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How to raise Successful and Smart Children

One of the first words I learned as a child was “nunchi” (pronounced noon-chee), which literally translates as “eye-measure.”

Nunchi is the art of sensing what other people are thinking and feeling — and then responding appropriately. It’s the ability to quickly read a room with the emphasis on the collective, not on specific individuals.

Speed is paramount to nunchi. Those who have “quick” nunchi continuously recalibrate their assumptions based on any new word, gesture or facial expression, so that they’re always present and aware.

In Korea, nunchi is a superpower. Some even go as far as to say it allows you to read minds, though there’s nothing supernatural about it. A well-honed and quick nunchi can help you choose the right partner in life or business, shine at work, protect you against those who mean you harm and even reduce social anxiety.

It’s easy to confuse nunchi with empathy, but having too much empathy can be destabilizing. Nunchi, on the other hand, puts quiet observation first; it allows you to stay on firm ground while still listening to the other person.

To harness the power of nunchi, all you need are your eyes and ears. And the hardest part: a quiet mind.

Why don’t you have any nunchi?’

In traditional Korean child-rearing, nunchi is on a par with “Look both ways before crossing the street” and “Don’t hit your sister.” Parents teach their kids about nunchi starting as early as the age of three. (The tradition follows a well-known expression that goes: “A habit formed at age three lasts until age 80.”)

Why do you have no nunchi?!” is a common parental chastisement. As a child, I remember having accidentally offended a family friend, and defending myself to my father by saying, “I didn’t mean to upset Jinny’s mother!” To which my father replied, “The fact that the harm wasn’t intentional doesn’t make it better. It actually makes it worse.

Some Westerners might find my father’s criticism difficult to understand. Wouldn’t you prefer your child to be mean accidentally, rather than deliberately?

But here’s another way to think about it: Children who choose to be mean at least know what they hope to achieve by it, whether it’s getting even with a sibling or getting a rise out of a parent.

A child who is unaware of the consequences that their actions or words have on other people, however, is a child with no nunchi. And no matter how sweet and kind they are, they’re likely to be on the losing end of life — unless that cluelessness is trained out of them.

Parenting with nunchi in mind

Korean parents instill nunchi by first teaching their children this crucial lesson: “It’s not all about you.”

I’m not a parent. But I can attest to the immeasurable value of being raised on this wisdom. Let’s say a mother and her four-year-old son have been waiting at a buffet line for a long time, and the son starts to get impatient.

“We’ve been here forever! I’m hungry!” the son complains. A Korean mother won’t respond with, “Oh, you poor thing! I’m sorry. Here, I have some grapes in my purse that can hold you over.” Instead, she’ll say, “Take a look at everyone else waiting in line, just like you. Now do you think you’re the only person in this queue who is hungry?”