The Triple Package: A book review by Bob Morris

Triple PackageThe Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America
Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
The Penguin Press (2014)

Three motivations that can help make the American Dream a reality in one’s personal growth and professional development

As Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld explain, the paradoxical premise of their book is that “successful people tend to feel simultaneously inadequate and superior. Certain groups tend to make their members feel this way more than others; groups that do so are disproportionately successful…This book offers a new way to look at success — its hidden spurs, its inner dynamics, its costs. These costs can be high, even crippling. But when properly understood and harnessed, the package of three cultural traits described in this book, become the source of empowerment unconfined by any particular definition of success.”

The three cultural traits, the Triple Package (i.e. a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control or self-discipline) “is accessible to anyone. It’s a set of values and beliefs, habits and practices, that individuals from any background can make a part of their lives or their children’s lives, enabling them to pursue success as they define it.” Chua and Rubenfeld examine several groups but focus primarily on, listed alphabetically, on African-, Asian-, Cuban-, Hispanic and Latino-, Indian-, Iranian-, and Nigerian- as well as Jews and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints (LDS) or Mormons.

It is important, indeed essential to keep in mind that Chua and Rubenfeld do NOT suggest that all members of each group aspire to or are under severe pressure to embrace and personify the Triple Package. I hasten to add that the nature and extent of each attribute in those who do possess all three vary, sometimes significantly. Chua and Rubenfeld’s aforementioned premise — their information and insights — are research-driven (as indicated by extensively annotated notes, Pages 231-308) and what I found of greatest interest and value are the patterns revealed by that research. These patterns help to explain (at least to some extent) values and behavior. For example:

o Children in the U.S.A. are taught to believe that everyone is equal, that no group is superior to another. However, all of the most successful groups in this country tend to believe (although they may not say so) that they’re exceptional, chosen, or superior in one or more ways.

o Children are taught that self-esteem is the key to success. However, in the groups that Chua and Rubenfeld examine, members tend to feel insecure, unworthy, inadequate…and must prove themselves otherwise.

o One of the major cultural values in the U.S.A. is immediate gratification, “living in the moment.” However, all of the most successful groups tend to affirm the need for — and cultivate — strict self-discipline and impulse control.

I use the phrase “tend to” intentionally. Chua and Rubenfeld are commendably sensitive to the perils of ethnic stereotyping and I do not wish to suggest (or even imply) otherwise. As they explain, “Superiority plus insecurity is a formula for drive. Superiority plus impulse control is a formula for hardship endurance. When the Triple Package brings all three elements together in a group’s culture, members of that group become disproportionately willing and able to do or accept whatever it takes today in order to make it tomorrow.”

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Chua and Rubenfeld’s coverage.

o Jews and academic achievement (Pages 24-26 and 193-196)
o Cuban American Exiles (36-41, 71-72, and 87-89)
o Insecurity: Jews and Mormons (60-68)
o Mormons and superiority complex (64-68)
o African Americans and superiority complex (72-78)
o Iranian Americans and insecurity/scorn (89-95)
o Indian Americans and insecurity/scorn (95-102)
o Chinese Americans and academic achievement (123-124, 126-131, and 171-173)
o America and the Triple Package (199-225)

When concluding their immensely thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld observe, “At the end of the day, the Triple Package is a form of empowerment, which can be used for selfish gain or for others’ good alike. People who have it are not guaranteed anything, and they run the risk of real pathologies. But they are in a position to transform their own and others’ lives…The real promise of a Triple Package America is the promise of a day when there are no longer any successful groups in the United States — only successful individuals.”

I agree with the spirit of that last sentence but presume to suggest that, with very rare exceptions, those who make the American Dream a reality for themselves do so with the assistance of countless others.

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