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The Big Answer


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The Shelter Of Each Other

a book by Mary Pipher

(our site's book review)

She says that we are teaching our kids, via the media, to be self-centered, impulsive and addicted, rather than compassionate, empathetic, thoughtful, responsible, independent and self-reliant. She looks disdainfully at the way we’re all wanting more rights but less responsibilities.

Pipher very insightfully encourages us to have flatter gradients of nurturance, with our kids having more contacts with more adults, and with all of us having more friends and getting to know neighbors. She bemoans the dysfunctional families that are emerging isolated and lonely from a media-lined nest of loneliness and virtual relationships. “Families can be really healthy only when children once again have communities of real people who care about them.” Amen. Think MCs.

She says the greatest human need is for love, and we should do what it takes to empower this force. Reconnecting to families around us rather than overconnecting to the media’s virtual reality is the direction she means. The only imperfection in all of this is that most people actually and honestly prefer the company of Bill O'Reilly, Bart Simpson, and the TV news teams, comediennes and talk-show hosts to the company of their neighbors. So connections to neighbors is just an ideal that won’t be followed up on.

Most people actually and honestly prefer the company of Bill O'Reilly, Bart Simpson, and the TV news teams, comediennes and talk-show hosts to the company of their neighbors
Most people actually and honestly prefer the company of Bill O'Reilly, Bart Simpson, and the TV news teams, comediennes and talk-show hosts to the company of their neighbors

The problem is that the people that Americans would prefer to relate to (more than TV, at least some of the time) and share childcare with and be best friends with do exist, but they just haven’t found them, so they settle for virtual relationships. (The MC movement, of course, is the one thing that has been designed to turn all these problems around—none of these issues, above, are that difficult to address and act upon; but it does take MCs to be successful in this area. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Pipher reminds us that: “. . . respect for the past doesn’t necessarily lead to reactionary thinking. Rather, a healthy appreciation for what worked in previous eras can inspire action. We can examine what worked well and what didn’t and use this knowledge in planning for a better world.” (This is precisely what the MC movement is about. E.g., Flat-gradient Nurturance versus Steep-gradient Nurturance, the historical childcare norm.)

Pipher looks at various effects of media sensationalism, such as the loss of understanding of basic facts; e.g., real science solves many problems
Pipher looks at various effects of media sensationalism, such as the loss of understanding of basic facts; e.g., real science solves many problems

She looks at various effects of media sensationalism, such as the loss of understanding of basic facts, such as it’s not only true that “bad touch” from adults to kids is bad, it’s also true that “good touch” from adults to kids is good. She says we’ve focused on the dangers of strange adults and ignored the danger to children of not having enough loving adults involved in their lives. She says kids need a safe space in which there are plenty of adults to nurture and guide them, so that they can explore and grow and learn. Learning is fundamentally social. We learn from whom we love and who love us.

Among Pipher's best ideas: “The media could be transformed into a force that fosters community instead of crime and alienation. National media could foster a new ideology based on connectedness. We need heroes . . .” Also, “good stories have the power to save us. . . . We need stories that teach children empathy and accountability, how to act and how to be. Children are hungry for stories that help them feel hopeful and energetic. Let’s turn off our appliances and invent these stories. Quilted together, these stories will shelter us all.”

We need stories that teach children empathy and accountability, like The Little Red Hen
We need stories that teach children empathy and accountability, like The Little Red Hen

To her, permissiveness and authoritarianism don’t work, but cognitive therapies (e.g., self-talk) do work. Isolation doesn’t work, but victimization and blaming works even worse. Even though she knows self-talk works, she warns of its misuse, saying that such things have “. . . been oversold as a panacea for a difficult life. If a person’s work is meaningless and his/her relationships are fragmented, self-validations will go only so far. Then the person needs to make real changes.” (Like ceasing our social networking obsessions and actually use absolutely proven methods to guide all irl f2f relationships and parenting so it's effective and successful. The best guide is P.E.T.)

