Review – Mindsight

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation

by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, published 2010

Triune brain

Vertical integration, bottom to top

brainstem, regulates energy, fight-or-flight response, generates “drive” w/ limbic

limbic region, generates and evaluates emotion, forms relationships, “story-telling” experiences

cortex, 3D mapping and sensing of reality, conceptualizing, meta-thought

Horizontal integration (bilaterality)

left

right

Prefontal cortex functions:

  1. bodily regulation, sympathetic (speed up) and para-sympathetic (slow down)
  2. attuned communication, alignment of emotional states
  3. emotional balance, appropriateness of emotional response, resilience in extremes
  4. response flexibility, pausing to think before acting
  5. fear modulation, cortical override of amygdala-driven fear
  6. empathy, abbility to see from other’s point of view, you-maps
  7. insight, connecting past, present and future, me-maps
  8. moral awareness
  9. intuition, connection of visceral data to rational decision-making

The Tripod of Reflection:

  1. Openness, avoiding “should”, embracing “is”
  2. Observation, placing the self in a larger context than just the moment
  3. Objectivity, not personifying one’s thoughts or emotions as identity

Eight Domains of Integration:

  1. Consciousness
  2. Horizontal (left and right brain)
  3. Vertical (senses, head to toe, brainstem, limbic and cortex)
  4. Memory
  5. Narrative
  6. State
  7. Interpersonal
  8. Temporal

Secure attachment to parents largely driven by the parents’ autobiographical narrative of their own upbringing

Adult & Child Attachment

Adult Narrative, Infant Strange Situation Behavior

Secure, Secure

Dismissing, Avoidant

Preoccupied, Ambivalent

Unresolved/disorganized, Disorganized/disoriented

Review – Complete Family Wealth

Complete Family Wealth

by James E. Hughes, Jr., Susan E. Massenzio, Keith Whitaker

Chapter 1 – Complete Wealth

There are five forms of family wealth: human, intellectual, social and financial. A family can be rich in the first four without any of the fifth. Financial wealth is primarily useful for enhancing and developing the other four forms of wealth. The failure to acknowledge, measure and grow the four qualitative forms of wealth are the principal causes for the failure of family flourishing.

The Five Types of Capital

  1. Human, the individuals who make up the family including their physical and emotional well-being, their ability to find meaningful work, to establish positive identities and to pursue their individual happiness
  2. Intellectual, knowledge gained through education and experience by the family over time and the ability to transmit this knowledge across the family
  3. Social, the family’s relationships with each other and their community, including shared decision-making, the adoption of new members into the family and the giving of family resources to the larger society in which it belongs
  4. Spiritual, a shared sense of purpose and meaning for the family, primarily translated through stories and vivid experiences passed down through the generations
  5. Financial, the family’s assets, property, cash flows and other equity interests that provide it with money used to pursue all other ends

For a family to grow its five forms of capital over time, every family member must adopt an attitude of being responsible for contributing to the family capital’s growth in the ways they are able to do so.

Things Families Can Do To Grow Their Wealth

  1. Human
    1. Promote individual flourishing
    2. Ensure basic needs for food, shelter and clothing are met and provide for those experiencing a life emergency
    3. Emphasize the importance of finding meaningful work to promoting a sense of individual self-worth
    4. Encourage the development of strong personal identities separate from the family’s financial position
    5. Promote geographic diversity of the family to ensure the family is a participant in a changing global environment
  2. Intellectual
    1. Encourage each family member to achieve their maximum level of learning however they do that best
    2. Provide a means for the collection and dissemination of the accumulated knowledge of all family members (Wisdom Book)
    3. Include all family members in family governance issues at the highest level of each person’s ability to understand and provide feedback
    4. Ensure all family members understand, to the best of their ability, the workings of the family enterprise
    5. Diversify the family’s intellectual capital by encouraging the study of world cultures and languages
  3. Social
    1. Hold well designed family meetings to provide time to connect as a family, conduct business and deal with difficult topics in productive ways
    2. Encourage family members with challenging interpersonal relationships to seek professional consultation aimed at resolving their conflicts
    3. Articulate a clear family governance system that encourages members to come to thoughtful decisions together
    4. Provide incentives for the family’s highest achievers to take representative and leadership roles within the family governance system
    5. Provide the rising generation early opportunities to participate in the family’s business and philanthropies to foster community involvement
  4. Spiritual
    1. Tell the family’s stories of success and failure, good times and bad times and allow the rising generation to transmit these stories down the line
    2. Clarify the family’s shared values and make sure they are expressed in business, philanthropy and gift-giving
    3. Approach important decisions with “seventh-generation thinking”
    4. Promote humility by acknowledging the fact that every family member is a part of a larger society and limits to act must be respected
    5. End every family gathering with a brief gratitude exercise by having each member identify someone they want to thank and ways to offer those thanks
  5. Financial capital
    1. Avoid the temptation of defining success within the family strictly in financial terms
    2. Learn productive ways to discuss money and financial management with all family members so all can be participants in caring for the family’s financial wealth within their ability and know-how

