A Story of Shame and Resentment

Kapitalust Money Debt Habits Border

Yesterday was like any other day at work: droning away amidst tedious tasks. Often times, I let my mind float and wander while I conduct mindless work. It’s relaxing and takes my mind off the fact I am utterly bored out of my mind. But yesterday, while my mind was floating down a road of emptiness, a sudden revelation appeared and crashed into me with the force of a semi-truck. It’s my story of shame and resentment.


 

A Story

I was born in Seoul and moved to Canada before kindergarden. My wife was born in Canada; her descendants came from England. My wife has always desired to teach our future children Korean. And every time she has mentioned it, she has been met with either complete disinterest or stoney silence from me. Why? Well, until yesterday, I had not even thought about why I reacted this way – I just reacted almost instinctually, without thought and reason.

Now, this reaction is rather peculiar because I pride myself on being a very logical and rational human being. I approach almost everything with logic, rationality, and reason. I try very hard not to let emotion interfere with my decision making process. Yet, my cold and callous reaction to my wife was anything but logical and rational. Why? Well, for that, I need to tell you a story.

Shame

When I was a child growing up in Canada, I encountered both blatant and subtle forms of racism and bullying. I really took it to heart and it hurt me very deeply – hurt and pain I still apparently carry around to this day. This made me feel very shameful. I was embarrassed, frustrated, and angry about being different. This pain made me vow to be as “un-different” as possible, so that I wouldn’t have to feel such hurt and pain again. It pushed me to disowning my cultural and ethnic heritage growing up. I did everything in my power to blend in. I was that Asian guy all throughout school who was the lone Asian guy in a group of white, caucasian friends.

Resentment

Trying so hard to fit in caused me to see the world in a very one dimensional manner: all things white, caucasian, and Canadian were good, everything else was bad. Especially anything to do with my own ethnic background. I remember really resenting my parents for trying to get me to goto Korean school as a child. This horrified me because this was exactly what I was trying to actively avoid. I didn’t want to learn how to be more Korean – I wanted to be more Canadian. Korean school just accentuated the fact that I was different and I resented it vehemently. I resented the fact that while I was trying to not be different, I felt like my parents were “forcing” me to be different.

Emotional Decision Making

Now, at this point, you must be thinking “whoa, Steve, you might need some therapy.” Yeah, I know, it’s some deep subconscious psychological shit I am apparently still dealing with.

Anyways, how does this all tie in? Well, my responses to my wife were very emotionally-charged responses. Take a look at that picture up at the top again. That picture was inspired by a memory of something I had read in Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.

In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.

In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.

Those words and the picture above must have been my greatest takeaways from that book because that is literally all I remember about the book. And this is where I came to the realization that for all the logic and rationality I thought I carried myself with, there were massive blind spots in my life where emotion and irrationality stilled ruled. Blind spots where the gap between stimulus and reaction is very, very narrow.

And it is bad to have a narrow space between stimulus and reaction. Just look at my reactions to something utterly logical and rational: teaching your child a second language. Of course you should teach your child a second language! Hell, they are going to find the world a much more competitive place than even we, the millennials, currently occupy at the entry level. To think that I would react so blindly with irrationality makes me shudder. Why? Because I would never approach money and investing with such emotion and with such a narrow space between stimulus and reaction.

Money and Debt

When it comes to stimulus and reaction, those who let emotion control their decision making process have a very narrow gap between the two. Those who use logic and reason in their decision making process have a larger gap.

When I was being floored yesterday with the revelation that I was being highly irrational in my response to my wife, it made me think about how emotion affects our money making decisions. From readings in behavioural finance, especially Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnman, I’ve learned emotions have a huge impact on our money making decisions. And this is not a good thing.

It got me thinking as to why so many people are so utterly terrible with money. From spending frivolously to getting deep into credit card debt, why do people make the same mistakes over and over again? Could it be that some long ago trauma associated with shame, resentment, anger, and/or other negative emotions influence bad money habits? Do people spend mindlessly because they are trying to fill some long forgotten pain? And if so, is this what is making the gap so small between stimulus and reaction for people with bad money habits? Is this a lightbulb moment for you?

Conclusion

Well, what do I know? I’m just some guy telling you a story, an idea, and a hypothesis. But I found it profound enough idea to sit here and write this post out. Because if you are going to take one thing away from this post, I want you to consciously and continuously strive to increase that space between stimulus and reaction in all aspects of your life. Only in that space can we make intelligent and informed decisions, both in money and in life.

