Discussing the terrible book my father gave me with him?
August 3, 2019 6:58 AM   Subscribe

The book is Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential by Dr Carol S. Dweck. How do I review this back to him? He's going to want to have a long, serious conversation about what I've learned from it. Sample: "Many females have a problem not only with stereotypes, but with other people's opinions of them in general. They trust them too much."

It's for my father's birthday, he gave me this book to read, that has allegedly changed his life and made him feel like he knows who is and why he acts the ways he does.
I think it's fairly nonsense. To my eyes the Dweck's theory is lacking in substance, spread thin & bolstered with a heaping of anecdotes about success and perseverance that I find wholly useless. I don't know a whole lot about social psychology, have heard there's replicability issues, concerns which looking into Dweck does not resolve. Throughout, it also seems wretchedly short on any real consideration of, yknow, race, gender, class, disability, the kinds of things I can't imagine a good work on this topic avoiding. It's also making absurdly universalist arguments, jabs at the wretched youths of today, throws all kinds of people under all kinds of buses, really I just cannot get on board.

Basically it's about mindsets, positive or negative. I don't want to go through my "fixed mindset triggers" or act as my "fixed mindset persona" with my dad. Maybe if a trained professional required such a thing but I'm worried that this is exactly the kind of thing he loves, acting and improv.

Anyway, I'd been annotating it with sticky notes as I go, but now I'm concerned that handing it to my father like that would be unnecessarily cruel. I don't like it, of course, and my mother commiserated later that if he'd considered it for a moment, of course I'm going to have issues.
He has no interest in talking through Foucault with me but he wants to give me his last month's self-help book that he really took to heart and sincerely expects me to agree with its contents and gain similar lessons?. I have depression and anxiety, but it's not like the book gives that possibility serious thought.

So how can I handle this? Should I be providing my best academic response? He's said he'd love it if I took it seriously enough to write an essay in response, but I honestly don't know that he'd like to read that essay. Also, I'd prefer not to write an unnecessary & unpleasant essay, even a rough one.
I've also thought about giving him another book in response, maybe something like Capitalist Realism or something similarly Verso-y, and I think he'd read it, but I still don't know if that's a good idea.
I think I can lie and say I don't hate it, but I don't think I can fake it enough to properly get on board, it would have to be a "well yes, fine, couple of arguments I queried but hey if it works for you I'm willing to consider it" sort of deal, but I'd rather not have that deception.

My father is a teacher, I'm uncomfortable that he's out there teaching kids with this sort of stuff filling his head, his obliviousness to politics at all (the book's full of business exec training sessions and seminars, he knows both his children are commies).
I love my father, and I don't want to hurt him with what is my gift to him for his birthday, asked by him, of reading this book, but I hated it.
posted by Acid Communist to Human Relations (31 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I think it's best not to sugar coat it. It's the book, not your father, that you hated. He wants to discuss it? Great. Tell him what you think about the book. If it feels kinder, keep your thoughts regarding his liking the book out of it.
posted by marimeko at 7:11 AM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

Talk to him about why it speaks to him, what he recognizes of himself in it, and then take that conversation away from the book and into his observations about his own history and he feels about his life and choices. Basically use his response to the book as a jumping off point to talk about HIM.

I don't know if he'd be agreeable to that, but it's one way to approach the conversation.

FYI, I read that book and found that her observations fit me to a T--she perfectly described a lot of my problems and the mindset (small M) that created them. I literally didn't realize before I read it that other people might not experience challenges as terrifying evaluations of their worth. The perspective was invaluable as I worked through things I was dealing with. So whether her science is good (no opinion) or her conclusions are universal (of course not), there is stuff in there that's useful for individual people. Talk about that stuff.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:12 AM on August 3, 2019 [62 favorites]

What is your goal? To point out the wrongness, of which there is plenty? Or to understand your father more, and have a healthy and loving relationship?
Dad, I had some real issues with this book is true
Dad, tell me about this book and why it meant so much to you which might help you learn about your Dad. Listening does not make you complicit in the wrongness of the book, about which I only know what is above.
posted by theora55 at 7:22 AM on August 3, 2019 [33 favorites]

You can focus on your point of view- why you were frustrated by the book, why it was not accurate for you. (As opposed to saying, for example, that it's a bad book or similar). And i agree that asking your Dad why the book spoke to him so much is a good question. I don't see any reason why your Dad would need to be offended by you not being able to relate to the book, as long as you frame it as your persobal view.
posted by bearette at 7:27 AM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

My first question to him would be whether he wanted me to read this because of how it affected him (which is what he told you), or whether he was trying to get me to read it because he thought I needed the lessons in the book (which seems to be what you’re thinking is his real motive, even if he doesn’t realize it). If this was truly about how the book changed him, then I’d ask for more information about that, because it’s not clear to you why this particular book had such an impact on him. In that case, it matters less that you think the book is shallow or misguided, because perhaps he took something meaningful from it regardless.

