There is a Chinese phrase “任性” and I found it’s hard to have a matching English translation. Google Translate gives me words like “capricious” or “willfulness”, which are really not what “任性” refers to in terms of its implication of someone’s behavior.
One day when I was having a conversation with my son and attempting to convince him doing his homework instead of playing video games, I suddenly figured out how to explain the meaning of this particular Chinese word to him, although that needing much more effort in English. I explained that when you make a choice between homework and video game, it’s not about which one you like or dislike, it’s really about what’s the right thing to do at that particular moment. So the criterion of making a choice is really all about right or wrong, rather than how you feel (like or dislike). If you can’t make the right choice based on this standard, this means you are too “任性” in Chinese.
Actually, I started introducing my son this concept when he was much younger, when it was still a difficult concept to him. Since then, whenever I had the opportunity, I brought up this concept to explain why it’s time to his swimming practice, why he needs to practice a bit extra math each day on top of his homework, why he needs to go to Chinese school in the afternoon on every Saturday, so on and so forth. Sometimes, the same conversation repeats a few times on a single day.
Only after this kind of repetitiveness, my son starts getting a hang of it; and the times that he struggles of making the “right choice” has been significantly reduced over time, and he becomes happier even when was told to do things that is not necessarily of his own first choice – per his feeling. Most importantly, he starts making “the right choices” on his own, rather than simply follows his feelings!
Isn’t this what “growing-up” truly means, becoming less “任性”, and making choices more consciously and more rationally?
By this standard alone, have we, as grown-ups by age, really grown up according to our ability of making right choices, especially under circumstances that are allured by strong personal feelings?
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