Free advice on children’s books from a bona fide expert

There hasn’t been much blogging these days, for which I felt it necessary to issue an apology. The excuse I’ll use (for everything, really) is that my wife and I had our second child recently, and life has predictably been turned upside down. Things will normalize as far as this blog goes in due time, I promise.

Having baby #2 has brought the expected burst of joy, with an entirely new set of challenges. The biggest is the predictable jealousy of our two-and-a-half year-old son for his new baby sister. We’re not too concerned, as everyone tells us this is normal. We actually see it as an opportunity for him to experience some healthy heartbreak and learn that he’s not the center of the universe. Nonetheless, for the time being he’s been an absolute menace, with lots of tantrums (the sight of mom nursing another baby is a usual source of emotional devastation).

A lifesaver for our older one has been books, especially at night time. My wife is constantly on the prowl for good children’s books, and it’s a credit to her that our son is so fond of reading at such a young age. Consequently, I’ve become something of an expert on children’s literature, like most parents I suppose. Honestly, most of the genre is just crap, in my experience, though I understand that I’m not exactly the target audience. (After re-reading those “Mister” books for the first time in nearly three decades, for instance, I now fully believe them to have been written and illustrated by a 3rd grader during recess.) However, there are a couple of books in particular that are just superb at explaining complex social concepts to kids, including some economic themes that we adults routinely gloss over or fail to address entirely. It might seem corny to look to children’s books for economic wisdom, but “corny” has never stopped me on this blog before, so bear with me.

The first I’ll mention is Little Blue Truck Leads the Way by Alice Schertle. It tells the story of a little blue truck who ventures into the tall, fast city, only to find that all the other vehicles are in a terrible, aggressive rush. Everyone is so stressed and hurried that the city streets eventually grind to a halt, and no one can get anywhere. Finally, all the vehicles recognize the wisdom of the Little Blue Truck, who teaches everyone to wait patiently and form an orderly line, allowing others to go first.

little_blue_truck

The beauty of this book is not just that it teaches kids to respect order and not barge ahead of others. It’s that it acknowledges the limits to the importance of economic efficiency. The problem with the big city, it seems, is not just that it’s chaotic, but that it’s miserable. All of the vehicles, in their scramble to get ahead, are stressed, angry, and frustrated. (Sounds like my morning commute into Manhattan.) When everyone slows down a bit, the city is able to relax and breathe, adding value to its residents’ lives in ways that can’t easily be measured. This is an important point that is lost on a lot of us adults; in our quest for efficiency and productivity, we sometimes unwittingly sacrifice subtle things that are vital for our own welfare. This is a point I’ve been thinking of writing about on this blog for a while now, but like a lot of things, it’s probably best left to art.

The second book is Just So Thankful, by Mercer Mayer (from that “Critter” series that a lot of us became acquainted with as kids). It follows a kid who’s bummed out that his parents won’t buy him a particular toy, and who grows jealous of the new kid in school, “H.H.”, who’s super rich and seems to have every toy (as well as servants, a mansion, and a swimming pool). When H.H. comes over to Critter’s modest house to play one day, the rich kid ends up having a blast enjoying the little things — helping out with dinner, playing with he family puppy, getting his shoes eaten up by the dog — and shows Critter how good he truly has it, despite the fact that his family isn’t rich.

just_so_thankful

There is no shortage of art seeking to explain that material possessions aren’t what make us happy, that “the best things in life are free”. But this book does more than that, which is to emphasize that people of all economic backgrounds — rich, poor, whatever — derive happiness from the same things in life. H.H. arrives at Critter’s house with excitement about seemingly mundane but valuable things, like having a family cookout. Far from snobby about his wealth, we find when H.H. is stripped of his butler and cell phone and Super Streak Scooter, he’s just another normal kid who enjoys the same thing as everyone else.

Anyway, those are my children’s book recommendations. If you’re a parent, you should get them for your kids. If not, you might still get them and read them on your own. Just think twice before doing so in public, because that might seem creepy. About as creepy as a grown man writing emotionally about children’s literature on an economics blog.

 

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James Taylor perfectly describes the purpose of the Baha’i Faith, by accident

This post has nothing to do with economics, governance, business, finance, etc. So if you arrived at this site hoping for some discussion about that sort of thing, don’t feel bad if you end up closing this window and going here.