But if this is about you and not him, then I would have that discussion. “Dad, I didn’t find this book meaningful. I’m curious why you thought I would. What are you trying to tell me?”

I don’t know about your father, but I know mine would want my honest opinion, albeit stated with gentleness and kindness. In a slightly similar situation, I said something like “Dad, my opinion of you is so different from how you reacted to this piece and the fact that you sent it to me. I think of you as so much more open-minded than this and I don’t think your thoughts on this reflect the person you really are”
posted by sallybrown at 7:27 AM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

This book made the rounds in education circles for a number of years, and was required reading for many professional development trainings in many schools where I have worked. I see it it as a very basic introduction to the concept of learning, and what holds some people back from learning. Yes, there is way more that informs mindset, learning, and life in general. I think it is totally ok to not like this book, and to be able to have a dialog about it with someone who loves it. I would try and look at this task as any academic task you need to do- I imagine that is what your father is after- engagement over a text. You might even go one step further and find an article that describes your feelings/understanding about what you don't like about the book.
posted by momochan at 7:35 AM on August 3, 2019 [11 favorites]

Clarification: my father sees great similarities between us, many of which are undeniable, and specifically expects this book to help me with my life problems, academic success, romance etc by giving me a better understanding of myself like it has for him.
posted by Acid Communist at 7:36 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could talk to him about how your process of thinking about the book has benefited you—I find that I learn something valuable even from disagreeing with a book like this, because my critique of it clarifies my thoughts and feelings. So if you have a strong negative reaction to it, can you flesh that out and talk to your dad about the thoughts you have that clash with the book?
posted by sallybrown at 7:41 AM on August 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Is your father actually somebody you can trust with your honest reaction to this book? It seems like the book has maybe taken on a lot of symbolic weight about your father being disappointed in you or wanting you to live your life differently, and it can be really painful to admit to yourself, "I WANT to have an honest conversation, I WANT my father to understand me, but that just isn't going to happen."

It is okay to decide that there are limits to how much honesty and how much serious engagement you owe him or are able to give him, whether that's about this book or about your life problems in general.
posted by Jeanne at 8:03 AM on August 3, 2019 [13 favorites]

With your clarification, this reminds me of my father. He was always asking people to read things, often with some kind of agenda. I would try to tell myself that if someone gives you a book to read because it's meaningful to them, it's a gift; they are letting you know something about themselves. But if your father is hoping you will get on board with something you actively disagree with, I think on some level you have to be honest.

The book has a lot of anecdotes and examples in it, right? I would probably try to approach the discussion through a few of those. "So, I was fascinated by that example about XYZ. What did you think of that one? Did you think that example was representative? What was the difference between that example and this other one? What do you think Dweck would say about this example currently in the news?" etc. Whatever it is he wants you to get out of this book, make him tell you. Make him go back into the book with you and look at passages and discuss details. He's a teacher; he should value that method. I would NOT give him a piece of writing.

I'm impressed that you've been able to read the book at all. I would have been out of there as soon as the author used the word "female." And the style of the book is awfully condescending and gee-whiz. Ugh, good luck with this.
posted by BibiRose at 8:11 AM on August 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

What about historicizing the book a little? Would it help you talk about it if you talked about it as part of a tradition of self-help books? Maybe pick out a theme in the book that you tolerate/like/agree with and situate it as part of the self-help tradition? You could frame it as, "When I read this book I was overwhelmingly struck by Tolerable Theme, which reminded me of Self Help Tradition A which you see in [meaty description of self help books]. Self Help Tradition A has always spoken to me because of Noncontroversial Personal Anecdote or Dilemma and has given me useful ideas 1,2 and 3". You'd also be able to veer off into "I find self- help books really interesting because of Neutral Description of An Aspect of Self Help Books. It really gets at Social Issues That Don't Upset You, a feature of modernity".

It might be that if you take it seriously as part of a historicizable tradition, that will at least partially satisfy your father that you've taken it on board.

Is there a book that you experience as self-help that you could give your father to read in return? Like, I find Franco Moretti's Signs Taken For Wonders an enormously helpful guide to understanding the world. My father would probably disagree with Moretti a lot, but we wouldn't fight about it because it's lit crit and a bit more distant from our hearts.

