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Member # 923

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Originally posted by katharina:

What you are doing, however, is telling someone what they should value and what they should strive to be, and you're doing it by speaking disparagingly of what they current value and are trying to be. It shouldn't be a surprise that it isn't going well.

I'm at a loss as to what the proper way to engage in this discussion would be, katharina. (And I promise to listen very carefully to your response, and try to take it to heart.)

This particular discussion seemed to originate when I said I hadn't read anything that disturbed me more than The Giving Tree, and Tatiana asked why that was so. At the time I didn't realize that anyone in the discussion might personally identify so strongly with the tree itself, and that any explanation of why the tree was disturbing would (understandably, given what I know now) likely be taken as a criticism of individuals in the discussion.

(I also didn't realize how close this topic was to my own host of unresolved issues -- and I have many! [Smile] -- surrounding my own self and my relationships with certain key others in my life. It's not surprising, given that I did say "most disturbing thing I've ever read" -- naturally, it must be associated with some pretty fundamental stuff for me. Hindsight is 20/20.)

But to withdraw from the conversation is then awkward, as well. To take the approach that Tatiana "can't handle" this discussion is to be patronizing, rude, and unmistakably arrogant. To state that one cannot explain rationally (even if one possibly could, although it would be possibly hurtful <see above>) may feel like a lie and a tacit endorsement that what one sees as harmful is the only rational response, anyway.

As for me, I'm off dealing with my own tailspin about thinking through my issues with my mother's death, so I'm not in good shape to be objective here. I can see that. I also can see that I'd have no idea of how to either continue with the discussion in a helpful way or to back out of it in a way that felt consistant with my own morality.

I very very much wish I had never mentioned my reaction to the text to begin with.

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Member # 5818

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I very very much wish I had never mentioned my reaction to the text to begin with.
I, for one, would be intellectually and emotionally poorer had you not. This would also be true had Tatiana not shared her thoughts.

That probably won't be enough to tip the balance and cause you to change your wish, I realize, but I hope the fact that you've given at least one person new thoughts to ponder concerning the ideas of charity, giving, and receiving adds to the value of your having shared your reaction in the first place.

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Member # 923

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Thanks, Dagonee. That is good to know.

I do think we have a group of very well-intentioned people here trying to talk about a powerful and important topic, with each person bringing a different mix of gunpowder and fire extinguishers to the mix.

What a complicated thing!

I think the world of Tatiana, and I'm glad to have her in my life to learn from. Her conception of different religious faiths as experiments of a sort left me breathless, and I still remember that often.

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Member # 8614

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Originally posted by Scott R:
Very few people give with the primary motive of feeling good; a great many people give because they love the ones they serve.

I have a value for not giving, based on my desire to continue having whatever it is I'm considering giving away. I have a value for giving, based on the percieved consequences, including how it will affect people I care about. My value for giving outweighs my value for not giving, therefore I choose to give. In this sense, there's no such thing as an unselfish action. Every action is selfish because it's what we choose and we choose based on our valuation of the alternatives.

However, I have no problem with calling an action "unselfish" because I think utility theory obscures things by assuming semantics that aren't generally used in conversation. "Selfish" means something different to a utilitarian(?) than someone who doesn't think in those terms.

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Member # 3162

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Katharina, you seem to be reading a different thread than the one I'm reading.
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I agree with Dag, CT - I'm glad you brought it up because it's been an interesting discussion to follow, all around.

I'm not going to join in because it's been years since I read TGT, and while I don't remember particularly either loving or hating it, I don't want to weigh in with such limited knowledge of the subject matter. (which may be a first for me! LOL)

At any rate, I wanted to echo Dag's sentiment and let you know I personally have appreciated everything you've said.

I think this is a good thread for all parents, because it brings home the idea that children's books can be very influential on the people who read them and that parents should always be involved in what their kids are reading. I'm not talking necessarily about censoring books and only letting kids read what you've approved ahead of time and only exposing them to one narrow point of view, but more reading WITH your child, so you can discuss the issues that come up in books. For example, I think it would be a good idea to read The Giving Tree with my 8 year old, and ask her some of the questions we've discussed here, to get her take on it. Be interesting to see what she thinks.

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I think the question of whether or not people give out of a "primary motive" is ultimately a flawed one, since establishing primary motive is largely impossible. But consider that many people see giving as a virtue, and selfless giving as being even more virtuous -- and virtue itself as a desirable thing. In this scenario, the desire to be virtuous is ITSELF the justification for giving, and the joy one derives from being virtuous is, as Anne Kate and Scott have pointed out, the reward for the act. I don't understand why this is seen as somehow more immoral than refusing to acknowledge this fact.
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The Rabbit
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I thought this has been a really thought provoking and interesting thread. I feel bad if Anne Kate's feelings were hurt. I for one certainly wasn't trying to persuade her or anyone else that her view of giving was anything but virtuous.