Many families create budgets for managing and growing their financial wealth, but few think to create such budgets for caring for their qualitative capital. Imagine forming such a budget. What would the relative amounts budgeted for in each category say about the relative importance of these forms of capital to the family?

The “Family Balance Sheet” exercise provides a short survey approach to quantifying the existence and growth of family qualitative capital over time.

Chapter 2 – Family Enterprise

Families that flourish over time define themselves as families of affinity. Their first principle is inclusion and they look for ways to be inclusive toward people who share their affinity.

  • Who in my family shares this vision of family based on affinity rather than blood?
  • Who are the members of my family of affinity?
  • Who could be potential members of my family of affinity?

7 Keys to Flourishing Over Multiple Generations

  1. Early on the fundamental intention is set to build a great family, not just a great business
  2. These families articulate and share their core values amongst themselves and with others, through example, education and discussion
  3. These families respect and encourage individual differences and encourage and support each member in achieving their unique dreams
  4. They keep their collective focus on their strengths, even when facing challenges
  5. They share history with story-telling that is told and re-told through the generations, creating a reputation and tradition for each person to live up to and contribute to
  6. Parents see themselves as teachers AND learners
  7. These families understand the importance of individual stages of development and integrate that into their understanding of parenting

Keys for Flourishing Amid Wealth

  1. Giving wisely, this requires thought and care on the part of both givers and recipients
  2. Promote and encourage individual identities separate from the wealth, especially for the rising generation
  3. Utilize trusts, which are primarily human rather than legal relationships in their focus and structure
  4. Philanthropy provides a shared focus

Families are built on individual flourishing within a larger structure of shared identity, values and stories and a connection to the wider community.

  • Is each family member flourishing?
  • Does the family enjoy a shared culture aimed at promoting individual flourishing?
  • Do family members know how to chart their own paths apart from the family enterprise?

When a family has an intention to grow all its forms of capital over multiple generations through coordinated effort it creates a family enterprise. The three main parts of any family enterprise are family (inclusion), owners (preservation) and managers (performance). Trouble arises when one of these parts takes priority over the others.

Common sources of conflict in family enterprises:

  • Parent-child and sibling conflict over managerial control
  • Conflicts over managerial strategy and direction
  • Conflicts over ownership strategy (keep vs. sell)
  • Conflicts between shareholders who are also managers versus shareholders who are outside the business, ie, reinvest profits or distribute as dividends
  • Conflicts over employment and compensation of family members
  • Tensions between the spouses of family members who are owners or managers in the business
  • Failure of communication and understanding between trustees (family or nonfamily), the legal owners of title, and beneficiaries, especially when most of the family’s financial capital is held in trust

Ideally, for long-term success the family circle should be larger than the owners or managers circles in terms of the time and resources employed the care for it.

