In Conclusion: Freedom

I never wrote about my field placement on this blog. Partly to protect confidentiality, partly because the themes that came up were generalizable. But the last one I end on will lean in a bit–not to open the curtains on my clients’ private stories, but to consider where they, you, and I are all headed. We are all in the same boat in ways too long to describe here, but I’ll touch upon it from the standpoint of a social work intern in the court system.

I could share how my internship related to my personal experiences and how it compared and what it therefore made me realize. Instead, I want to share how the way we look at things affects what those things become, both in our minds and in external reality. I can’t do, well, justice to the number of stories and the depth of what they taught me. Ideas are nothing like the daily application, but let’s start there because ideas orient and distill reality.

I want to reiterate that we, even those who are more critical minded, have a lot in common. No one wants to be judged. No one wants to be offended. Or worse yet, be one who offends. And that was what I was steeped in all year. Reality feels grim when we think of the word “courtroom” and see in our heads the pictures in the media of those depicted as “perps” emerge from the holding cells to fill those pewlike rows. The dark robes shrouding a person who judges the person now called an “offender”, or technically, since it is a criminal court, a “criminal”. We feel the tension, heavy in the room, as perception or perhaps expectation of certain perceptions color the glances and interactions. The confusion for the judged when they go to the social worker who now addresses them as “clients” and hears their stories and offers assistance.

Maybe there are some righteous (or self-righteous) people out there who will disagree, but I believe we are all “guilty” of crimes, even if only in our thoughts. The murderous ones, the callous ones, the ones that shut doors to all possibility of change and growth. And there are very real consequences for what we do, regardless of the differences in what we see as “right” and “wrong”. Even if it’s the poisoning of our own hearts when we can’t forgive, the things we turn to, conscious and unconscious, with our best intentions to be free–whether from the pain of relationships, poverty, even boredom, and worse yet, a lack of purpose and ability to see beyond the pain.

But that is the kicker. We are “guilty” when we guilt ourselves. Of the hundreds of clients I’ve seen sentenced as a “consequence”, if they viewed it as shameful and their interaction with law enforcement and the justice system was fearful, those become true shackles. Fearfulness and shame chain them to their “offenses”  in a way that only the invisible can. The invisible is so powerful because it is created by the self, and it is constantly fed information that further proves their unwavering conclusion that they are fated to be invisible and lacking value.

When they feel invisible and lacking value, it seems like many things are fair game. That was the most heartbreaking conclusion I encountered in my client interactions. This belief that it was their fate, the pattern that they found themselves in. So nothing mattered, whether in that moment or during that ongoing harmful cycle they perpetuated. It came in the form of so many people from all walks of life, for a variety of reasons, all within this tiny and tightly packed geographic location. And what I tried to instill this whole year (without inserting myself) was the opposite: freedom. That the entire philosophy and premise behind social work is that change is possible and real. So fate is not this dark cloud of judgment shrouding them, and that if they have never seen any proof otherwise, that there is this thing called a leap of faith.

The interventions were sometimes one-on-one, but not simply through myself. In the group sessions we had, people heard other stories and relatable messages with different outcomes. We roleplayed different ways of coping, shared, identified, and strategized for the future. Under the auspices of this system of judgment and enforcement, we created a safe space for different outcomes. It made it so clear why change is possible–because the real problem is within, and the real solution is, also, within.

And so in conclusion, as people find that answers to the toughest things are truly within them, there will be less fear of avoiding the tough questions and more desire to know the truth. And the truth really will set us free.

Our Ten Most Valuable Assets

For some reason (and perhaps it is somewhere in here), the topic never gets old.

1. Our ability to count.

And to know that numbers are not everything. Which is why some of you, as you read this, may be questioning this “concrete” idea of ten assets – why ten, why are these the “most”, and what motivates people to come up with these kinds of things and read about them.  So that for something to really “count” we must think a little harder, read a little deeper.

2. Our ability to read.

And to read between. No matter how many dots we’ve connected and think we already know, there are always new dots that will surprise us.

