Archive | 10:32 am

On “The Art of Choosing”: A Talk by Sheena Iyengar

25 Jan

Sheena Iyengar, a professor of business in the Management Division at Columbia Business School, has studied choice for the last 2 decades. She is of bicultural background- her parents Sikhs from Delhi, her education American – both with very different views on individual choice.

In her TEDtalk on “The Art of Choosing,” she discusses 3 assumptions that are deeply embedded in the American framework of decision-making (they almost seem innate), and compares them with how people of different cultures / backgrounds react to them.

1st assumption: Make your own choices

One of her studies compares how Anglo-American and Asian-American children react to choice. Anglo-American children fared far better when they chose their own puzzles as opposed to when they were told which ones to do. The Asian- American kids did best when it was their mothers who chose the puzzles!

I rejected The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, until Desi recommended and wrote about it here and here. The book received massive publicity among parenting groups because of the tough methods the Tiger Mother used. She decided that her daughters would play instruments, that her older daughter would play the piano; and that her second daughter would play the violin. And succeed they both did.

According to Sheena Iyengar, first generation children are strongly influenced by their immigrant parents approach to choice. “Success was just as much about pleasing key figures as it was about satisfying one’s own preferences.” Choices are made based on how they might benefit not only the individual self, but more likely a group of people who were infinitely tied together.

2nd assumption: More options –> Better choices

Iyengar ran studies with people in the former Soviet Union after their markets had opened up. In a gesture of hospitality, she offered her participants a drink: 7 types of soda. They perceived those 7 drinks as one choice. Then she tried something else. She offered the 7 types of soda as well as juice and water. They now perceived that as 3 choices – soda, juice, and water.

Some of her participants associated the following words and phrases with choice:

Fear,

It is too much. We don’t need everything that is there,

Many of these choices are quite artificial,

We don’t all see choices in the same places or to the same extent as others. If one is not sufficiently prepared to deal with as much choice as is around in many places today, it can all become overwhelming, and create fear – the exact opposite of what choice is supposed to do.

I remember when I moved to Montreal, buying a simple t-shirt would become a nightmare. I always waited until the last minute. All my t-shirts had holes in them, were faded, shrunken, or out of shape by the time I dragged myself over to the Eaton Centre on St. Catherine Street. One shop after another showed-off similar merchandise at only slightly different prices. So how does one choose the best t-shirt? I couldn’t be bothered to do the market research that my parents and brother were experts at. In any case, no matter what I did, I would feel ripped-off. So I’d pick one, get it, and that’s it. Done. Walk out feeling good. If I checked out any more shops – either the price would be fairer for a similar t-shirt, or the fit and colour would suit me better than the one I had bought.

3rd assumption: Never say NO to choice

Sheena Iyengar discusses how doctors at NICU’s (Neonatal Intensive Care Units) in the US gave certain choices about the fate of their babies to the parents. There came a point where a choice had to be made about some babies of life support: either to remove the life-support, or to leave it in which case the baby would either die in a few days, or stay in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. In France, it was the doctors who decided when and whether the life support would be removed, where in the US the final decision was with the parents.

Ms. Iyengar and her co-researchers studied how this decision-making process affected the parents. They found that the parents in US had coped with their loss differently from their French counterparts.

French parents were more likely to say things like: “Noah was here for so little time but he taught us so much. He gave us a new perspective on life.”

American parents said things like: “What if?”

and,

“I feel as if I’ve played a role in an execution.”

When asked if they would give up that choice, the American parents all said NO.

When Leila and Rahul were at the Queen Mary Hospital’s NICU in Hong Kong, we weren’t told exactly what was going on with them all the time, and our opinion was seldom asked. We felt confident in our doctors and nurses though, sure that they were capable and doing their very best for our children. If we had been faced with removing life-support, that’s another question. Not an easy one to hypothesize about. I don’t know what the policy at the Queen Mary Hospital is when it comes to that.

Please take the time to watch this talk. It’s about 20 minutes long, one of the longer TEDtalks that I have come across; and one of the best. Don’t stop the show until after Ms. Iyengar responds to how she herself, being blind, deals with choice since it is such a visual thing for most of us. She completes her answer poetically:

“As far as I can tell, a rose by any other name probably does look different and maybe even smells different.”

 

How do you handle choice? Do you thrive when you have more options, or does it create fear? How much choice do you give your children? What happens to the parenting if you and your partner perceive choice differently because of your different backgrounds?

I’m on the lookout for Sheena Iyengar’s book: The Art of Choosing

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Natasha lives in Chengdu, China with her husband Maher, and two-year-old twins Leila and Rahul. She was an Ashtanga Yoga teacher until her little yogis became the teachers. You can read more of her stories at Our Little Yogis (http://natashadevalia.com)

Permission to Give Birth – part 1

25 Jan

The first thing a Chinese woman has to do when she discovers she’s pregnant is to get a “Permission to Give Birth” documentTo get it she has to apply for it – in a bureau and she has to take her marriage certificate. It is illegal for a nonmarried couple to have a baby. If she doesn’t get the permission to give birth, she can’t deliver in a hospital. This also means  that her child won’t be able to have identity papers, go to school, work, travel, or even live in another city.He will be marginalized; socially unaccepted. 

