Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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The carrot and the stick of stereotypes.

Published: 19 Feb 2012

My wife constantly surprises me. I always find myself learning new things. Not just about her, but about life in general. Recently, I was surprised by her reaction when I relayed a quote I saw on Twitter that amused me:

Overheard in yoga: there’s NOTHING you will ever be able to do in yoga that a young Asian girl can’t do better.

From James Altucher

Since my wife is (relatively) young, Asian, does yoga and is in shape I thought she would appreciate this. She didn’t. She immediately starting explaining why it’s so annoying.

Peer pressure sucks.

My wife has never been very flexible. When she says this, people automatically append a disclaimer. What they hear, instead, is ”I’m not very flexible for an Asian.” Well, I don’t know if this is what they hear, we just assume. I still believe that all Asians are ninjas. It does seem this is standard from the responses and reactions from other people.

And now she is always under pressure to live up to this reputation; she must always honor the disclaimer. I never, ever thought about this from her perspective. Just by the virtue of what we are born as, expectations are set for us. That part I got, but I never thought about feeling obligated to meet those expectations.

Escaping is failure.

I don’t know if this is a problem. Unless, of course, you’re Irish and trying to live up to the expectations of being drunk. That’s probably not too good for you.

Whatever the predestined expectations, whether it is to be better at math, better at yoga, better at running, you either meet the silent expectations or you fall short. Even if it doesn’t come natural (like my wife’s flexibility) there is pressure to preform at predefined levels.

Failing to live up to these standards means people have to make themselves worse. Giving up means not being the best you can be. All because the common cultural zeitgeist thinks you should be able to perform at certain levels.

For my wife, not meeting those expectations is not acceptable. Fortunately she loves doing yoga and yoga has done wonders for her flexibility. Now she can live up to these expectations.

It’s still not fair. I know I’m guilty of assuming people can or should do things based on what they are and not who they are. Even if it’s not inherently harmful, it’s not fair.

I don’t mind this to be a discussion about race, but it could easily be viewed as one. It’s made me rethink how I view and what expectations I subconsciously set for everybody.