3. Our ability to be surprised.

And to realize as a result that there is so much left to uncover and discover.

4. Our ability to recover.

And even when #3 is over something not-so-great, we can do SO MUCH. Not by the world’s standards, but considering our opportunities and what is in you, yourself, as a resource.

5. Our ability to engage with resources.

And engage while knowing we live in a world with limited resources, because, going back to #3, the results might surprise us.

6. Our ability to drive towards results.

And not to just see results as one particular type or achievable in one particular way, but to see it as a dynamic process where once there is a result it will always lead to another, and another, which, going back to #3, will looking back surprise us.

7. Our ability to envision what will happen in the future.

And to also know there are costs and benefits of thinking ten steps ahead. Again going back to #3, when we look ahead we can be prepared to be surprised.

8. Our ability to persist in the face of decline.

And knowing we are all slowly dying or facing losses all the time, we are always facing beginnings or a possibility of it—even at the very end, the remotest of hope that we’ll be, again, #3, surprised.

9. Our ability to hope, even if the concept itself seems redundant. Like a bird it can always elude redundancy (Read Emily Dickinson’s poem). And so at our most despairing, hopeless, jaded state, hope would be #3 – THE most surprising thing we’d see.

10. Our ability to have values and beliefs

And that no matter how we may otherwise accommodate, appear, and adapt, we will not compromise ourselves on these. That we are known for who we are when people are, again, #3 surprised when these values ever get crossed and we are empowered to be genuine. Rather than letting it be a point of discord, a deepening of understanding as this important other facet of ourselves comes up to the surface to be discussed and understood, even after we have gone.

I think #3 is wonderful because it means seeing through the eyes of a child.

Vicarious Resilience

No one knows what the future holds. I think we all know that. But we sometimes hear, from either the very end or the very deepest depths, a message that transcends expectations–especially since the very idea of expectations is illogical (they can never be perfectly realized or actualized). From people about to face death or the possibility, or people who have seen the greatest depths of human suffering, we know everything is fleeting and uncertain. They remind us that there were too many things that could have happened if we weren’t afraid of what people would think or possibility of failure or something scary.

Society is scary. Work is scary. There are so many things to worry about and compare. As we put cover letters together and “polish” our resumes, I am reminded that nothing will ever be polished. In fact, I was looking at an organization I am interested in today and found a resume that I wrote back in 2009?!!! It goes against all the conventions and rules, is hopelessly, almost disgustingly optimistic and ecstatic. But as I read it, I felt a huge rush of affection for this ridiculously sincere and dreamy little individual and, surprise surprise, I did get a call back. It was never a simple formula.

On a more serious note, we fail to look at the entire picture in people and things get taken out of context. And yet there we are. Social workers, “deciding” on what population and what “social problem” we are going to be working with. Thankfully, we can move around through the course of our careers and it’s flexible.

Not all of us will encounter suffering at the greatest depths, but it is worthwhile considering it, or at least reflecting on others’ experience of it. Vicarious resilience is a term I heard from a social worker who accompanied first responders at several of the most catastrophic events over the past two decades–genocide, wars, natural disasters, and regime collapses. In crisis, people need to have the most basic needs met. But along with that, there are no words for the loss of everything that holds meaning, one’s own destruction and that of those one loves. Hers is the challenge of restoring at least some threads of sanity, just enough for people to start picking up the pieces and not feel like they are bearing witness to the unimaginable alone.

Her takeaway message was simple and haunted me for days. Along with the vicarious trauma she experienced, she learned so much from her clients’ incredible ability to overcome the unspeakable. She absorbed the pain but she also absorbed the strength. And after seeing all of that, the good outweighed the bad. And in conclusion, what she saw was in a way the same. Trauma, in its various guises, all its depths, and across backgrounds and nationalities, is universal.

It encourages me to put my worries in perspective. And supportive social workers at our placements and who have gone ahead are very good at restoring some much needed faith that we will end up where we belong, particularly if they have seen it for years. We don’t need to get lost in a sea of options. We can swim with the current that comes easier to us, throw some bait around, and emerge with the catch.

