded around the Mediterranean in ancient times, the Lebanese now accomplish this on a global scale fostering business by bridging cultures. At age 17 my husband’s grandfather left Lebanon on a boat headed to South America. He mistakenly disembarked in West Africa, but proceeded to build a life as a trader there, importing and exporting goods for both the English and African communities. There are long standing Lebanese communities in locales as disparate as Michigan, Ecuador, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Iraq, and Australia.
The Lebanese are as widely distributed as they are social, always seeking ways to connect, both within their community and with the local population of their adopted country. And, all Lebanese seem to be related to each other. A typical introduction might be, “This is my cousin, Najib. His wife’s cousin is married to a cousin of my sister-in-law.” I would be hard pressed to identify such a relation!
Geographically the Lebanese are at a convenient location for trading at the meeting point of Eastern and Western civilizations, but it also places them squarely in the pathway of a litany of invading armies and political strife. For approximately 4,000 years, each generation has seen the country occupied and destroyed. The Lebanese identify with the myth of the phoenix, the bird that rises from the ashes, as each time they somehow rid themselves of the most recent invaders and rebuild.
Lastly, their success must have something to do with their fondness for garlic.
Like the Lebanese, the seven other groups that Chua and Rubenfeld describe in their book have rich and complex cultures that contribute to their success as populations in the US. To reduce these cultures’ attributes to three traits (which appear to result from variations on “Tiger Mom” parenting) is an oversimplification that does not truly illuminate the story behind their successes.