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  • My best friend was in a similar situation to you. She was born in Hong Kong, but at 9, she moved to Canada – a very Caucasian part of Canada at that – so she always felt like the odd-person out just by being herself. We didn’t talk about it when we were younger (we’ve known each other since high school) but once we got to university and there was more diversity, she started opening up about how conflicted she felt not feeling Asian enough, and never being able to be white enough because of her appearance, even though she “acted white” – whatever that means. I think it’s a common issue with my immigrant friends especially.

    I’m a very emotional decision maker – even though I like to consider myself a fairly rational person. I might be wrong on that 🙂

    • Kapitalust

      I think I was trying so hard to “act white” I buried anything about feeling asian very, very deep down. Still to this day, I have very little interest in learning about my cultural heritage and history. And I’m pretty sure I feel/act this way because I am still striving to fit in and be as white as possible. It’s rather peculiar!

  • M

    I would like to reply to this on my own blog, if that is okay with you? My answer is very long, but this is a subject I have been thinking about for the last few weeks, and was only talking about with a friend on Tuesday. This will be the post link:

    • Kapitalust

      Sorry WordPress auto deleted your link – I went to go look for the “Emotions and Money” post but couldn’t find it, will keep checking back!

      • M

        I’ve written it, but I think I’ll defer posting it ’til Saturday, as I might edit it somewhat before then.

        • Kapitalust

          Will definitely be checking it out on the weekend!!

  • Ahh, this is quite an interesting story. I suspect several of my friends felt that way, too, but I did not hear anything from them, like Alicia said.
    I do hope that your children are able to learn Korean. Like you said, who doesn’t want their kids to learn two languages?
    My brother had one very good friend who basically ended up trapped between two languages. His English was pretty bad and my friend was his Mandarin tutor and said he was really bad at that, too.

    • Kapitalust

      Hehe reminds me of someone at work who was born in Canada but does not possess perfect, accent free english. It kinda makes me wonder how that happened? I can’t attest to her Mandarin skills since I can’t speak the language, but have often wondered if she is in the situation you described above.
      Amateur psychoanalysis can be quite interesting – I think childhood pains can really cut deep and have profound influences on future development.

  • My great grandmother went through something similar, but for the opposite reason – she was more Canadian than caucasian! As a native child she was taken from her family and sent to a residential school in order to learn how to become white. She left the school so emotionally scarred that she refused to even acknowledge that she was native. The denial was so bad that when my grandmother and mother would try to find out more about their heritage and where we were from, they were punished for it. She is long gone now, and to this day we don’t know anything about that branch of our family history.

    It’s great that you have enough self awareness that you recognize you’re making an emotional response to your wife’s request. Kudos to your wife for being so interested in preserving your family culture! Your kids will definitely benefit not only by learning multiple languages, but by being exposed to cultures outside of what’s immediately available in their schools and communities.

    • Kapitalust

      Thanks for your story Cassie – I never made the connection between residential schools and how the emotional scars from that kind of experience can lead one to completely shunning their cultural heritage.

      My experience is only a super mild-tiny-non-forced form of what your great-grandmother and so many other first nations children had to go through. It makes me astonished how much impact racism can have at any level – and especially at the extreme end.

  • That’s an insightful realization. I bet your wife is pleased to hear this response and learn your underlying rationale. I think you’re totally correct in relating this to how some folks approach their finances. I’m on the other end of the spectrum from mindless spending–I probably spend TOO much time in the space between stimulus and reaction. (Mr. Frugalwoods and I have been debating whether or not to buy a stock pot for a good year now… might be a tad too much space 🙂 ). Really enjoyed this post–thank you!

    • M

      the stockpot is definitely worth it!

    • Kapitalust

      Haha my wife and I spend a lot of time between stimulus and reaction when it comes to spending as well! We will rarely buy anything – example, a book shelf and dinner table from Ikea have been on the back burner for 1.5 years: still living with no dinner table and a book shelf 😀

      I’m glad you enjoyed the read – it’s always a lot of scary to open up about emotions and failures that one tends to keep pretty closely guarded. But then again, it’s always more interesting when you hear people’s true stories beyond the surface level stuff.