I Have Confidence

This post was inspired by the mentioning of a video about a singing nun on my Facebook newsfeed. What we post one month, or one day, or one hour, is just a part of the many things that we wanted to share with someone. But when it’s all juxtaposed with, as my nun-referencing friend said, with kittens, clubbing, missing airplanes, and selfies, it really throws our minds in a million different directions. And sometimes we want that. But sometimes, especially in times of transition, but also in darker moments that everyone inevitably has, these million things are the million things we don’t have.

This is where the singing nun comes in. Julie Andrews sang in the 1960s movie, “The Sound of Music”, that she has confidence. Listening to it again, I was redirected from my papers, attempts to “figure out” my future, to a little figure running across my screen, weaving in and out clumsily with a bulky bag and guitar, bouncing onto a bus, pausing in squares and splashing water in fountains all the while sing-declaring the many many things she is confident in: “I have confidence in sunshine! I have confidence in rain! I have confidence that spring will come again!”

When darker moments come, it’s not because we want those million things on our newsfeeds per se. It’s this perception that we are lacking, and all these things are perhaps a reminder of that. We are so much more than how we compare to another person in one area of our lives–it’s such a narrow way to understand ourselves. There will always be, if one were to try to excel at something, some way to see someone else as doing “better” at it than oneself.

The other thing that breeds discontent is when people have so many contradictory views on this idea of being different. Particularly in New York, and especially for those who moved here, there was a desire for something different and to be different in some way. Even when people are trying to excel at something, in many arenas one must be different in order to “stand out” and be “noticed”. Social media campaigns, being a celebrity, can all turn into a question of how different one can be.

And yet the way we identify problems in society are often in the ends of conversations with people whose lives were dramatically affected by being different from the “rest”, somehow. The inadequate care and support they need leading to feeling inadequate themselves and leading to feeling less-than, somehow. Yet there is this need to be confident. Not only as prescribed by society, but because without it, change is impossible.

The singing nun starts with words that are a very bold declaration: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window”. Whatever one’s beliefs, values or faith derives from, I think this is a position that any change maker takes. This idea that there’s opportunities and space–for everyone. Perhaps not in the way we ideally want or expect it to be, but that within what we have, we make things work. In other words, there is opportunity when we create opportunity. I know that’s almost a catch-all term in self-help psychology, but it has a very specific role in our virtual space where things are not always what they seem.

This of course strikes a chord with me as I watch Maria leave the shelter of the monastery and sings, “What will this day be like? I wonder/ What will my future be? I wonder.” The lyrics are quite thoughtful even as they delivered with wild gesticulations and an almost giddy energy: One one hand, “I have confidence they’ll put me to the test” but on the other, she sings “..all I trust I lead my heart to / All I trust becomes my own”. And it then gets rather comical yet sad as she ends on a high note, only to bump up against the gates of the mansion and pause, muttering “Oh help”.

It’s a reminder that confidence is a lifelong project–I wouldn’t say struggle, because it’s a gift that we receive because we know we didn’t create all the problems that led to who we are today. And yet it’s something we have to actively dig up in ourselves as we prepare for interviews and sometimes have days when we feel lost and uncertain. To live in this complex world is to know it is fraught with uncertainty, and yet confidence means having certainty about certain things–that is the challenge. Maria had spent all those lyrics pumping herself up with her plans of how she will be, who she is, etc., but it can completely vanish. Confidence, then, is not something that we can control by holding onto it tightly enough, pasting it over the weaknesses we know we have, etc. But it is the knowing of this that enables us to call it back. To recognize our humanness, to adapt and adjust to new surroundings, new expectations, and to somehow make it work with who we are or who we want to be. So I think there are many layers of confidence, some that are paradoxical. Much like humans, through all our contradictions and idiocyncracies, who have such tremendous resources within ourselves to be confident in.

