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Atlas Shrugged Week 1: Ch 1-2

Primeperiwinkle

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Atlas Shrugged - Week 1: Ch 1-2

Book Discussion Guidelines and Schedule

Welcome my most excellent business-minded friends, acquaintances, and random dudes; it’s FRIDAY! Hopefully you all wake up and eagerly join in on this discussion.


Chapter One
32 yo Eddie Willers opens the story by going into work on September 2nd by feeling an “immense, diffused apprehension”. As he walks he imagines his childhood safe haven- a large oak tree. Sadly, it was destroyed by lightning. Eddie’s father and grandfather worked for the same ppl he works for: The Taggart family. Eddie is the Special Assistant to the Vice President in Charge of Operation.

Going into work he likens the Taggart building to a place of safety - it is a New York skyscraper holding the offices of Taggart Transcontinental Railroad - a company that has spread across the U.S. The president, James Taggart has a “limp decentralized sloppiness” w/ a soft face.

Eddie enters James’ office to talk about The Rio Norte line coming out of Colorado, which Eddie says is “done for”. This is bad because the Wyatt Oil Fields have started producing and the owner, Ellis Wyatt has hired a different company Phoenix-Durango to ship for him. James curses his sister.

The sister, VP Dagny Taggart, is traveling in on the fastest train after two nights of not sleeping due to work. She is long-legged but not conscious of her more feminine qualities. She hears a brakeman whistling what he tells her is The 5th Halley Concerto but she later verifies that Halley never wrote a 5th Concerto at all. (This is spooky or is the brakeman Halley?!?!? I don’t know!!!!)

After arriving in New York she meets with her brother. Dagny confirms The Rio Norte Line is in desperate need of repair. She sits decisively against her brothers noncommittal excuses saying, “we’re going to save it.” The argument revolves around Orren Boyle, a man James defends, who runs Associated Steel. Taggart Transcontinental has not received their order for rail from Boyle in over thirteen months.

Dagny tells James she has ordered new rail from Rearden Steel, a company owned and operated by Hank Rearden whom James dislikes. Rearden has created a substance stronger than steel called Rearden Metal but as of yet no one has bought it, until now.

Chapter Two
Hank Rearden is watching as the first “flashing” substance that took him ten long years to create is poured like a long white curve for its very first order. He has poured his life into getting where he is now and is happy but meditates that “happiness could hurt”. He heads home filled with the power of his accomplishment but is immediately met by a circle of ppl who do not understand him; his wife Lillian who has no gaiety in her face, his mother who accuses him, his brother whom he financially supports, and a friend, Paul Larkin, who seems supportive but, we find out, only comes with a vague message. Paul tells Hank that he should should hire someone new for Washington, a man who will give Rearden better press.

(These intros will get shorter as the weeks pass; they’re here to be quick refreshers about the chapters we are discussing. Since I’ve never read the book I’m not completely sure which details are ok to leave out. It’s your job to bring up the nuances you noticed and connect the dots so we can see the book from different angles. That way we will help each other.)


My thoughts:
Taggart is the tree; Rearden the lightning. Rand pretty much spelled that out. I’m 95% sure this book has no happy ending. Hm. I have more but I’ll let y’all talk before I start gushing sonnets about the writing. Lol

Questions to spark the convo:
1.) A writer strives to set the tone for a book very quickly. What tone did Rand create for the backdrop of her book?

2.) Can you draw ANY conclusions (metaphysical, emotional, intellectual or economic) from just these two chapters?

3.) Which character/s would you trust to help your business?

How do you feel so far about ANYTHING?!? I need to know!!!! Please feel free quote from the book to clarify your points. Yay!!
 

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WJS

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I'd like to discuss about some of the characters, based solely on the 2 chapters.

- Dagny Taggart

To me, she's an incredibly competent, logical, no non-sense type of person. She’s able to see clearly what and where the problem is, and come up with fast and dead-on solutions to fix them. Her aggressive way of solving problems is highly effective, but could hurt a lot of people’s feeling and could spell disaster if her methods were wrong.