Children are hungry for stories that help them feel hopeful and energetic. Let’s turn off our appliances and invent these stories; quilted together, these stories will shelter us all
Children are hungry for stories that help them feel hopeful and energetic. Let’s turn off our appliances and invent these stories; quilted together, these stories will shelter us all

This is why John Pollard has put all self-talk in a self-parenting context, so people who were taught not to nurture and support themselves early in life (mostly by the example of parents that didn’t nurture and support them, which made them decide that they didn’t deserve it) can learn to use the act of changing bad self-talk into good self-talk as a way of beginning to support themselves for the first time. Such self-parenting practicers will be able to add a nurturing context to their self-talk to give it more power and impact, as well as more reality.

If one feels one deserves no love because one has rarely gotten any, sometimes it’s not enough to tell oneself one is loveable; sometimes one must experience love or at least nurturing in order to feel right about oneself. In an ideal world he could have gotten these needs filled from other people (e.g., ) since his parents couldn’t or wouldn’t. (That’s what would happen in an MC with respect to kids, while they were growing up, or for adults, from other adults, once they joined an MC. People you want as your best friends are—by definition—nurturing. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

Pipher includes some information that one could easily misinterpret to mean that we should try to make sure kids have pain, frustration, and stress in their environment so that they don’t end up bland or spoiled. Partly, this sounds like a warning about spoiling and permissiveness that she overdid, but it also came off as a statement that challenges are good for kids and help them grow and make them think. In any case, it would be prudent to clarify, because misinformation can spread, and do harm:

  1. Kids encountering challenges because their environment is bad may or may not have a resilient response—often it wrecks them for life and often they bring down many of those around them; kids are better off encountering age-appropriate challenges in a good, inspiring environment that supports their beings and allows them to find their own challenges in the adventuring/exploring and learning that they do, rather than encountering them either in a bad environment or one in which parents foist problems onto kids to “make them tough and strong.”

  2. Filling kids’ needs and loving them a lot doesn’t spoil them; what spoils them is:
    • permissiveness or authoritarianism
    • punishment rather than natural/logical consequences with authoritative parenting
    • giving them things instead of support and love
    • mistreating them because of parenting ignorance
    • pushing them toward achieving their parents’ goals
    • living through them rather than letting them make their own choices and have their own lives


  3. It’s a tough world full of bullies, dangers, cuts, bruises, diseases, neurotic teachers, and school friends who back-stab. Kids will find an abundance of frustration in this, the world situation, the dangers (or even the bad weather) in life that keep them from opportunities, and the nonpunitive logical and natural consequences they’ll experience if they’re receiving good parenting. They no more need artificial frustrations piled on top of all the above than soup needs a bit of mud added to it to keep the eaters from being spoiled if it tastes too good. The only way a parent could overdo protecting her kid from frustration is if she kept him away from school or friends or exploring his world, and overprotected and overwhelmed him with her control (instead of empowering him to develop self-control)—admittedly a terrible parenting error.

It’s a tough world full of bullies, dangers, cuts, bruises, diseases, neurotic teachers, and school friends who back-stab
It’s a tough world full of bullies, dangers, cuts, bruises, diseases, neurotic teachers, and school friends who back-stab

Pipher rightly points out that sometimes psychological problems are the signposts that the culture needs to read in order to recognize that it is now time to initiate social change. She concurs with James Hillman (see We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—And the World's Getting Worse) that too many talented people are going into the therapy field who ought to be going into the field of social activism.

She says we need to examine how our culture affects the mental health of people in our society. As a psychologist and teacher of psychology, it is interesting to hear Pipher’s rebellious viewpoint here. She says she wants to view the family as half full rather than half empty. (Perhaps she forgot that a “50” on a paper in school is usually an “F.”) She wants the rich to share money with the poor and the educated to share knowledge with them. While she’s entirely correct that knowledge is the key ingredient in the recipe for empowering the poor or anyone else, one could do without the liberal Robin Hood cliches.