The Great Story

What an audacious phrase. And yet everyone looks for it. For better or for worse, everyone looks for The Great Story. We know things will always be bad. And then get better. And things will never be fair. There will be some improvements, but there will still be problems. That is why we either want something that’s such a knockout that it knocks the ball right out of the court, or we want to have something to keep turning back to, to keep grounding us, not rooted in our personal histories where our wounds are buried and hopefully at rest, but hollowed out in places that no one can decipher and can startle us every once in a while in the present day, if we have a particular response or reaction that reminds us of where we come from.

This turning to the story is something that settles us, that puts us back into bird’s-eye view of the hospital heart monitor as our pulses shoot up or down and at least reminds us, in spite of all the twisting and irregularities of life, that at least we are not flat-lining. We have seen enough success in the variety of clients facing death, eviction, current homelessness, illness, trauma, and violence to know things affect us differently and it is all in time. We have thought critically enough to know when we are being lazy, when our expectations might be too high, and even times when we are not sure which. The surprises, the unplanned-for, the dramatic difference between eternal stretches of time and frenetic activity–they all call for that story. Pieces of our experiences we held up in relation to all the other people in our lives and kept affirming over and over that it resonated with us.

It is all too too easy to compare, but as the saying goes, it helps to never let success get to our heads and to never let failures get to our hearts. Finding our equilibrium is not so much about social perceptions of what it means to work for someone who has a less privileged background than yourself, even if it is a question of that (this dynamic occurs outside of social work, clearly). And that is why we need to have that great story, to steady our pace and to match our breaths with. To not hold too tightly to the metaphors of the journey as this or that or the other.

For me, the contents of that story are about things that aren’t necessarily the “best parts” that curate all the scratches from the journey thus far and craft a story whittling away and sanding down the sides. The great story is symbolic, personal to me and universal in that I see it everywhere. Looking for the great story can come from different motives, and that could change the meaning of it. This is possibly where attunement resides, where the ship’s rudder needs to be created. I can not know things yet I can still know that there are some things I am “about”, if you were to compare me to a book. A book among an eternal stretch of other books, each just as worth reading as the other.

Mountains, Molehills, and Us

Much of the work of social work is around our fears. As beautifully illustrated by David McCandlessthe things that affect us with words like “catastrophe” or “apocalypse” or “crisis” can range from Y2K to the swine flu. The fact that they can have that platform is due to what you see on the y axis, which indicates Intensity, defined as the number of stories. 

What is the number of stories you hear? Through slices of others’ lives on social media, through clients and those around us? How great is the intensity of their stories? The ones on this graph may seem humorous in hindsight, but are there crises you would not want to map here?

Overcoming fear is necessary for every mountain. Taking on a crisis that is not one’s own, which is what social workers will inevitably do, involves experiencing the very real harshness of the ascent. But it also involves experiencing that mountains will not always have the same terrain that we envision in our own heads–the reaction we might have about a child in “crisis” may not be the same one as his. It has always been his story, he is surrounded by similar stories, he is used to the silence.

Perhaps the real, or at least first mountain we need to slay starts from us. Through our limited perspective, the one to slay is the fear of that silence. The fear of listening and feeling whatever comes up. The fear of realizing that our blanket terrain for all the intolerable pain “out there” in the world can have far more nuance and, dare I say it, even moments of joy and hope and beauty that, if given the opportunity, can hint at things that allow us, in our own tiny ways, to supply the social capital to map out even more terrain for exploration and capacity building. In other words, truly educating ourselves on what a social problem is. That there are more ways of looking at things we “wish were different” as either molehills or #firstworldproblems, or dark, looming mountains we cannot afford to look at. In other words, to change how we see what we can do, and not be so quick to assume how little we can supply. When we see things moving, based on what I’ve seen, it gets people going.

It’s Okay

Dear Reader, if you are like me and graduating in a few months (gasp!) you probably have a lot of feelings around that. If you are a prospective you are in for possibly the adventure of your life, both in your environment and within. And if you are already in “the whole wide world”, even in moments of seeming stillness and even a sense of stagnancy there are always things brewing in how you prepare for opportunities or how these opportunities are, though it may not seem so, coming your way. Or you might be flooded and need a little ledge to dry off and get some perspective before settling on something again.