In addition to keeping the family circle strong, family enterprises need to pay attention to the ownership circle by finding ways for each owner to take responsibility for his position. Without this, they become passive on questions of strategy and defer to management. Active ownership is cultivated by understanding:

  • Ownership is a responsibility; management is a calling.
  • The enterprise is a “we” and “us”, not “they” or “them”
  • Passive ownership leads to paternalism and resentment
  • Managing risk is a complex discipline that every owner must undertake, and the balance between taking too much risk and taking too little risk is one that can be learned and managed
  • Trustees, because of their duty of prudence, are entropic owners and cannot take the same risks as owners in competing enterprises
  • Beneficiaries must step up to be active owners, meaning meeting regularly with trustees and asking questions in an effort to learn
  • Family owners must possess a basic understanding of systems theory, leadership science, the process of leadership transitions and the methods for assessing the health of the enterprise and the performance of management
  • Family owners must communicate with each other and truly listen to each other to develop their dreams for the enterprise as it evolves beyond the dream of the founder or creator generation

Review – The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem: The Definitive Work on Self-Esteem by the Leading Pioneer in the Field

by Nathaniel Branden, published 1994

The possession of self-esteem over time represents an achievement

The power of conviction in oneself is a motivator that inspires behavior.

The level of our self-esteem influences how we act, and how we act influences the level of our self-esteem.

With high self-esteem, I am more likely to persist in the face of difficulties.

If I persevere, the likelihood is that I will succeed more often than I fail.

People often self-sabotage because the mind’s desire to avoid cognitive dissonance forces people to alter the “facts” of their reality (behavior) to their “knowledge” of what they think is true of themselves (beliefs).

The tragedy of many people’s lives is that, given a choice between being “right” and having an opportunity to be happy, they invariably choose being “right”. That is the one ultimate satisfaction they allow themselves.

It would be hard to name a more certain sign of poor self-esteem than the need to perceive some other group as inferior.

A person’s image of the future may be a better predictor of future attainment than his past performances.

Self-concept is destiny, or, more precisely, it tends to be.

We cannot understand a person’s behavior without understanding the self-concept behind it.

An unresolved problem at one level may subvert operations at another.

If one does not understand how the dynamics of self-esteem work internally — if one does not know by direct experience what lowers or raises one’s own self-esteem — one will not have that intimate understanding of the subject necessary to make an optimal contribution to others.

We must become what we wish to teach.

Self-esteem is a consequence, a product of internally generated practices.

Once we understand these practices, we have the power to choose them, to work on integrating them into our way of life. The power to do so is the power to raise the level of our self-esteem, from whatever point we may be starting and however difficult the project may be in the early stages.

Think in terms of small steps rather than big ones because big ones can intimidate (and paralyze), while small ones seem more attainable, and one small step leads to another.

Consciously, we rarely remember these choices. But deep in our psyche they are added up, and the sum is that experience we call “self-esteem.”

Consciousness that is not translated into appropriate action is a betrayal of consciousness; it is mind invalidating itself. Living consciously means more than seeing and knowing; it means acting on what one sees and knows.

I do not indulge in the fantasy that someone else can spare me the necessity of thought or make my decisions for me.

Being present means “doing what I am doing while I am doing it.”

Fear and pain should be treated as signals not to close our eyes but to open them wider, not to look away but to look more attentively.

The world belongs to those who persevere.

When body therapists work to release the breathing and open areas of tight muscular contraction, the person feels more and is more aware. Body work can liberate blocked consciousness.

If one’s goal is to operate at a high level of consciousness, a body armored against feeling is a serious impediment.

Self-esteem is something we experience, self-acceptance is something we do.

“I choose to value myself, to treat myself with respect, to stand up for my right to exist.”

Compassionate interest does not encourage undesired behavior but reduces the likelihood of it occurring.

The act of experiencing and accepting our emotions is implemented through 1.) focusing on the feeling or emotion 2.) breathing gently and deeply, allowing muscles to relax, allowing the feeling to be felt, and 3.) making real that this is my feeling (which we call owning it.)

In contrast, we deny and disown our emotions when we 1.) avoid awareness of their reality, 2.) constrict our breathing and tighten our muscles to cut off or numb feeling, and 3.) dissociate ourselves from our own experience (in which state we are often unable to recognize our feelings.)

“I am now exploring the world of fear or pain or envy or confusion (or whatever).”

Acceptance of what is, is the precondition of change. And denial of what is leaves me stuck in it.

I am responsible for the achievement of my desires.

I am responsible for my behavior with other people.

I am responsible for my personal happiness.

I am responsible for raising my self-esteem.

What am I willing to do to get what I want?

Taking responsibility for my happiness is empowering. It places my life back in my own hands.