Pipher puts down the use of terms and contexts like co-dependent, inner child and dysfunctional, but gives us no real substitute. She’d have been better off just saying that such things aren’t to be used in the context of blame or victimization, and that we should keep aware of the greater need to repair society as we involve ourselves in these types of therapeutic contexts in order to get help with our problems. But, instead, she makes the ludicrous statement that the “stories” (contexts that these terms create) of these terms “increase human misery.” If someone was to misuse such contexts and wallow in narcissistic obsession with oneself, this would be true. But people use such things in various ways. Perhaps she’s tired of seeing people use these contexts inappropriately.

She makes the same negative generalization error with the self-esteem concept, preferring to deal instead with character. We can all agree with her that character is a concept that transcends self-esteem, but to dismiss it because of this is to throw out the baby with the bath water. She’s assuming that those who stress self-esteem building are reductionistically concerned only with how the person feels about himself or herself and not concerned with good character. Louise Hart is an example of a self-help leader concerned with self-esteem—but she most certainly is promoting character development as well, and, if the truth be known, is one of the least reductionistic people around. Pipher also says that self-esteem is the result, not the cause, of good work; this is silly—it obviously is both.

Praise is a bad way of instilling self-esteem—it  produces not self-esteem but dependency; verbally encouraging is bad for kids if it is done with You statements but good for kids if it is done with I statements ('I'm wondering how you felt when you drew that' or 'I appreciate it when you help with dishes')
Praise is a bad way of instilling self-esteem—it produces not self-esteem but dependency; verbally encouraging is bad for kids if it is done with You statements but good for kids if it is done with I statements ("I'm wondering how you felt when you drew that" or "I appreciate it when you help with dishes")

On the other hand, she couldn’t be more right when she cites praise as a bad way of instilling self-esteem. Indirect self-acceptance, as Putney and Putney pointed out in the classic The Adjusted American, and David Riesman pointed out in another classic, The Lonely Crowd, is not an esteem builder—it’s an indirectness builder that undermines identity and produces not esteem but dependency. She’s also right on when she points out—in the Maslow sense—that those who have had their needs filled can see others for what they are, while those who haven’t gotten their needs filled see others only in terms of their need-filling potential: they’re always in their "struggle”—which means trying to get everyone to parent them.

Those who haven’t gotten their needs filled see others only in terms of their need-filling potential
Those who haven’t gotten their needs filled see others only in terms of their need-filling potential

“A culture in which most of the people spend their time in I-it relationships is a deeply impoverished culture. Whether it's rural Colorado or the pygmy culture described in The Forest People, a culture of I-thou relationships is a rich culture. In fact, a new cultural definition of wealth could be, not the GNP, but how many people truly know and care about each other. . . In an ideal culture people know each other enough to acknowledge and support each other in the development of their individual gifts.” Referring to the “it takes a village to raise a child” expression, she says that this implies that “children have many adults involved in helping them grow up.”

It takes a village to raise a child

It takes a village to raise a child

The biggest flaw in Pipher's “go and get to know your neighbor” advice is that, although the idea has some merit, it is not an effective way to form community, because in a nation full of so many people of so many types with so many diverse interests, it’s liberal, collectivist idealism to say that the people one happens to live near are people one would like to spend time with. Happily, with a computer-supported Information Age, this shouldn’t have to be a problem

It’s liberal, collectivist idealism to say that the people one happens to live near are people one would like to spend time with
It’s liberal, collectivist idealism to say that the people one happens to live near are people one would like to spend time with

People are already proving that they want to relate only to those people they’d find enjoyable to communicate with by pursuing virtual friendships in social networking sites, chat rooms and special interest sites. Life’s too short to pretend to listen or be interested in things said by neighbors for very long. Again happily, in a democracy one can move wherever one wants to in order to be near those one really does want to communicate with. This isn’t a win-lose put-down of neighbors. It’s a win-win wake-up call to a culture pretending to be stuck with an insoluble problem which it doesn’t actually have.

The collectivist, welfare-state mindset
The collectivist, welfare-state mindset


The MC plan isn’t a win-lose put-down of neighbors, but a win-win wake-up call to a culture pretending to be stuck with an insoluble problem which it doesn’t actually have
The MC plan isn’t a win-lose put-down of neighbors, but a win-win wake-up call to a culture pretending to be stuck with an insoluble problem which it doesn’t actually have