If social workers can take away one thing from their education and give one thing through their education, my takeaway was “it’s okay”. That might sound childlike and ridiculous, and not representative of two years of graduate school, 21-hour work weeks, reams of process recordings, and hours of supervision. Still, with all the diversity of placements, the complex psychoanalytic theories and evidence-based interventions, and the public’s perception of social work (“so what exactly do you do?”), the thing that remains is whatever the client carries with them, not only right after the session, but even years down the line. Of course in the face of certain events and issues that should not be tolerated, what happened is not okay. But it’s okay that you are responding the way you are. It’s okay not to be okay with it. You matter, you can tell me, it’s okay. It will be okay, and remember the way life threw the idea of the impossible out the window for you that last time.

I feel like this post needs to be longer to defend my view or explain it. I only speak for the things that help a heart catch up with the mind, the things that win the heart to a certain purpose or hope, the things that teach a heart to say–no matter what, we’ll get through this, it’s okay. But I can only say it’s something that I grew to believe more and more over my two years at NYU Silver School of Social Work. Not that life seems any easier or I am smarter–in a way I am more aware of my inadequacies. And it’s okay. And that is the point.

Thank You, Valentine

In addition to hearts shot with cupid’s arrow and inscribed candy ones, there’s the kind that echoes through history in the way that literally only bleeding hearts can. The name runs through hagiographies and chronicles, and means worthy, strong, and powerful. Whose account runs through 12 different narratives, arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately killed for charges including trying to marry couples and sharing his beliefs. Apparently Saint Valentine was a martyr in different form and countries from the time of the ancient Roman era to as recent as the 1930s.

The split between the spiritual and the political seems no more pronounced than in something like martyrdom, where competing interests and the martyr’s commitment to his or her belief literally comes to a crossroads of the choice between life and death. For the heart to be so full of passion that it would somehow rather bleed for what it beats so strongly for. At the risk of sounding morbid, that it would rather be emptied and lie in dark catacombs under lofty cathedral buttresses as footsteps echo across marble floors as fingers point and voices whisper: “and that one is Valentine”.

Let me be honest. It makes me uncomfortable when I hear echoes of this sentiment, just as other social workers do, from random people we meet at gatherings and parties that include thoughts like: “Oh, you must be such a caring person” or “Oh, it must be so hard, the emotional toll”. As though we won’t hear about the tremendous sacrifices they make of their own, if we were to talk a little further. And although we may perhaps bear witness and vicariously experience things, like with everything in life we put things on the line because nothing that we commit to in any serious way exists without some sort of split with the comfort that we associate with what is predictable and low-risk. To not risk is a greater risk, when we think of all the things that can go wrong and by default end up with a life we didn’t choose. Instead, we have taken the risk that some sort of light in us could be bright enough, and perhaps even kindle more, where we go. If anything, there is even the risk we take that we may feel we don’t make enough of a difference, and the feelings that may come with that.

Would I be comparing the Valentines with social work? That would go against our Code of Ethics; we can even say Valentine would be an example of how we shouldn’t go about doing things, an example of bad boundaries. And yet social work is based on passion and an upholding of values. It’s therefore not the opposite of Valentine; it is a very delicate navigating through the space between professionalism and treating people as more than caseloads and numbers.

Perhaps you or I will feel as though we were extremely idealistic, and at times unsure if we were too idealistic. But just as the stories of the Valentines are traced in fragments and perspectives vary widely, our individual experience of the choices we make and what makes our hearts beat are as unique as our fingerprints. We can choose to value our individual contributions no matter how “small” as just as much a mark on history as those memorialized in shrines under lofty vaults simply because a heart is so precious and coming from it toward another requires no debate or questioning. In a world of injustice and lack of privilege, it’s the singular privilege we can gratefully exercise. I’m thankful that social work holds keys to things that remind me of how (like the meaning of Valentine) worthy, strong, and powerful each and every heart is. Thank you, Valentine.