Also, could you say something like, "here is this self-helpy book that I like, why not read it and we can compare and contrast"? There'd be more substance to the discussion if you had something on your side, maybe?
posted by Frowner at 8:27 AM on August 3, 2019 [4 favorites]

Mindset was a very important book for teachers, and is especially helpful for structuring conversations with children about ability. I would not be concerned about his pedagogy being informed by this book - every equity-minded teacher I know has read it, and they use aspects of the philosophy to address the social inequities you bring up.

In terms of how to talk about it with your dad, you can be honest and say you had a really strong reaction to it. You can also point out the book is intended for practitioners who work with children, and you are not the intended audience.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 8:28 AM on August 3, 2019 [25 favorites]

This isn't really about the book, is it? This is about you feeling like your dad is using passive aggressive communication to fix you so you're a new improved, more evolved version like him. It's about resentment at being taught and advised when you didn't sign up for the lesson. I think it's OK to just say, "Dad, I'm glad you got a lot out of it, but it didn't really speak to me and my issues."
posted by shadygrove at 9:17 AM on August 3, 2019 [33 favorites]

I would be blunt and say I really didn't like the book and that I don't want to discuss it further. Just because he wants to discuss it and said you should do even more homework after reading it doesn't mean you have to participate. I refuse to discuss abstract things with my people when I know we have huge disparities in opinion. Neither of us is going to change our mind. If their opinion causes behavior I find wrong, I will address that, but not random ideas.
posted by soelo at 9:19 AM on August 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Definitely don’t write an essay. I don’t know how old you are, but if you’re an adult, that is an odd request. Framing it as a birthday gift comes across as manipulative, but I may be missing context.

If he wants to talk about it, let him. It changed his life and he thinks it could change yours? That’s interesting, let him tell you how. Agree where you agree, and where it falls short (race, class, etc,) say so, as long as you can do so without insulting him or his beliefs. If he’s let down by your having different opinions, that’s too bad for him? I know I sound harsh, but I think worrying so much about this is causing you unnecessary distress.
posted by kapers at 9:49 AM on August 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

My mother-in-law sent my wife and I this piece of utter dreck because, as she said, it reminded her of our relationship (in the good way.) Folks, this is a bad, bad book in a lot of ways., and has the potential to be incredibly harmful. But I know enough about her and her situation to be able to see what was resonating with her and why she found it personally useful, even when I did not and could *also* see where it reinforces certain abusive patterns and has some incredibly ableist and ignorant premises.

We struggled a bit with how to talk with her about it, and ultimately went with the "so let's talk about what resonated with you" strategy. Because while the philosophical framework was shit, I could see that a lot of the examples were structured to be things that she would say "Aha! I have been in that situation and it felt Bad" and look at the positive versions and think "Yes, that is how I would like this situation to go." And, you know, if it gave her a tool or two to get from one point to the other, that's not a bad thing. And she was willing to hear the "Um, I think there are some concepts in there that are just not good" side of things especially because we started with acknowledging and affirming the value *she* had gotten out of it.

But then, she was genuinely trying to share something she felt had value, and was genuinely interested in our takes on it. YMMV. I'd still start by asking questions and finding ways to acknowledge what value your dad did see in it.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:50 AM on August 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

I can sympathize with both your dad's and your reaction to the book, so I hope I can help. I had a similar response to your dad's when I first came across Dweck's work on mindset (in the form of articles that preceded this book -- so less pop/self-help-y in tone). It was eye-opening, it resonated with me, it changed me for the better, and I wanted others to have the same experience. At the same time, you're absolutely right that it ignores human contexts and individual differences, and it's clear that those omissions make it worse than useless for you.

I don't think you're obligated to act like you like it, to do any role playing or improv based on it(!), or to write an essay about it. At the same time, where this was a birthday request and I suspect he really did hope it would help you like it helped him (and me, and other people I know and respect), I do think that sharing all your negative thoughts about it would be unnecessarily antagonizing. I think there's a middle ground, where you can be honest without being hostile -- to the book, and by proxy, to him.

When someone disagrees with me about something I value, one key to my taking that well is knowing that they did, in fact, understand it. So I think it would be helpful to start by echoing back to your dad what may seem so obvious that you'd otherwise be inclined to skip it. Staying neutral, say a little in your own words about what you understand Dweck's concepts of fixed and growth mindsets are, how she posits they're developed, and what she argues their impacts are. I think if you can do that without negativity, it buys you the latitude to then explain that, while you know he wishes you'd benefit from adopting those concepts in your own life, they just don't work for you, and you can explain why.