When I found out I was pregnant, I was extremely happy. I rushed to see my very close friend and neighbor to share my excitement.  The second thing was to see a doctor,who could confirm the pregnancy with a blood test.

The first question my Chinese doctor asked was, Do you want to keep this baby?” I said, “Of course.”

The only other questions she asked were the father’s name, my date of birth, and after a quick calculation, she asked me to come back in 2 weeks for the first ultrasound.

In the meantime she asked me to do the following:

– Not to use my computer

– Not to use my cell phone

Not to eat raw food

– To watch as little TV as necessary

– To drink fortified milk powder every day

– To stay away from cats and dogs

– To eat a lot of fruit

– To eat a lot of meat

Since my pregnancy was going well my doctor decided not to overdo it with excessive blood and urine tests, just the regular ultrasound  schedule.

As foreigners, we were allowed to know the gender of our child. Because of China’s one child policy, doctors are not allowed to reveal the gender of a foetus while it is still in the womb, but this is slowly changing in the cities because some doctors consider they are not dealing with farmers anymore who would get rid of the baby if it’s a girl. If the doctors are caught they can have their practice removed and face very high fines.

At our first 3D ultrasound, the nurse asked us if we wanted a DVD of the scans. We were excited. We said yes. She then informed us that they had a viewing roomwhere all our friends and family could watch the DVD’s of each ultrasound. That was a bit extreme, so we said no. But the truth is that when we got the videos, we sent them to our families by email.

At the second ultrasound, the same nurse screamed, “Aiiiiiiiiiiii, so cute! But look at the HUGE nose!!”

I didn’t understand, the nose looked normal. Even tiny. But then I was the mother after all.

Was my baby a monster?

They see babies every day. They must know better than me. Then she called another nurse who was walking by and told her, laughing,Look, look at this baby’s nose!

A very close Chinese friend who was present, noticed that I was on the verge of crying. She sweetly said,Don’t worry. We Chinese have very flat noses, so for us this is a big nose. But we consider big noses are good. To have a bump on your nose is even considered good luck.”

It made me feel a tiny bit better.

But it was the same story at every single ultrasound over the following 5 months.

Scan. “Heart ok”.

Scan scan. Brain ok”

Scan scan scan. ” Ooooooh look, look, look. A big nose. There’s laughing, calling out to the other nurses, and pointing at the baby’s nose.

At my 7 month check up, I requested a private appointment with the doctor to discuss my birth plan. I was a bit afraid of the cultural differences and wanted to talk about the  Chinese procedures. I asked for it because the visits to the doctor here are always made with an open door. Anyone can come in, ask a question, sit and stare at you until you are done. She simply said “no need for a private appointment” and closed the door. For the first time I saw her relax.

Shput down her pen, and with a smile said: “So what do you want to discuss?”

MeCan my husband be present at the birth?

Doctor: Usually family members are not allowed in because in China, hundreds of people would crowd into the room. I think it’s in the mother’s best interest to be able to focus. But if your husband manages to stay calm, he can be present.

Me: Unless there is a medical problem, I want to have a natural birth.

Doctor: Fantastic we encourage that! Currently at ourhospital we have only 40% rate of natural birth.The management has asked us to increase this number.

Me: If possible, I don’t want any drugs.

The doctor smiles: Ok, I will give them to you only if you ask.

Me: I want my baby with me at all times and I’mplanning to breastfeed exclusively. I don’t want anyone to give water or formula to my baby.

Doctor: your baby will be with you all the time. Nobody else will feed her unless there is a medical problem.

I am amazed. So far she says exactly what I want to hear.

Me: Can you wait until the umbilical cord stops pulsating before you cut it? In Europe we believe that it reduces the risk of jaundice.

 Doctor (suddenly more serious)We believe the opposite. The more you allow the baby to take blood from the placenta once it’s born, the more problems you have.

 MeBut can you please leave it if we ask you to?

Doctor: I’m sorry. I can’t do that. This is a medical issue. I am responsible for the delivery.

Then she asked “What do you want to do with the placenta?” I was caught off guard.

“What do you mean?”

Well, in China, some people want to take it home,she said, almost whispering.

That’s when I remembered someone had mentioned to me that some people here cook the placenta and eat it. Apparently it is extremely good for you.

No, no I don’t want it. I said in disgust.

Well you can rest assured, in this hospital we destroy it after birth.

 

For a second there, I had a doubt. This is country where  black markets are bigger than legal markets. I had to focus on answering the next question in order to forget the image of people sitting around a table eating my placenta.

Pascaline is greek, she lives in China since 2008 with her french/lebanese husband I. In 2011 she gave birth to N. at Angels hospital in Chengdu. This is the first part of the series “Permission to give birth”.