Struggle For Smarts?

Mother: Do you know that that's what smart people do—smart grown-ups?
Child: They talk about books.
Mother: Yeah. So that's a pretty smart thing to do, to talk about a book.

It is a small exchange, a moment, but in this drop of conversation, there is a whole world of cultural assumptions and beliefs. Essentially, the American mother, Li says, is communicating to her son that the cause of her son's success in school is his intelligence. He is smart - which, Li says, is a very common American view. 'The idea of intelligence is believed, in the West, as a cause. She is telling him there's something in him, in his mind that enables him to do what he does.'

But most people in Asian cultures, she says, don't think this way. Academic success is not as much about whether a student is smart. Academic success is about whether a student is willing to work and to struggle. It resides in what they do, but not who they are. This is another conversation, this time between a Taiwanese mother and her nine-year-old son. 'They are talking about the piano. The boy won first place in a competition and the mother is trying to explain to him why. You practiced and practiced with lots of energy, she tells him. It really got hard, but you made great effort. You insisted on practicing yourself.'

So the focus is on the process of persisting through it, despite the challenges; not giving up, and that leads to the success.' So all this is important because the way that you conceptualize the act of struggling with something profoundly affects your actual behavior. Obviously, if struggle indicates weakness to you—for example a lack of intelligence—it makes you feel bad, so you're less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength—the ability to face down challenge—you are much more willing to accept it.

How Eastern And Western Cultures Tackle Struggle, from NPR.