I do not support the grandiose notion that “I am responsible for every aspect of my existence and everything that befalls me.” Some things we have control over; others we do not. If I hold myself responsible for matters beyond my control, I put my self-esteem in jeopardy.

Never ask a person to act against his or her self-interest as he or she understands it.

No one is coming to save me; no one is coming to make life right for me; no one is coming to solve my problems. If I don’t do something, nothing is going to get better.

Self-assertiveness asks that we not only oppose what we deplore but that we live and express our values.

One of the great self-delusions is to think of oneself as “a valuer” or “an idealist” while not pursuing one’s values in reality.

Fundamental efficacy cannot be generated in a vacuum; it must be created and expressed through some specific tasks successfully mastered. I cannot be efficacious in the abstract without being efficacious about anything in particular. The purposes that move us need to be specific if they are to be realized.

Purposes unrelated to a plan of action do not get realized. They exist only as frustrated yearnings. Daydreams do not produce the experience of efficacy.

The root of our self-esteem is not our achievements but those internally generated practices that, amongst other things, make it possible for us to achieve– all the self-esteem virtues that we are discussing here.

For self-esteem, consistent kindness by intention is a very different experience from kindness by impulse.

In the inner courtroom of my mind, mine is the only judgment that counts.

If integrity is a source of self-esteem, then it is also, and never more so than today, an expression of self-esteem.

 

Notes – The Well-Trained Mind, Part I

These are my notes from the first part of “The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide To Classical Education At Home”. It covers concepts and instruction from the typical kindergarten through fourth grade period of education. My notes will remain fairly rough for now; later I may go back and compile them into a comprehensive “1 sheet summary” to classical education for home schooling. For now I will just provide my notes chapter by chapter, with the understanding that there is a mixture of direct quotes with clarifying commentary or analysis from me personally.

Chapter 2, A Personal Look at Classical Education: Susan

The author states that her personal experience with classical education applied at home was like this:

Our education was language-centered, not image-centered; we read and listened and wrote but we rarely watched.

Trivium

A classical education revolves around three core disciplines: grammar, logic and rhetoric. These three disciplines become an organizing principle for a home school family attempting to follow a classical education, and a model of the individual child’s intellectual development:

  • Grammar stage, the building blocks for all other learning are laid
  • Logic stage, cause and effect, relationships among different fields of knowledge, the way facts fit together into a logical framework, learn and apply the scientific method
  • Rhetoric stage, write and speak with force and originality, express conclusions, begin to specialize knowledge, specialized training

As the authors suggest, a child will go through three distinct “parts” of their education mirroring these stages; within each discipline or educational topic they’ll also individually progress through these stages.

Principles of classical education:

  • Language-focused, language requires the mind to work harder; images allow the mind to be passive
  • Three part pattern, the mind must first be supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of those facts and images, and finally equipped to express conclusions (grammar, logic, rhetoric)
  • Mastery in skill areas, discovery and exploration in content areas; workbooks and textbooks are valuable for building skill areas; content areas are fields of study that are open-ended and can’t be mastered, we steer away from textbooks in the content areas, and towards collections of “living books”, books written by single authors, exploring particular issues and ideas
  • All knowledge is interrelated; history as an organizing outline of knowledge

Twelve years of education consist of three repetitions of the same four-year pattern: ancients (5000 BC to AD 400), medieval period through the early Renaissance (400-1600), late Renaissance through early modern period (1600-1850) and modern times (1850-present). The student will end up visiting each of these historical periods once each in the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages.

Move forward chronologically and organize the bulk of your history by time period, rather than by individual country. The traditional American method of studying history by region does nothing to help students draw connections between events, vital to critical thinking about history.

They suggest a 4-year pattern for sciences instruction:

  • biology, classification and the human body
  • earth science and basic astronomy
  • chemistry
  • basic physics and computer science

The classical pattern lends coherence to the study of history, science and literature.

Virtuous men and women can force themselves to do what they know is right, even when it runs against their inclinations. Classical education continually asks a student to focus not on what is immediately pleasurable but on the steps needed to reach a future goal.

“The Great Conversation”: the ongoing conversation of great minds down through the ages.

Part I, The Grammar Stage K-4

Chapter 3, The Parrot Years

A classical education requires a student to collect, understand, memorize and categorize information.

