Several years ago when I worked as a psychologist I met a woman in her early thirties. She came to see me because she felt overwhelmed by current life challenges. I asked her how she had handled difficult times in the past. She told me that could not think of any such times in her life. Now that she finally faced a challenge she had no idea where to start in dealing with it.
This is the theme of the book. Our children from their first years through college have often been overprotected (coddled) to the point where they have little resilience when faced with challenges which are an inevitable part of life. The authors present three untruths which have gotten us into trouble. These are as follows:
- What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
- Always trust your feelings.
- Life is a battle between good and evil.
Together these myths lead us to being fragile in the face of difficulty, relying on our emotions when we should think rationally and seeing life as a battle between us (good) and them (evil).
By coddling the authors mean over concern about emotional safety. By protecting our children from any emotional unpleasantness, we make them less resilient in the face of difficulty. They are not suggesting that reasonable care in the face of danger is unwise. But they do hold that children and adults learn to be resilient by facing challenges and learning to manage them rather than be overprotected from them. They also suggest that be seeing potential enemies as less than human it is extremely difficult to find mutually agreeable solutions to our differences.
Much of the book addresses the nature of our conflicts with each other, how false ideas keep us apart and trends in society which reduce our ability to become resilient.
To address these negative and unhelpful trends, the authors suggest ways to reverse them. Among these approaches is preparing children for life rather than trying to smooth out every bump in their life’s path. A second approach is learning how to evaluate the usefulness of our own thoughts which can harm us even more than others can when we take them at face value. Napoleon Hill would have asked what evidence you have for what you believe. Another is to refrain from seeing everyone as good or evil by giving people the benefit of the doubt and practicing emotional humility. Finally we need to help our children become resilient by giving them opportunities to learn problem solving and conflict resolution by not protecting them from anything unpleasant.
Finally they see education as not just an exercise in memorizing facts. It should also be a laboratory for students to learn how to manage their difficulties and conflicts and to learn to challenge their own thoughts and emotions. This also includes learning to understand others and to negotiate resolution of our differences.
I found this to be a comprehensive treatment of the mistakes we make in judging our own thoughts and emotions and how we get stuck in our differences with others. They also suggest clear paths to learning how to deal with others in a compassionate way and how to teach these values to our children. They also present the principles of cognitive behavior therapy which we can use to evaluate our own thoughts and emotions and replace them with more rational beliefs when necessary. If this becomes too difficult to manage alone, they suggest approaching a therapist who can help you think more clearly for the sake of your own life and your relationships.