The ‘I’ In International Social Work


We live in an in-and-out kind of world on so many levels. It’s fast, it’s even dizzying, where it’s somehow easier and harder to see things. Because there is so much to look at, the ‘I’ part gets lost.

I see an ironic poverty in American social policy. In our abundance of systems and voices, we can immediately sense defensiveness at the suggestion of change–because there is such a wealth of reasons against us. First the little ‘I‘ must overcome its own inner struggle trying to figure out which “we” it is part of, fighting for, or against. Next, the more that American social workers study social policy in order to be effective advocates, the more we will be flooded with information streams about both sides of every single possible change we want to make, and all the people who disagree or agree with it.

Call me a skeptic, but my hopefulness sees no future in long debates that go in circles. What would happen if the little ‘I’ cast its net as wide as it could, tried to “other” people less, get more feedback, and problem solve together? In other words, what might happen if my American poverty in its critical and information-saturated blindness turned its eye onto landscapes where people are just now sharpening their tools and pencils to build their systems up from the grassroots?

This is why I’m excited about what hasn’t been done yet. This is where the phrase “international social work”–as colossal and daunting as it may seem, really deserves a lot of attention from social workers. And not just attention, but collaboration and a willingness to do a whole lot of listening (which we all came to school to do). I came across a quote that said something to effect of: “To have something you never had, you must do something you never have.” Social policy is therefore a question to the little ‘I’. What is it that you want? What must you do to get it? and most importantly, How badly do you want it?

In other words, how bad is our American poverty that we will be humble to accept the insight that the wealth of other nations can teach us. In our weakness in addressing our most vulnerable populations, I wonder if the typical “What’s in it for us” question holds much weight–or perhaps has a different answer. There’s so many challenges and frustrations people in every sphere feel, but by looking more globally perhaps there are even more solutions than we can imagine–if we simply do.


Hunger Cry of the Tiger Daughter: A Social Work Response

The Battle hymn. The looming spectre of “Tiger Mother”, alert at the side of the Ivy-league bound tiger daughter as she, voluntarily or involuntarily, is bound to her piano seat, practicing scales for the umpteenth time, her adolescent body trying not to fall asleep. When I write “The Hunger Cry of the Tiger Daughter”, it is not from across the other side of the Coliseum, kung fu fighting style as Brooklyn Dragon takes on Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother oppressive racist self-hatred as readers of Huffington Post and The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother watch. Rather, I will be my usual marketplace of ideas in hopes of articulating a coherent cry.

Back to the Battle hymn. We must focus on the song. If the lessons are involuntary, perhaps those fearsome tiger eyes can feel like manacles on those wrists. And, or, perhaps that battle hymn bringing her that one step closer to the shining gates of even more containment could take on a macabre sort of beauty. The Tiger Daughter might have a thing for the romantics, perhaps Danse Macabre is her favorite. She might start liking it. She might start becoming it. She might become the perfect little “Tiger Daughter” singing and playing the battle hymn with the “Tiger Mother” until the final triumph.

I’ll try to be brief with my hunger cry, limiting this to what may come out as Tiger Mom dukes it out with Brooklyn Dragon. Tiger Daughter, woken from her perfectionism, cries out. What does a hunger cry sound like? A sound of anguish or a sound of frustration? And how does a hunger cry feel for the Tiger Mother? Another burden and something she must steel herself against, or heart wrenching and reminding her again of how little and how inadequate she is? I think I’ve felt and also heard both.

I became familiarized with Amy Chua before she bcame Tiger Mother to me through a book that nevertheless blazes with a familiar, as William Blake writes in his poem The Tiger, “fearful symmetry”. The book was called “World on Fire”, assigned in my international relations political science class on ethnic conflict at Columbia University. I hated political science. Not that it is not extremely meaningful and useful, just simply because my mind couldn’t stay engaged. But not with this one. It somehow felt familiar. The core of the syllabus was around my professor’s term “marketplace of ideas” but the excitement for me ended there, perhaps because I came from a different perspective or was built differently somehow. In any case her name was therefore familiar when I met her as Tiger Mom years later.