  • I think your story is a pretty common one for non-white immigrants. People are always trying to fit in but do not realize that they just need to be themselves. Happiness comes from within. 🙂

    People’s money habits are definitely influenced by their emotions and personal background. If you grow up in a savers family and your parents never buy new things for you and always told you to save, there’s a high chance that you have negative thoughts about “saving money.” Chances are when you grow up and become independent you try to spend as much money to buy things because you want to fulfill what you missed in your childhood.

    • Kapitalust

      My parents were SUPER cheap/frugal growing up. And I am proud that they were in hindsight because they were immigrants working their butts off beyond 8 hours a day to make ends meet in a new and strange country and culture. Money was always tight, hence we NEVER went out to eat at restaurants or buy anything food related when out.

      Once I reached college, I spurged on eating out and going out for food and buying convenience foods because I had the freedom to finally do what I was denied growing up. I’ve definitely mellowed out and I am much more conscious about spending money eating out – but it’s still a big pleasure of mine to eat out at nice restaurants and order nice meals and drinks.

      In our budget, my biggest money waste area is dining out. Definitely something I am trying to balance out. Not that I spend an insane amount of money doing it, but I’d like to be making very conscious and deliberate choices when choosing to dine out.

      Funny, your comment made me realize another blindspot in my life when it comes to a narrow space between stimulus and reaction! Thanks 🙂

  • May

    I wonder if we all in some way have this kind of issue – maybe it is not cultural heritage – but maybe gender issues, sexual orientation, family situation, physical appearance, natural abilities, traumas and dramas. The list of things that cause personal (and unwarranted) shame is endless. I think it is because we all feel different but really we are all the same. Nice post.

    • Kapitalust

      I think you nailed it on the head that the cultural heritage aspect in my case, and all the other examples you gave, are just the smaller pieces of a larger issue of wanting to fit in, whatever that means. It really is a paradox that we all feel different but fundamental at the core we are all the same. Great comment! Thanks for making me think 🙂

  • You are not crazy for thinking this. Racism is real and sometimes comes in very subtle forms. Although I am white, I am passionate about equality and understand that many people who are non-white have trouble in North America and are treated poorly. It pains me and white people should be more aware of white privilege. Thanks for sharing your story and I definitely think you should teach your future children Korean!

    • Kapitalust

      I remember my high school psychology teacher talk about how privileged caucasian people are in the world – she used a metaphor of an invisible backpack of tools that only caucasian people have which allows them to fit in better, get accepted quicker, and a slew of other things. While that is true, I think sometimes discrimination can make you even more motivated to prove everyone wrong. Whether that’s the best way to get motivated, I don’t know. But I remember reading something by Sam at Financial Samurai that talks about taking racism and using it as a motivating force to work harder, better, and faster.

      Yeah we definitely will be teaching our future kids Korean and whatever other languages they might be interested in learning!

  • Steve,

    Thank you for this insightful post! I completely understand where you are coming from and it pains me to hear you’ve struggled with your cultural heritage and background.

    I hope you succeed in increasing the space between stimulus and response. Never be ashamed of who you are or what you want to become!

    Best wishes,
    NMW

    • Kapitalust

      Thanks for the comment NMW. I’m definitely learning with age that there is only one way to be and that’s just to truly be yourself. One example – I used to care a lot about what other people thought of me growing up but now I really don’t give a hoot. It’s pretty liberating becoming more and more comfortable with who you are vs. what you think others want you to be!

  • Oooh great post. I was never badly teased for being different but I was always acutely aware of it and for the longest time was ashamed of looking different and having a weird family. Took me a long time to come to grips with that and take pride in my heritage. I never learned to speak another language and thus definitely won’t be teaching my kids anything, but I’m okay with that.

    • You could still enrol your kids in a school with a strong second language component or teach them through private study! Yes, it definitely was hard growing up but it’s gotten easier with age. It really is true that as one ages, petty concerns start to mean less and less and being your true, authentic self is a big source of happiness! Thanks for the comment!

  • I love the quote you shared. It’s very true. When I was younger, I was mostly bullied for being too tall or too pale. These weren’t really traits I could hide from, but for a long time, I wished I had inherited my mom’s ability to tan, and I never ever wore heels. Wanting to fit in has a huge impact on us from an early age. I think it’s great you traced your reaction back to those reasons, and have thought over your initial decision.

    Like Mrs. Frugalwoods, I do spend a little too much time in the gap! I grew up with parents who were in debt, with money constantly being tight, and as a result, I do have a “fear” of spending at times. I’m hesitant to part with my money, even when I know deep down, it’s for a beneficial purchase. Still trying to work my way out of that.

