On not being greedy

Learning to be satisfied with success where you find it.

Even with the best of intentions, it’s easy to become greedy over the accomplishments of our children. I had not given the idea of greed and parenting much thought until I read Quanyu Huang’s book “The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American kids” in which he devotes attention to the subject. Without labeling it as either good or bad when it comes to supporting children’s accomplishments, he acknowledges that the focus on education can drive a sense of greed in some communities.

When everything is “clicking”, Suzuki kids learn their instruments well and often progress quickly. It can be like a greenhouse where everything is optimized for the growth of plants. When the humidity, temperature, and light are just right, plants grow quickly and well. Similarly, with kids, when everything is just right, when practice is fun and productive, when lessons are going well, children grow quickly. The satisfaction that we as parents take from our role in all of this is enormous. But it is easy to succumb to the risk of being greedy. Of pushing for more accomplishment, more progress, more practice.

The antidote for this is just sitting back and taking the “30,000 foot view”, surveying with appreciation what you see. A recent incident during practice with my 7 year-old brought this into focus for me.

She’s working on pieces for a wedding at which she was asked to play. It’s not until late August but being the little OCD child that she is, she’s been busy learning her music. In one piece here’s a high E at the top of an important phrase that she wants to play in 3rd position; but I think it would be better in 5th so she doesn’t have to stretch so much and can vibrate better on this important note. She disagreed and we went back and forth for a while. Finally, I just had to laugh at myself over being so insistent with her. Stepping back for a moment, I could see that she has an opinion about a technical issue related to her owing playing. This, by itself, is an enormous accomplishment. It is the seedling of musical independence emerging from the ground. In the moments of reflection about this disagreement, I also realized that rather than being insistent or frustrated, I should be more grateful that she can play in tune in upper positions that she’s got a really lovely vibrato now. I should just smile and say: “Sure, play it just like you’re playing it.”

It’s hard to be greedy and grateful at the same time.

Written by:

Alan is the main practice partner and accompanist for a young violinist.