Yet people like her can often break character for the oddest, most irrational reasons – such as her obsession for the non-existent 5th Concerto (I can totally relate to that because I’ve seen it happened many times, to other people, and to myself as well)


- James Taggart

He feels like a sentimental guy who could be easily manipulated, unable to take charge of the situation, and a person who is unable to see the bigger picture - insisting on waiting for Orren Boyle, despite him having delayed the ore shipping for a whopping 13 months. Relationships are very important in business, but when it starts to adversely affect the business then things would need to change. In real life most companies would have gone bust if they have a CEO like him.

- Henry Rearden

A very interesting character indeed. To me he is rather similar to Dagny, but he’s a lot more anti-social than her – hates shallow, meaningless talks, unable to connect to common people, lacks sympathy and empathy, but extremely clear-minded, independent, capable, intelligent and resourceful.

The fact that the first thing he made from the first pouring of the Rearden metal was a bracelet for Lilian shows that at some level he still a place for her in his heart. And his 10k cash donation to his brother’s organization just to make him happy shows that he does care for his family (the brother asked that he donate cash instead of giving cheque so people won’t know the money comes from a “greedy businessman”. If I were Henry I would’ve told him to go to hell). Yet his direct personality and disdain for the social acts cause friction to his relationship with the wife and the family members

Henry is often misunderstood, and because he didn’t express himself properly, it causes people to think even more negatively towards him. The bracelet would have been an extremely thoughtful gift, but because no one knew (or care to know) the significance of the metal (which took him 10 years to develop), it became a junk instead - his mother chided him for not gifting Lilian diamonds instead, Lilian finds the bracelet “amusing” instead of “touching”

Personally Dagny and Henry are the best people to run a successful business, but they would need to partner with people who can soften their approach so their “unnecessary problems” would be lesser (people deliberately sabotaging them because they don’t like them)
 

SpongeGod

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Chapter 2 made me really angry. Rearden supports his brother through college, doesn't pressure him to work or do anything really, yet all he gets from him is resentment? He provides his mother with everything she needs and more and gives her a place in his home, but somehow he has always been the cruel, selfish son? His wife mocks his business which is the one thing that gives him true pleasure in his life.

Honestly screw family relationships and ties. If I were in that situation, I'd give my parents 10 million, maybe more and my brother 100K and say sayanora and cut them out of my life completely. In fact that's exactly what I plan on doing. I'm not going to take any toxic shit from my family and by giving them money, I've essentially paid all debt I owe them in full and more.

James Taggart sounds like a lazy bastard, who just thinks his business is going to be safe from anything. He doesn't care that a competitor is taking customers from him. He'd be a terrible businessman if he just ignores whatever happens to his company and believes that everything is going to be all right.

I really love Dagny and Eddie's characters. They sound like they know what they are doing.
 
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Strategery

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I like your writeup @Primeperiwinkle !

Can you see any importance in the delay of the Comet, and how Dagny handled it?
 
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Primeperiwinkle

Primeperiwinkle

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Great first post! What do you mean by this?
Taggart Transcontinental is rotten from the inside and is going to be struck by an outside force called Hank Rearden which will be its dooooooooom.

At least that’s what all the imagery I’m reading predicts.
I really love Dagny and Eddies's characters. They sound like they know what they are doing.
I love Dagny. So much!

I like your writeup@Primeperiwinkle

Can you see any importance in the delay of the Comet, and how Dagny handled it?
Thank you! I think it gave time to introduce Dagny and her obsession with Halley. (I’m relatively sure this music thing is really important. Somehow..)
 

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Nice summary! I tend to read mainly non-fiction and haven't read such a verbose book in many years. At the beginning of the book I didn't like how she describes someones face for 3 pages but it's growing on me now.

I read ahead and hard to recall exactly what happened in Chapters 1 and 2 so I'll just follow along here but not leave any commentary so as to not ruin it.

Except for the fact that I hate James already.
 

MTEE1985

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The most intriguing part of 1&2 to me is...Who is John Galt? A person or an idea?

Also agree on the Halley 5th concerto @Primeperiwinkle I feel that will be a question Dagny is compelled to find the answer to and there is likely more story to the break man on the comet.

