Monday, March 05, 2007

Glass Ceiling

I completely expose my "vintage" by mentioning a movie in the 80s named Trading Places in which a pair of filthy rich siblings in Manhattan made a bet to amuse themselves – have an educated, promising young Caucasian man trade places with a Negro beggar off the street and see if genetics and predisposition to succeed determine one's destiny. The movie starring Eddie Murphy was shallow but the message behind was definitely thought-provoking.

Perhaps I had lived in a meritocratic society too long where I took the plentiful opportunities for hard-workers to make-good for granted; I was in complete shock when I first heard Argentines of European descent talked about people of darker skin as those who have the lazy gene (in fact, an increasingly common occurrence confirmed in a recent post of D for Disorientation). This self-satisfied bunch surmise that "those people" are predisposed to be good-for-nothing thieves because they are genetically lazy or stupid.

It is simply surrealistic that such mentality exists in the 21st C. Little did I know just how entrenched it is and that I have been enveloped in it the whole time without realisation.

We had La Familia came over on Sunday for lunch; four generations which completed the chaotic scene of walking sticks, grandparents clowning, parents shouting and kids screaming. After the parents carried their worn-out children home, the conversation between the remaining adults turned to the little ones.

The conversation first started on this track when Abuela mentioned Abuelo's three nephews are all medical professionals in high places because the father was a medical doctor. Guillermo, a psychologist specialising in the development of intelligence, tried to explain to his family that while inherited talents play some part in one's destiny, intelligence is now known to be a developmental process and early stimulation plays a vital part in one's eventual intelligence.

High achievers run in a family not so much because they have inherited a special strand of DNA but because the parents or perhaps even the extended family provide a nurturing environment which inspires and supports their intellectual pursuits.

I was part amused and part surprised that my husband's learned view, based on endless research within the international academic community, was casually and completely brushed aside by his own family as his parents insisted on the predisposition of kids in following the footsteps of their parents. To follow their logic then perhaps I should seriously wonder if Guillermo was adopted.

Distilled, my parents-in-law are basically of the view that since it has been predetermined by genetics, there is sod-all one can do which then follows that it is alright for the parents or them, the grandparents, to wash their hands in the intellectual development of the kids.

With this conviction, they are satisfied in playing their role as abuelos (grandparents) with slap-stick humour, chocolates, gaseosas (sugary frizzy drinks), and pelota (ball). As we are going to have our first child, I am deeply saddened by their wrong-headed belief. I can only remember too well when my niece and nephew were little (as young as 1), their parents and mine (their grandparents) often sat them on their laps reading story books together or how they all sat on the floor playing chess or Trivial Pursuit (my nephew was no more than 4 then).

Undeniably, glass ceiling still inhibits some of us in certain professions and social environments. However, the most inhibiting type of glass ceiling is one that we or our loved ones put on us; or worse, our future generation.

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