For the last couple of days I've been mulling over why I dislike the book TGT. Part of it revolves around Anne Kates question 8.

8. Have you ever later been sorry for any act of generosity you've done, because of the ingratitude of the recipient? Does the recipient hold the power to change the meaning and worth in your heart of your actions by being grateful or not grateful?
Gratitude isn't the issue for me, and regret isn't the right word. But if I give a gift that doesn't do what I'd hoped, I am disappointed.

For example, I like to cook for people. I do it because I want them to feel the joy that comes from eating delicious food. Desserts are my specialty. When I make a dessert and people want a second piece, it makes me feel good because I believe I've succeeded in making something that people enjoy. On the other hand, if they eat only a few bites and leave the rest on the plate, I feel a bit disappointed even if they rave about how good it was. Maybe they didn't eat it all because the rest of the meal was so good and they already ate too much. But still, some of that yummy dessert I made is going to end up in the garbage instead bringing pleasure to people and that is disappointing. I wouldn't regret making the cake, but I would wish I had done something so that people would have enjoyed it more. Perhaps I should have served smaller pieces, served it first, made the dessert on a different day, used a different recipe, . . . .

I also like to knit sweaters for people. I knitted a sweater for my father several years ago. He appreciates it but I'm a bit disappointed that he rarely wears it. He just isn't a sweater wearer. In contrast, I knitted a sweater for my Mom last Christmas. I've seen her wear it since then several times. It makes me feel great when I see her in it because its clear that the sweater makes her feel warm, and pretty and loved -- which is why I made it.

I could give more examples, but I think I've made my point. I make an effort to select gifts that will have some specific impact on people, when my gifts suceed -- I'm happy, when they don't I'm disappointed and sometimes saddened.

So this line of thought made my wonder why I felt that the tree's gifts didn't suceed. The boy seemed happy when he was young and swung on the trees branches and it seemed that all through the trees life what the tree wanted was to make the boy happy. It gave everything it had, but somehow it seemed that the boy was never happy.

I recognize that this isn't in the book. The boy may be very happy for along time with his money, and his house and his boat, but it doesn't seem that way to me.

So finally I decided that my real problem with the book is that I love trees. My parents have apple trees in there back yard and there is one particular tree that I climbed all the time as a kid. We had a tire swing that hung from one of its branches and we could pull the swing way up so that he could climb into it from another branch in the tree and swing out across the yard. It was the tallest tree around and from the high branches, I could see over all the roofs in the neighborhood. The tree had sweet tart Jonathan apples that my mother made into pies and apple sauce. We played all kinds of games in the tree. Somedays it was a sailing ship and somedays it was a house and some days it was a space ship.

That tree is still in my parents backyard. I've have climbed it not long ago. It's old and rarely bares apples in more. It is no longer the tallest tree in the neighborhood. The walnut tree to the south and the blue spruce to its north are now taller and block the sunlight. Some of the trees limbs have died and I worry that the tree will not survive much longer. It's old and dying and one day my Dad will decide to cut it down instead of letting it fall down. When that happens, I will miss the tree.

But it is not only that tree that I love. I simply love big old trees. They're beautiful. They provide shade and food and O2. They are homes of birds, and squirrels and bugs. To me they seem very wise and very alive. To me, trees are worth more than money and houses and boats. So when the tree decides to give its body so the boy can have money and a big house and a boat, it seems that something of lasting value has been traded for something of lesser worth. I can't just say, its OK because the tree wanted to give itself to the boy. To me, trees and people don't just belong to themselves, they are part of a community. When a tree (or a person) does something that diminishes themselves, it takes something of value from the whole community. If the tree lets the boy take its apples, its branches and its trunk -- where will other boys play? Where will the birds nest and the squirrels make their homes? What about the worm in the ground which will be hotter without the shade from the tree and the O2 the tree used to make?

So I think that the simple bottom line is that I love trees. I think that trees are valuable living things that benefit everyone and so the books makes me sad. We started with a beautiful tree with leaves and branches, a sturdy trunk and apples. In the end the money is gone, the house is gone, the boat is gone and all we have left of the tree is a stump. Stumps just aren't anywhere near as beautiful as trees.

Once again, I'm not trying to persuade anyone that they shouldn't like this book. One of the great things about stories is that they mean different things to different people. I'm just trying to understand why this story seems so sad to me.

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