Except for the fact that I hate James already.
Hahaha. He comes off as a douche who wants credit for anything that goes well and blames literally everything bad on forces “out of his control.” There’s definitely some James Taggerts hanging around the FLF, as well as some Dagny’s.
 

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First things first, boy can Ayn Rand write, or what? Such an easy book to sink your teeth into. Great character development. Her wordsmithing imagery is magnificent. I can almost feel the heat of poured metal on my face as I drive listening to the audiobook.

Ok, the characters we're supposed to like and dislike are obvious. And yet, I both liked and distrust them all.

Take James Taggart. He'll only move forward if he understands all the ramifications and only if it will make him look good. He appears jealous and weak. He seems a little too willing to throw his own sister under the bus. (Just the vibe I get)

And yet, he has one of the my favorite lines in the book so far.

"It seems to me that there are more important things in life than making money."

Some people in this forum need to read that line again. It's sadly delivered by a weak character, but that makes it no less true.

Of course he also thought:

"He liked to observe emotions; they were like red lanterns strung along the dark unknown of another’s personality, marking vulnerable points."

Most people don't think at Taggart's level. He's conniving. People don't appreciate conniving people, but I do. Funny thing, if he was described as cunning, more people would like him. But that's the genius if Rand's writing, she didn't tell us he is conniving or cunning, she just shows us how he acts (I should probably say talk, because James has an acted on anything yet) and we draw our own conclusions. Most will judge him poorly. I might too, I just don't know yet.

What stood out to me most is how all of the characters are willfully blind to something.

Eddie doesn't understand why everybody doesn't do the right thing.
James constantly saying "I didn't say that" is blind to the stand he "should" take. He is blind to the threat of Mexican nationalism.
Pop tells Eddie to just forget about the trains' brake problem.
Dagny has to allow herself a moment to feel. She probably doesn't allow too many of those moments.
The train guys don't seem to want to know why the light is red. They're just going along.
Hank is blind to his family's motives, even their emotions (interesting that the two best business people turn a blind eye to emotions), he is blind to the need for lobbying. He also forgot his anniversary.
His family are blind to his goodness.

Then there is the incessant question of Who is John Galt? Thanks to the dude who gave us his insight having already read the book, I probably would've thought this was a real person, but now I think it isn't. It's like a throw away or unknowable question. Maybe like a capital buddhist mantra, what is the sound of one hand clapping and who is John Galt?
To those who read the entire book, please no more telling us your over arching theories about what the book is about.

I hope we find out about the 5th symphony (I think it's the composers son works on the train). Why is Kellogg leaving and what's that have to do with John Galt?

I am fascinated by these characters. They all have good in them (somewhere). Maybe it's better to say that I can learn something from all of them. Yet they all are willfully blind.

To put it in poker terms, Reardon plays the game and he plays it well, but Taggart plays the man, and he might cheat. Dagny plays the hand and the man.

I don't trust any of them, yet. Except maybe Eddie. Not to run my business. But it was Eddie who spoke my favorite line, when he asked:

"What do you suppose is the best in us?"

That's the question.

And that is something I look forward to discussing further through the lens of these characters with you fine people. I do believe Fridays won't arrive quickly enough.
 

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Having already read it, and then just repurchasing it yesterday and having already reading to far ahead ( I couldn't help myself :( ), I can't really say too much.

I love Dagny and Hank so much. The things they're capable of, in the face of a world that should be empowering them but instead presents endless roadblocks, inspire me personally. Everything about who they are is a quality I'm working towards myself, although I fall short.

Gotta love Eddie. I'm probably closer to Eddie than I am Hank or Dagny, but I'm reaching for more.

Conversely, everything about James is detestable. His best quality is literally getting out of Dagny's way. My goal is to eliminate as much of the James in myself as possible.

... Sorry for the, like, 6th grade level contribution here. Just don't want to slip up and say too much.
 

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I really want to comment...BUT since I've read the book a couple times I will not. But I am following. Thank you for starting this thread.
 

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@broswoodwork @Ernman You guys can't keep your comments confined to the evidence in the first two chapters?