    • It’s a huge that you realize where your hesitancy to part with money comes from – not many people reflect and think about their fears. I’m sure it is better to be a saver than to be a spender, so it isn’t all bad! Thanks for your story!

  • It’s funny because emotion can drive us to do so many positive things but also negative things if we let it obstruct our logic. Thanks for sharing your story, Steve. I think now that you’ve unlocked the secret behind your initial adverse reactions, you are much more aware and will not allow this to interfere with opportunities that are worthwhile. I think I’ve been able to widen the space in recent years, so there’s a whole lot more calm going on and for this I am thankful.

    • The calm you talk about is definitely real when one opens up this space. I don’t get tend to get flustered or riled up very easily because I allow myself to approach most things in life with logic and reason. The whole Korean language fiasco arose because of emotion limiting my space to come to a truly rational decision! I’m glad you enjoyed the story!

  • This is a very deep and insightful post. I appreciate it very much. It is hard with anything, even money, to be just logical. Emotion and memory are so ingrained into everything. I am glad this came to the surface for you. Once things come up they can be dealt with and it is only the strongest of people that even allow these things to come up and be seen.

    • It definitely is a challenge to find these sorts of blind spots – I can’t believe it took me this long to figure this one out! I don’t know what others are lurking that I haven’t identified yet. But if one can confront these head on when they surface, that’s where personal growth really happens!

  • Hi Kapitalust

    Thank you for you informative post, and I think it is appalling that we cannot just accept people based on their personality. The one thing most people who are in the majority can’t seem to accept is that there are good and bad people in all races and cultures, but that most people seem to overlook the bad in their own “group” and only see the bad in other “groups”.

    I do think that we are all biased towards those who are like us, but that we should strive to overcome this bias in order that we can look beyond physical differences.

    I hope everything works out, and if I had parents from two different cultures I would want to learn as much as I can about both.

    Best Wishes
    FI UK

    • Thanks for the comment FI UK. I think it’s just natural for humans to relate to ones own tribe and to be suspicious of different tribes. It probably served very well for survival in the past. I remember reading a brilliant metaphor of the current human condition: we are like 20th century computers running advanced 21st century software.

  • I felt the same way growing up. I never got teased about my ethnicity per se, but being the one of the very few non-Caucasian kids at the time made me feel self-conscious and I too wanted to desperately fit in. Being shy, quiet and getting good grades didn’t help much either. I got teased a lot because of my last name, which is one of the few reasons I want to get married. Haha.

    • Funny thing: I was super ambivalent about my wife taking my last name as she has/had a “normal” Canadian last name and taking my Korean one would make her very different. I think my complete disinterest in her taking my last name was/is connected to the same emotions about teaching Korean to our future kids. I’m getting very comfortable with it now, but was cold and disinterested at the beginning. Daaamn, blind spots everywhere!!

      Also, I think what led me to become a skateboarder in high school was so I didn’t fit the stereotype of shy, quiet, smart Asian kid. I’m pretty sure I was all three of those but I used skateboarding as a shield to be different from being different.

      Psychoanalysis of teenage years is super complicated and kind of funny!

      • M

        Steve, can I just encourage you to please speak Korean to your kids (when they eventually are in existence, lol). It is an advantage more than most people realise. Being bilingual (or speaking several languages) protects the brain in old age. It also allows you think ‘outside the box’ of English. Our thought patterns are structured by the language we speak, so knowing several allows your brain to bridge more gaps and make more connections.

        I studied German for 7 yrs, as well as several other languages, and we decided that we would raise our children bilingually. This is weird, because we’re not actually German, but it is my love of Germany as well as other cultures that I wanted to pass on. I am someone who is drawn to people who are very different and unusual to me. I don’t know if it was because I got bullied for having an unusual first name at primary school, but as far as I can remember I have always been fascinated by foreign cultures, unusual objects, strange art… anything ‘not normal’…

        Best Wishes,

        M

        • I definitely will – the revelation that led to this post really got me to snap out of whatever knee-jerk emotional response I was giving to this whole idea of shame with my cultural heritage.

          Your idea on being able to think differently with more languages is an interesting proposition – one I am tempted to agree! I should look into the academic research behind that idea!

  • It’s sad to hear stories like what you went through when you were a kid. But I’m glad you’ve learned such a valuable lesson from it.

    • Thanks Ben – as long as you can always take a lesson out of everything, everything’s a bit of a learning experience.