Wake-Up Call From Jay-Z And A Chinese Mother: You Have The Choice To Be Victim Or Master Of Your Life

I happened to be awake and watching television last night when the hip-hop artist and entrepreneur Jay-Z appeared on the new Oprah Winfrey Network show, "Master Class." He was speaking about everything he had learned so far in his life. His childhood roots of living in urban housing projects, and having a father who abandoned the family when Jay-Z was 11 years old, were completely foreign to me, as a child of married, Chinese immigrant, PhD-educated parents in the upper middle-class suburbs of the Midwest. He told the story of a typical day, being on the playground with friends, and having to run and take cover whenever gang members would drive by, shooting automatic weapons at random. After fifteen minutes or so, he and his friends would re-emerge and start playing again. As I held my breath and imagined a story of how "horrible" it must have been to grow up under such dangerous and uncertain conditions, I heard Jay-Z say this: "It was truly a remarkable upbringing." What? Did he really say that? And WOW. It caught me off guard because I had spent the better part of the weekend - ever since clicking on a link that caught my attention while mindlessly wandering Facebook, entitled, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior". I shared the link on my profile and then started reading the 1000+ comments it had already generated on the Wall Street Journal's site. Slowly I realized that the whole conversation about who had been a "victim" of bad parenting -- all the stories and voices that emerged out of the woodwork to either (a) denounce and label this woman for her raging lunacy, or (b) claim that they, too, had been products of this kind of egregiously wrong parenting - was making me feel crappy. I was also feeling the call to craft a detailed response to the article, going through it point by point and sharing my own experiences growing up. But the more I read all the complaints and comments being thrown around, the crappier I felt. I didn't realize until seeing that Jay-Z story why I was feeling that way. As I looked at the images of dilapidated asphalt lots and urban housing projects, and heard the facts about regular drive-by shootings, my mind went immediately into story mode. Without missing a beat or even noticing the belief creep in, I made Jay-Z's story into a tragic childhood. But then Jay-Z's own voice of truth stepped in. He now chose to see that childhood - the very same facts I had just heard him recount - as "a remarkable upbringing". These words, at first startling, began to ring true to me as the voice of wisdom, self-compassion, and deep gratitude for everything - every little thing, not editing it for the "good" stuff - that he had received in his life. Can I imagine being grateful for witnessing drive-by shootings as a child? On a regular basis? Absolutely not. By the same token, can I imagine anyone else's life - for example, someone else's Chinese mother, or someone else's Chinese daughter - and what it could possibly mean to them? Absolutely not. The only life I can ever imagine is my own. And I am imagining it all the time. I create the lessons learned from my life by the beliefs I hold in my mind. I can choose to make any circumstance of my life a tragedy, a comedy, or a remarkable gift given only to me. The question is, do I choose to feel crappy about my life? Or do I choose to feel the awe and wonder and curiosity that comes from deep, deep gratitude for every single thing I ever experience in this one, remarkable life I have to live? It's my choice right now, and in every moment I am here. Let me be deeply grateful for that.

2 thoughts on “Wake-Up Call From Jay-Z And A Chinese Mother: You Have The Choice To Be Victim Or Master Of Your Life

  1. acleansurface

    This is probably my favorite thing you have written. That may be because I so agree with it. So many people react differently to an experience, whatever the experience may be. A positive attitude and a resilient spirit make the difference between learning and hopelessness. Sometimes the learning takes some time, though.
    I don't believe that everything in life is beautiful…I believe in evil and suffering, but I also believe they can be overcome and learned from, and THAT is beautiful.

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