If so, cool, but hopefully as we get further along you feel more free to contribute.
Any further analysis (a bit of a misnomer because I'm not very smart... I've just read it already), other than how I feel, will absolutely blow up a few people's perceptions of what's going to happen. I'll just talk about how I feel like it's a book report or something. :)

I will say though, poor Hank. What a shit show his family is. I sure hope things improve for him in his personal life. He needs someone who gets him and finds value in him for what he values.
 
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Kak

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Questions to spark the convo:
1.) A writer strives to set the tone for a book very quickly. What tone did Rand create for the backdrop of her book?

2.) Can you draw ANY conclusions (metaphysical, emotional, intellectual or economic) from just these two chapters?

3.) Which character/s would you trust to help your business?
1.) I believe she sets the tone in a world where people like James are the types chosen to run larger companies by super political boards. They put emotion and feelings ahead of actual business growth and prosperity for their shareholders and employees. They are running at a loss and golden boy wasn't actually going to do anything productive. He was just going to keep waiting on the late steel while his customers left TT for the PD.

Weak leadership is a theme I believe will continue. Also a theme I blew off the first time I read this.

2.) Yes. Rand was very very clear with the mindset of a protagonist and the mindset of an antagonist. Obviously Hank and Dagny are the heroes early in the book.

3.) Goes without saying.

Additionally. As someone with a wife that would LOVE a bracelet from a first pour of a metal that I hypothetically created... I can't imagine building an empire without the right wife. Hank's wife sucks.

Thanks @Primeperiwinkle for leading this discussion in such an organized fashion. You are taking charge and leading. I must say you are doing a very good job.
 
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Tubs

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The tree is obviously meant to represent Taggert Transcontinental. It stood tall and for a long time, but when it finally fell Eddue saw that it had rotted away from the inside and was already hollow.

James Taggert doesnt care at all about his company, nor even profit at this point. All he seems to care about is some cheap sentementality towards his friend/the rest of humanity. As seen when he builds a railroad in Mexico to "give them a chance." Can't seem to do anything that would positively benefit the company.

Eddie Willers is a voice of reason, but at this point isnt really in any position to affect any real change. At least when dealing with James Taggert.

Dagney Taggert is the real person in charge of Taggert Transcontinental. Shes a a driven woman whose only goal is making the company money. She takes charge and completely dominates her brother whenever she wants a decision made.

Hank Rearden is a self made man who got to his position through hard work. A true innovator who brings value to the market place with his own product Rearden metal. He feels a real sense of triumph from his work and and through years of hard work and dedication was able to found his own company and make it a success at the top of their industry. He doesnt even stop there he aims even higher than being the best steel company by creating his own metal alloy for 10 years while growing his steel company. This guy is the real deal. His family though are pretty annoying. His mom and brother are leeches who seem extremely ungrateful. His wife is okay so far, but it doesnt really seem like a loving relationship and she doesnt fully understand him.

-------------

Who is John Galt?
 

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I thought it was interesting that Eddie and Dagny are both awesome business people, but their motivations are very different. Eddie "does what's right", whereas Dagny does it for the "thrill of taking action".

I haven't read the book, but I have a prediction: "They" (the government? activist groups?) are going to try and ban Rearden Steel. The reviews are bad, James was scared to buy it, and Paul warns Henry that having a man in Washington is super important which seems like a bit of foreshadowing.

I like how Rand gave her characters not just different personalities but entirely different worldviews which prevents them from talking straight to each other. In James and Dagny's conversation there's the "scarcity vs abundance" mindset - Dagny thinks there's plenty of opportunity for "two or three tracks" along the Rio Norte, but James thinks there should only be one and mentions everyone should have their "fair share". James Taggart also has a "Money is Evil" mindset, which is visible in James/Eddie's conversation (I think James says something like "Money isn't everything!" and Eddie responds with "What does that have to do with anything??? in their argument over using Rearden Steel"). The "Money is Evil" mindset also shows through when Henry talks with his family.
 

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When Eddie talks to James, he finds it hard to make the latter understand what's going on. He has to explain James to the point where I feel like Eddie is more concerned about the company than its president James Taggart.

But when he sees Dagny enter her office, all his fears, confusions evade.