When I reread World on Fire’s subheading: “How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability”, the Tiger Daughter, shown very different viewpoints by people whose views matter to her, seemed to be that “marketplace of ideas” that my professor talked about–within herself. And much like in a country with a very wealthy minority–the powerful Tiger Mother who she loves very much–becomes one who, especially if she holds the reins tightly when the American school system and social expectations are, well, very democratic, perhaps “ethnic hatred” and “instability” can occur at an interpersonal level as well.

And hence my question to Chua of what Tiger Daughter’s hunger cry sounds like, for in page 205 describes how one of her daughters finally screams: “You’re a terrible mother. You’re selfish…After all you’ve done for me? Everything you say you do for me is actually for yourself.” It’s interesting, Tiger Mom’s response, for she says: “She’s just like me, I thought, compulsively cruel. ‘You are a terrible daughter,’ I said aloud.” Her daughter says: “I’m not what you want–I’m not Chinese! I don’t want to be Chinese. Why can’t you get that through your head? I hate the violin. I HATE my life. I HATE you, and I HATE this family! I’m going to take this glass and smash it!”

When her daughter ends by smashing a glass onto the floor in front of shocked guests at a cafe in St. Petersberg, the Tiger Mother got up and ran. She describes it:

“I ran as fast as I could, not knowing where I was going, a crazy forty-six-year-old woman sprinting in sandals and crying. I ran past Lenin’s mausoleum and past some guards with guns who I thought might shoot me. Then I stopped. I had come to the end of Red Square. There was nowhere to go.”

This picture is a far cry from the image of a driven, confident Yale law professor who says she made a career of spurning the kind of Western parents who couldn’t control their kids. Her candid sharing of such things makes it safe to really think about what Tolstoy means in his first words in Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

When I was Tiger Mothered, I remember some of my very harsh hunger cries. And looking back to all the painful, teary, sometimes morbidly funny drama that I don’t have the space to go into, I reenvision the Tiger Mother maniacal drive for “my future” as more of a limited mother who was once a daughter who dreamed like a fairy godmother does when she sees pumpkins and little girls looking out of windows at faraway castles and thinking, if only, I could send her to her prince and her happily ever after.

William Blake, who I referenced very briefly above, also wrote an accompanying poem to the famous “The Tiger” called “The Lamb”. “The Tiger” is from the Songs of Experience and “The Lamb” is from the Songs of Innocence. They reflect the idea that to achieve truth one must see the contraries in innocence and experience. Much like foundational concepts in every culture one can think of. Much like the Mother and the Daughter. And within the text of “The Tiger” Blake presents the belief that to see one, the hand that created “The Lamb”, one must also see the other, the hand that created “The Tiger”.

And all these writers, and all the writers to follow, remind me that what we produce–our life’s work, our life’s children, our life’s ability to shape what that means, are all connected. Am I jumping to conclusions when I take Chua’s memoir and re-envision it as an internalization of her political science work? I could be wrong and if that is not true for her, that is not true for her. But thinking through my internalized conflicts and struggle to articulate why I struggle to articulate all the voices and values going on for a marketplace-of-ideas kind of Tiger Daughter, I needed to figure out why these two books felt connected to me, and why one managed to keep me awake even while the other was, as the Brooklyn Dragon put it, controversial and offensive.

I can’t wait to hear back from the Coliseum and wonder what Chua is thinking, where Tiger and Dragon are at by now. No matter what, being able to have a voice is what ferocity is about and both of them have it in spades. What I have to offer is my gratitude, for there was never anything a mother who truly loves her daughter asks in return. With whatever means she has, she responds to the hunger cry. And daughters become mothers as we continue to call and respond and one day do more responding than calling. I hope in the midst of these writings, ethnic conflicts and instabilities, there will be sharing of ideas that helps us integrate the concepts of mother and daughter, tiger and lamb. And that in peace, we can battle through the confusion and marketplace of ideas together.