Your goal is to supply mental pegs on which later information can be hung.

The elementary years are ideal for soaking up knowledge.

The child should be accumulating masses of information: stories of people and wars; names of rivers, cities, mountains, and oceans; scientific names, properties of matter, classifications; plots, characters, and descriptions.

Seize this early excitement. Let the child delve deep. Let him read, read, read. Don’t force him to stop and reflect on it yet.

The immature mind is more suited to absorption than argument.

There is nothing wrong with a child accumulating information that she doesn’t yet understand. It all goes into the storehouse for use later on. [like language]

Children like lists at this age.

The goal of grammar-stage instruction is not to restrict your child but rather to protect her love of learning. Children mature out of the grammar stage into the logic stage at different times. Children mature unevenly. Give your children the time and space to mature, in each subject area, from grammar into logic-stage thinking.

Prioritize reading, writing, grammar and math.

A child who reads and writes well will pick up surprising amounts of history and science as he browses.

Chapter 4, Unlocking the Doors: The Preschool Years

She’s learning that words are used to plan, to think, to explain: she’s figuring out how the English language organizes words into phrases, clauses and complete sentences. [sportscasting with an infant]

Repetition builds literacy.

After you read to your toddler, ask her questions about the story.

As soon as your child begins to talk teach her the alphabet.

Teach a child from the beginning to hold a pencil correctly.

Start with counting: fingers, toes, eyes and ears; toys and treasures; rocks and sticks.

Most four-year-olds have microscopic attention spans, immature hand-eye coordination and a bad case of the wiggles.

Children can listen to and enjoy books that are far, far above their vocabulary level. Audiobooks stock a child’s mind with the sounds of thousands of words.

Many children are ready to read long before they have the muscular coordination to write. Why delay reading until the muscles of the hand and eye catch up?

Do “daily” math by adding and subtracting in the context of everyday family life.

Do lots of addition and subtraction with manipulatives (beans, buttons, pencils, chocolate chips).

Chapter 5, Words, Words, Words: Spelling, Grammar, Reading and Writing

Your goal, in grades 1 through 4, is to make the proper use of language second nature to your child.

Begin the academic year with three-ringed notebooks, a three-hole punch, and lots of paper, both lined and plain. Also lay in a boxful of art supplies: glue, scissors, construction paper, colored pencils (good artist-quality ones like Sanford Prismacolor), stickers and anything else that strikes the child’s fancy. For elementary language arts, you’ll want to make use of two of these notebooks. Label one “Literature” and the other “Writing.”

Always spend as much time on one level as you need and progress on to the next level only when your child has mastered the previous one.

Three levels of reading:

  • Instructional level, the student is still working hard at the mechanics of reading, and rarely has the comprehension to match
  • At-level reading, the student knows all of the letter combinations and words she’ll encounter, tends to be slow and requires concentration
  • Below-level (or “fun”) reading, these are the books that use only the words and combinations that the student is completely comfortable with, and is important because it allows the child to enjoy reading and it improves reading speed

Aim for the “reading periods” to include all three skills, each week.

Try to give the child simplified versions of the original literature that he’ll be reading in the higher grades or introduce him to a writer he’ll encounter later.

After a child reads, you can ask questions about the reading and the oral answers are called narrations.

Learning how to identify one or two items about a book as more important than the rest is a vital first step in learning to write; a young writer will flounder as long as he cannot pick out one or two of the ideas in his mind as central to his composition.

Children in the 3rd or 4th grade can write down their own narrations after reading. Instead of learning to complete fill-in-the-blank questions, the child uses all his mental faculties to understand, remember, and relate the main points of a story.

Every three or four weeks, the child should also memorize a poem and recite it to you. Memorization and recitation of poetry is an iomportant part of the reading process; it exercises the child’s memory, stores beautiful language in his mind, and gives him practice in speaking aloud.

Spelling is the first step in writing.

We don’t think you should allow spelling to consume your language arts time.

It’s important to allow students to progress at a natural pace in each of the language arts areas without frustrating them by limiting their progress to the speed of their worst subject.

Grammar exercises should be done orally with 1st and 2nd graders.

Early writing instruction should focus on developing those tools, rather than demanding a great deal of original content.