"Whenever she returned, he felt as if the world became clear, simple, easy to face and he forgot his moments of shapeless apprehension"

Man oh Man. That's who a LEADER is. Somone who just inspires the heck out of their employees so much so that, they are ready to face anything.

I loved that part.
 

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1.) A writer strives to set the tone for a book very quickly. What tone did Rand create for the backdrop of her book?
I believe the first few chapters, including these first two, are where Rand sets up a few business operator archetypes.

Eddie, Dagny, James and Hank are all business operators in their own way. Yet they all seem to hold different beliefs in the area of:

1. Productivity
2. Work ethic
3. Weighting people's opinions
4. Coping with their family members (except for Eddie, in the case of these chapters)
5. The value of money

They also embody other core values, too.

I think it would be interesting to examine these characters through these lenses, enumerate their core values, and consider how this impacts their decisions through the book.

2.) Can you draw ANY conclusions (metaphysical, emotional, intellectual or economic) from just these two chapters?
I think it's still too soon for that, personally.

The book is massive. That's kind of like judging Jamie Lannister based on chapter one of Game of Thrones, when his story arc is only just burgeoning.

3.) Which character/s would you trust to help your business?
I'll have to hold off on this one for now, seeing as I know too much about all of them to isolate it to chapters 1 and 2.

In real life most companies would have gone bust if they have a CEO like him.
Is that true? I can think of several companies that have CEOs like James Taggart. They tend to be quite large and incumbent, like Taggart Transcontinental.

"It seems to me that there are more important things in life than making money."

Some people in this forum need to read that line again. It's sadly delivered by a weak character, but that makes it no less true.
I'd file this under a core value of James Taggart. It will be interesting to see how it serves him and others who agree/disagree with this assertion.
 
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Primeperiwinkle

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I believe the first few chapters, including these first two, are where Rand sets up a few business operator archetypes.
You believe? So you aren’t re reading it with us then?
 

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Yes, I'm always down to discuss this book at length :D

But I won't be re-reading since I'm ripping through other classics at the moment :)
I'm in the middle of reading two other classics at the moment so I'm not re-reading. But I know Atlas Shrugged very well.

If you want to limit the discussion only to those re-reading, then I can bow out.
 
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Primeperiwinkle

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First things first, boy can Ayn Rand write, or what?
She really can!!!!
And yet, I both liked and distrust them all.
I’m infamous for loving bad characters and being utterly bored about the good ones HOWEVER this is the first time that has switched definitively for me. I really think James is a craphead.
Maybe like a capital buddhist mantra, what is the sound of one hand clapping and who is John Galt?
I think the phrase indicates a pointlessness or giving up .. at least so far.
To those who read the entire book, please no more telling us your over arching theories about what the book is about.
I’m going to need you and everyone else to keep saying this. Please.

Having already read it, and then just repurchasing it yesterday and having already reading to far ahead ( I couldn't help myself :( ), I can't really say too much.
Yea, reading at a measured pace is a big change for most people but if you can refrain from reading ahead you’ll end up enjoying the discussion much more!

OR

You can always make notes about how you’re feeling as you read. And then ONLY share those notes with us.

But for me, the fun part is trying to figure out wtf is going on with everyone else. Also, don’t say anything bad about yourself anymore, please. It’s unnecessary and unkind. We like you.
 

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From the first two chapters I think we can say this book is going to focus on leaders not working class.
That sadness is going to be throughout the book.
That we are going to watch the downfall of someone or a company.
That we can trust the narrator and believe the character descriptions.

And!!

That I’m going to be swept up in absolute rapture over Dagny.
 

Tubs

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Questions to spark the convo:
1.) A writer strives to set the tone for a book very quickly. What tone did Rand create for the backdrop of her book?

2.) Can you draw ANY conclusions (metaphysical, emotional, intellectual or economic) from just these two chapters?

3.) Which character/s would you trust to help your business?

How do you feel so far about ANYTHING?!? I need to know!!!! Please feel free quote from the book to clarify your points. Yay!!
1. A current running through the society in her book is a general sense of decline and apathy. The streets are filled with bums, businesses have gone bust with around half the shops on the main street having been closed down. The buildings of the town are in general disrepair.

