Awesome is an oft-repeated word in the US. Ask how is the weather? The answer could be ‘awesome’. Wear a new vibrant coloured suit to the office with reluctance, awesome might be the comment you receive from colleagues. Sport a weird haircut with frontal spikes and enter the portals of your school -- expect someone to comment ‘awesome haircut’.
Your child writes a poem and the teacher would be ready to shower her with an ‘awesome’ comment. In short, this is certainly a magical word that keeps us going in the US and it remains the secret ingredient in cooking extra-large confidence.
But this overworked magical word also has an unnoticed flip side that looms large in the parenting adjustments, particularly for the immigrants. There are inadvertent compulsions to change the original vocabulary that has limited space for the word ‘awesome’.
Certainly an engagement new to the Indian mindset. We are used to being critical in passing judgements and comments that are simply not the norm here at the workplace or even at school and colleges. Does this mean all is well? Does not seem to be so either.
“My eight-year-old daughter thinks she is an author because of the comments she receives from her teacher at school. When she brings the answer copies home, I am shocked over the gross spelling mistakes in the copy and her illegible handwriting. I feel it’s my duty to correct her. But she can’t take criticism and resists as she expected me to say ‘awesome’.
My effort to correct her is clearly depressing for her,” lamented Maheshwari, a mother of two. Maheshwari recollected her childhood days when she longed for an appreciation from her parents while showing them her answer script.
Instead, she always received critical feedback from not just her parents, but also her extended family. Their different perspectives remained an ordeal she had to go through. Every child used to go through the experience of analysing and introspecting each comment and finally learning to ignore what is not required.
This drill appears embarrassing sometimes, but it was certainly made us determined and who we are today. Now that this drill is replaced by all good comments and encouraging words like ‘awesome’ and ‘great’, given in good intention to motivate and boost the morale of pupil, the grinding prep to evolve as a person is lost. Many children growing up in the US are naive and simply fail to accept disappointments and dejections. For one, they are never let to taste one.
The building up of stress and depression is delayed till a later stage of life. Much of these are believed to be the way we teach our kids to respond to both accomplishments as well as disappointments. “Exposing children to rejections and critical comments is an important technique in parenting that we miss it in the modern-day professed dictums.
In the presence of jarring jargons like ‘awesome’ and ‘great’, one cannot avoid these realities,” said Raghav Rajaram, an IT professional and a father of two who takes an active role in school PTA events.
At the school, one has the least opportunities to discuss scores and so there’s just no way for children to compare themselves with the performance of the others. While this is just so apt for the positive growth of a child as an individual, it also closes the doors for benchmark analyses to see actually what that ‘awesome’ means.
At the workplace, too, there is no one who dares to pass harsh comments on shoddy work. If there is a comment on the job quality, it would have to be done in private by the manager. Even as the ‘awesome’ ordeal continues, the shoddy work is marked in a subtle way by denied increments and postponed promotions.
Being polite and courteous seems such a right etiquette but not always when it does not send the right signal to the subject. Here, the sharp contrast with the blunt comments that immigrants are used to making back at home comes in handy. But one has to be extremely careful about the occasions of choosing to use these. The only safe option is to compliment each other as that alone appears to be the working model.
In the case of many immigrants who had to pack their bags and return due to issues related to visa, they often blame the short-stay on not being able to adjust to the lifestyle. “The child could not adjust to the school” or “the workplace was too different from ours” are a few comments that are often revisited.
But it would be unfair to say all bad about the positive and nurturing comments that are given freely in the US society. In reality, these words have also led some people to tremendous success through encouragement. The positive tales of nurturing and encouraging everyone are truly American.
Of course, judicious praise is always welcome. Having said that, ‘awesome’ or such ‘inspirational’ words will remain in the US lexicon world. It perhaps offers another formula to help immigrants embrace cultural shifts appropriately.
— The writer is a journalist based in New York