Instead, I wanted to break the routine and share some personal reflections on what I think the Baha’i Faith truly is and its purpose. I don’t plan to provide a discussion of its teachings, a supremely useful exercise but one that has been done impeccably well already by many others. (If you’re looking for that, a great website that does this simply and eloquently is here.) Rather, I thought I’d share a song that on its surface might seem completely unrelated to the Faith, but in my opinion captures its essence better than anything I’ve encountered.

A few years ago some Baha’is I knew were hosting a fireside discussion with friends about the Faith in their home on Cape Cod, and invited me to come along. I can’t remember much about that evening, including what was said or even the general topic of discussion. All I can really remember is the warmth and friendliness of the atmosphere, and the song they played on the CD player to kick off the evening and set the mood. That song turned out to be Another Day by James Taylor, which is now easily one of my favorite songs ever. To this day, I own no James Taylor albums and have little interest in listening to his other music. But I remain obsessed with Another Day.

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Not-so-random thoughts on needless human suffering

9/11/01... A portrait of needless human suffering (from encore-editions.com)

Like many people I have a personal connection to the events of September 11th, 2001. Every year I have pretty much no desire to relive the actual events of that day, which I find to be a needless and morbid exercise. It doesn’t mean that remembering the needless suffering of 9/11 isn’t important.

Needless human suffering was not invented 10 years ago. And yet, today is an important opportunity to reflect on just how much of it exists in our world, and the great moral calling that we all face as members of the human race to remedy it.

Here is a stirring passage from Baha’u’llah which I find apt. Rather than interjecting my own interpretations I will let the words speak for themselves.

Say: O men! This is a matchless Day. Matchless must, likewise, be the  tongue that celebrateth the praise of the Desire of all nations, and  matchless the deed that aspireth to be acceptable in His sight. The whole human race hath longed for this Day, that perchance it may fulfil that which well beseemeth its station, and is worthy of its destiny. Blessed is the man whom the affairs of the world have failed to deter from recognizing Him Who is the Lord of all things.

So blind hath become the human heart that neither the disruption of the city, nor the reduction of the mountain in dust, nor even the cleaving of the earth, can shake off its torpor. The allusions made in the Scriptures have been unfolded, and the signs recorded therein have been revealed, and the prophetic cry is continually being raised. And yet all, except such as God was pleased to guide, are bewildered in the drunkenness of their heedlessness!

Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, v. XVI, p. 39.

New feature: Baha’i economists share their views and perspectives

We’re  looking for this blog to take an important step in the coming weeks. To this point it has mostly featured just one view (its own) on the world. The plan in the coming weeks is to start introducing some other Baha’i economists and have them share their perspectives in their own words. As always, we’ll be relying on you to enter the discussion through your comments, regardless of your economics background and regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a Baha’i. Stay tuned.

Turning off your lights and other mild expressions of pseudo-oneness

Earth hour balloon

An earth hour promotional balloon making its way over Sydney, Australia. (Getty images)

‘Abdu’l-Baha once eloquently said that “All economic problems may be solved by the application of the Science of the Love of God”. This is the backbone of what Bahais talk about when referring to “spiritual solutions to economic problems”. In the end, lasting solutions to our worst economic problems can not be achieved without a regeneration of the human spirit, and a reinvigoration of love and compassion among human beings. As Howard Colby Ives, one of the great early American Baha’is, wrote on ‘Abdu’l-Baha’is utterance above, “If the Rule called golden… were actually applied to the world’s economic problems… can there be any doubt that the results would be far more conducive to human welfare than our present policies have produced?”

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Welcome to The Fruit Tree

This site is dedicated to discussion about the teachings of the Bahai Faith and their practical implications for the world. It is based on a conviction that solutions to our human race’s problems have both a material and a spiritual dimension, that these two dimensions are more closely connected than we think, and that the Bahai teachings are destined to make a huge impact in this area.

As someone with a passion for economics (I am somewhat hesitant to call myself an economist as I don’t have a PhD), a lot of this site is focused on the Bahai teachings in that area and what’s going on in the world of markets, economic policy, poverty, etc. And I can think of no other subject more in need of smart and practical infusion of spiritual energy.

Not a Bahai or unfamiliar with the Bahai Faith? You are welcome here and warmly encouraged to chime in.

Lastly, it is important to note that this website and any content posted on it do not represent any official or authoritative Bahai view. They are just the reflections and opinions of a single individual.

I hope you enjoy the site and visit often.

– Ron