Most people dont seem to even care what happens as long as they dont have to take responsibility for it. From random conductors to James Taggert. Which leads to absolutly no progress being made on any fronts unless someone strong comes along and makes things happen.

It's also being hinted at that something may happen with the government and the "friends of progress" with them having both been mentioned in the second chapter.

2.
If you want anything to get done you have to take charge and do it yourself. If you wait around for others to do it you'll just end up with everything around you falling apart while you tell yourself it isnt your fault.

3.
Eddie Willers would be a good employee since he gives you the real picture of whats going on rather than sucking up to you.


My only question so far is:

Who is John Galt?
 

Kak

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I can think of several companies that have CEOs like James Taggart. They tend to be quite large and incumbent, like Taggart Transcontinental.
I say this all the time. This is what happens when you democratize the decision making process. You have a figurehead like James being the mouthpiece for a board that makes all of the decisions by vote. He is always looking for a scapegoat to protect his image.

I say this is like hitting a 200 yard drive right down the middle of the fairway every time. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. All the time it is lame.

As kids given candy as a group we split it evenly. We are taught to democratize. Taken to an extreme... It would be like a labor union running a company.

This is also why I just set a day for the Erie trip and why it was such a success. Take initiative. Be decisive.
 
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Most people dont seem to even care what happens as long as they dont have to take responsibility for it. From random conductors to James Taggert. Which leads to absolutly no progress being made on any fronts unless someone strong comes along and makes things happen.
I noticed this too. There is definitely something wrong in an organization where the CEO and the lowest worker are concerned about who takes the blame for decisions.

I'm rereading this book along with the crowd. I'll keep my comments appropriate for each week's discussion.
 
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Primeperiwinkle

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As kids given candy as a group we split it evenly. We are taught to democratize.
I read a book about how leaving your kids alone to fight it out, bargain, negotiate, make amends, and compete as will.. is just flat out better than constantly pushing your idea of fairness on them. I tried it out for a week.. my kids fought like cats and dogs (no hitting or actual pain cuz that’s against house rules) and then.. they complained to me a LOT. I had to say “Figure it out on your own.”

So they did. One got the toy and the other got the candy or they split their time wisely or played a game with their own rules.

They’re not perfect at it.. but they talk things out now and they’re getting better. It’s cool.
 

Kak

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I read a book about how leaving your kids alone to fight it out, bargain, negotiate, make amends, and compete as will.. is just flat out better than constantly pushing your idea of fairness on them. I tried it out for a week.. my kids fought like cats and dogs (no hitting or actual pain cuz that’s against house rules) and then.. they complained to me a LOT. I had to say “Figure it out on your own.”

So they did. One got the toy and the other got the candy or they split their time wisely or played a game with their own rules.

They’re not perfect at it.. but they talk things out now and they’re getting better. It’s cool.
I absolutely love this.

This method teaches kids that there doesn't have to be an authority (you) to step in and correct some perceived injustice. That they are perfectly capable of finding an equilibrium on their own.

In contrast, if you do it for them they will always look to weponize authority against those they disagree with. That mindset brought into adulthood is like Miracle Grow for government.
 

Tubs

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I read a book about how leaving your kids alone to fight it out, bargain, negotiate, make amends, and compete as will.. is just flat out better than constantly pushing your idea of fairness on them. I tried it out for a week.. my kids fought like cats and dogs (no hitting or actual pain cuz that’s against house rules) and then.. they complained to me a LOT. I had to say “Figure it out on your own.”

So they did. One got the toy and the other got the candy or they split their time wisely or played a game with their own rules.

They’re not perfect at it.. but they talk things out now and they’re getting better. It’s cool.
Honestly that makes perfect sense to me now that you've mentioned it. How can we expect kids to grow up to be independent if we make every single decision for them.
 

Ernman

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@broswoodwork @Ernman You guys can't keep your comments confined to the evidence in the first two chapters?

If so, cool, but hopefully as we get further along you feel more free to contribute.
I don't want to risk any unintentional spoilers. So I'll watch and start commenting when you all get further along.
 

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