How to more quickly develop writing capability:

  • Most people try to teach children to express ideas at the same time they are writing them down, Inarticulate idea -> Idea in words -> Words on paper
  • We recommend you separate each step into a discrete action, ie, first Inarticulate idea -> Idea in words, then Idea in words -> Words on paper

The young writer practices putting ideas into words, and then putting words down on paper, before trying to do both simultaneously.

The classical pupil learns to write by copying the great writers.

Chapter 6, The Joy of Numbers: Math

Mathematics is a language because it uses symbols and phrases to represent abstract realities.

Mathematical literacy (numeracy) involves learning both the procedures and the reasons why they work (conceptual math).

Two primary methods of learning math:

  • Spiral approach, assumes students learn best when they practice a skill at a basic level, move away to other skills, and then return to the first skill and practice it at a slightly deeper level.
  • Mastery approach, teaches fewer topics per year but focuses on each longer

Chldren aged 5 through 7 usually need concrete objects; children aged 8 through 10 begin to shift into “mental image” mode. Abstract thinking begins around age nine or ten, which coincides with the beginning of the logic stage.

Firm principle of elementary mathematics: no calculators.

Math is a science of not being wrong about things, its techniques and habits hammered out by centuries of hard work and argument. With the tools of mathematics in hand, you can understand the world in a deeper, sounder, more meaningful way.

Chapter 7, Seventy Centuries in Four Years: History and Geography

The history of the world is but the biography of great men.

Thomas Carlyle

History is the study of everything that has happened until now. Unless you plan to live entirely in the present moment, the study of history is inevitable.

Keep one central fact in mind: history is a story.

The logical way to tell a story is to begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end.

The history curriculum covers seventy centuries; America occupies only five of them. [don’t over-emphasize your time and place in historical study]

The goal of the classical curriculum is multicultural in the true sense of the word: the student learns the proper place of his community, his state, and his country by seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning and then fitting his own time and place into that great landscape.

Tackle original sources.

[why does the history curriculum begin with 5000BC, what about pre-history? biological history? spread of mankind over the globe?]

Three goals of studying history:

  • to give students an overall sense of progression of historical events from ancient times to the present
  • to develop skills in reading and writing
  • to teach geographic awareness.

Progressing chronologically from your chosen starting point gives students an organized and orderly way to think about history; the majority of your history study should be done with a worldwide focus, not country by country. [comparing and contrasting simultaneous developments]

Follow the same basic pattern:

  • Read the material to your child as they follow along; as they gain reading skills, alternate the reading responsibility
  • Make a narration page.
  • Ask the child to illustrate what has just been read, or color a picture related to the story
  • Find the geographical area under discussion on a globe, wall map, etc. and color the appropriate black-line map
  • Go to the library to find more books on the subject

Give priority to reading, grammar, spelling, writing and math. History and science follow on these basic abilities.

History should be a delight-centered activity for the grammar-stage child. Allow him to explore, do activities and projects, and have fun; you can always hurry over (or skip) later chapters without injury.

Chapter 8, Investigating the World: Science

Two important attitudes to cultivate: a sense of amazement; a commitment to look hard at the world around us.

Parents who are themselves scientists have told us that they prefer to teach the sciences as connected to each other rather than related to history.

Chapter 9, Dead Languages for Live Kids: Latin (and Other Languages Still Living)

Reasons to study a “dead language” like Latin:

  • Latin trains the mind to think in an orderly fashion.
  • Latin-trained mind becomes accustomed to paying attention to detail.
  • Latin improves English skills
  • Latin prepares the child for the study of other foreign languages.
  • Latin guards against arrogance.

A foreign language “provides one with entry into a worldview different from one’s own… If it is important that our young value diversity of point of view, there is no better way to achieve it than to have them learn a foreign language.”

Whole-to-parts Latin instruction is frustrating and counterproductive, and breaks down the very skill that systematic Latin lessons develop– the habit of systematic thinking.

Conversation is the only path to fluency.

Chapter 10, Electronic Teachers: Using Computers and Other Screens

During school-time, we read books, do experiments, and write about what we’re learning. It’s hard work, but the more the student reads and writes, the more natural reading and writing become.

Chapter 12, Finer Things: Art and Music

Art for elementary students should cover art techniques and elements, and learning about great artists.

Two years is the minimum time that it takes to begin to enjoy an instrument, rather than simply struggling with it.

Why We Don’t Read The Rainbow Fish To Our Children

If you’re the parent of a young child, you probably have a copy of The Rainbow Fish somewhere in the house– probably two or three! It seems this is one of several books that every family member and friend wants to be the one to give to you.

The book’s popularity and appeal are rooted not just in its attractive art style, including reflective foil silver fish scales, but also in its moral lesson. In simple terms, the book teaches about sharing and every modern parent knows that sharing is the Cardinal Virtue of Childhood. Whatever your child’s other vices, shortcomings and individual weaknesses might be, if he or she knows how to share and does it consistently in public social settings the parent can be confident, even proud, that they’ve raised their child right.

But why is sharing so important? Ah, this is the question to which no parent seems to know the answer!

We do not read The Rainbow Fish in our house, not to our children and not for the pleasure of the adults. We don’t think “sharing” is a virtue, cardinal or otherwise. We think it is an unthinking codeword of social metaphysics– the idea that one’s individual value is relative to what other individuals think it is.

Here is how The Rainbow Fish teaches social metaphysics to children:

The eponymous pisces is born with beautiful shiny scales. His shiny scales are coveted by other fish who are born without them. These fish ask for his scales, which he does not give to them. As a result, the other fish scorn and ostracize him. He meets a “wise” octopus (ie, a not-fish) who tells him that he can be desirable to the other fish if he gives the virtues he was born with to others. He proceeds to do so until he is left with one shiny scale for himself, all others being distributed pro-rata to the other fish. At this point, the other fish are happy with him and he is accepted into their community.

What’s going on here? Let’s parse this.

The protagonist is an antagonist. The school of fish, the fish community, is the protagonist and he has antagonized them simply be existing. The reason his existence is bothersome is because he was born with qualities (beauty, in this case) which they lack. They feel lessened in their pride and their own existence by witnessing things he came into life with that they were not.

Without making any attempt to know and understand the Rainbow Fish, the other fish determine he is unlikable because he won’t give them the things they have, simply because they ask for it. His virtues are vices if they can’t have them for themselves.

The Rainbow Fish faces exclusion and emotional pain if he chooses to keep himself to himself. He is not free to exercise his property rights as he likes without fear of being alienated by the other members of the community.

To gain wisdom about how to participate in a community of his peers, he speaks with a creature outside of his species. He learns not to trust his instincts or his own rational capabilities but to trust in alien powers. He learns that he is wrong “as a person” just for being who he is– he must make some gift, offering or sacrifice of himself to the community to be accepted.

Finally, he gives up what is desirable and virtuous of himself to others. Only when there is equality are the others happy with him. And suddenly, he is happy with himself for being liked by them. It is not explained how and why he needed to be unhappy without that condition being met nor why he couldn’t survive and prosper without giving away his virtue and strengths to others, now totally diluted.

We believe that the strengths and capabilities people are born with are virtuous. At minimum, they benefit the individual and at maximum they may be utilized in social cooperation to benefit others as well. But they do not harm or hinder other people who are born without them.

We believe that people should be free to choose who they associate with and on what terms. Giving away one’s values and virtues is not an acceptable condition for gaining group membership or loyalty in our minds. Any group that values an individual as a member should be able to value them for who they are, not for what they can take from them.

We believe individuals should trust themselves and their own reasoning. They should not need to rely upon the “wisdom” (opinions) of people who are not like themselves to learn how to live their own life truthfully and successfully.

We do not believe that self-sacrifice is a reasonable price to pay for the approval of others. We do not believe the approval of others to be valuable or desirable criteria for self-esteem and the ability to live life joyfully on one’s own terms.

We believe there are other means for establishing group harmony and the bonds of community than simple equality of property, possessions or ideas. The Cardinal Virtue in our minds, in childhood and otherwise, is Integrity– honesty with oneself, full visibility of one’s individuality, and the courageous nobility of embracing the unique challenges and triumphs of each person’s identity.

For these reasons, we do not read The Rainbow Fish in our household even though many families do.