I'd keep that second part more personal and less academic, e.g., "I think my depression and anxiety are at the root of my struggles, more so than a fixed mindset. I'm glad that working towards a growth mindset is valuable for you, but I just don't believe it is for me." Or, "I believe that my experience in the world, and my ability to succeed and persevere, are more wrapped up in issues of race, gender, class, and disability, than they are in my mindset. Since Dweck ignores those kinds of factors, and they're what matter most to me, I don't find myself wanting to focus on my mindset." Or that kind of thing, edited to be accurate to you. If you started with this part, I think it would be likely to feel bad on both sides. But if you start with the understanding I mentioned first, and keep this part personal, I think you can be honest without being combative.

From there, I like other commenters' idea of pivoting to draw your dad out on what it meant to him. I'd definitely stop short of showing him all your negative sticky notes, writing a critical essay (sure he said he'd love an essay, but only because he hopes that if you took the book that seriously, you'd find value in it!), or telling him that you think it's complete, harmful hogwash. This book really did help him, it helped a lot of us who are not ordinarily self-help types, and he's really hoping to hear that you share his excitement and his sense that it will help you, too. I'm sure it will be disappointing to him that you don't. I do think you get to be truthful about that, but I don't think that's the right moment or that you're the right person to convince him that it's an objectively bad book. That it doesn't work for you is just true. That it's bad is your opinion, and not one I think it will leave either of you feeling good to share at this time. Respond as his child, assuming loving intent, not deceptively, but not as a book critic.
posted by daisyace at 10:49 AM on August 3, 2019 [9 favorites]

My short answer: I would just tell him, "I read it, the author's perspective didn't sit well with me, and I don't think I would enjoy discussing or even thinking about it."

More lengthy answer: At a really base level I would be profoundly annoyed by my dad giving me (adult me) a book and demanding a lengthy conversation or essay (!!!) about it from me. It's presumptuous and offensive - I'm not a child, I don't need to be forced by my parents to engage in Important Topics as a learning exercise, and I don't like the hidden implication that my current viewpoint is wrong and in need of correction. It also feels like he knew from the start that the book would ruffle your feathers and has this expectation of discussion because he wants to set you right or something. It just all feels yucky to me.

This all comes down to the kind of relationship you have with your dad, though. My dad and I give each other book recommendations all the time and we will discuss if we both want to and it naturally comes up in conversation, but never ever ever would I be okay with this kind of forced intellectual discourse once I am an adult.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:37 AM on August 3, 2019 [7 favorites]

"Dear Dad,

I am returning your book. Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential by Dr Carol S. Dweck. I am glad it has had such a positive impact on you and in your life.

I do not believe it will have a similar effect on me, for numerous reasons. I am not comfortable discussing those reasons with you, other than to say this: while we do share many similarities, we are also quite different in many important ways.

An essay is defined as "a short piece of writing on a particular subject." This is my essay.

All my love,

Acid Communist"
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 12:13 PM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a psychology writer and have read a lot of research on mindsets. Regardless of how well Dweck discusses the ideas, it's been very influential and helpful in lots of different domains. Believing that we can grow/change is probably the most important step towards enacting real change, in part because we're willing to try.

Believing that anxiety and depression are more black/white issues - only considering the biological elements, not looking at lifestyle/cognitive/behavioral issues that also influence symptoms - decrease motivation to actively cope. When we start externalizing issues and stop taking responsibility, we lose the willingness to look at our part and try. This is not the same thing as saying that there aren't any external factors! Nb: I had brain surgery 16 years ago, which affected my attention span. I wanted to throw a research paper book across the room after reading that my 'fixed mindset' was partly to blame... but then I realized that a) I'd already made up my mind; b) liked giving myself the excuse; c) wasn't exhausting all possible options. (Believing that you can't do anything to change an outcome starts the stress response, leading to maladaptive coping, interfering with our prefrontal cortical functions, messing up our metabolism, etc., etc.)

I don't think that teaching kids that they can improve - that their talents are the product of their effort, and not some natural/intrinsic entity - is bad. Believing that effort leads to improvement is the cornerstone of teaching. (Again, I'm looking at this from the POV of someone familiar with the theory, not just that book.)

It actually seems like you have a fixed mindset about mindset: you've already decided that it's useless. So maybe that's what you could discuss this with your dad. What do you have to lose by believing that growth and change are possible? Just pretend like it's a good theory, told poorly in this book. And maybe address this with him: does he have blindspots, things he's not willing to work on? In another scenario/time/place, I think you'd actually get a lot out of it. You have nothing to lose by pretending that now is that time.
posted by blazingunicorn at 12:42 PM on August 3, 2019 [23 favorites]

For better or for worse, Dweck's fixed vs growth mindsets thing has been hugely influential among teachers. M. Ed. students get it as assigned reading. People can get papers published responding to it. If your father is a teacher, I suspect that your continued reference to it as a self-help book is going to strike him as a bit clueless.

However, I think the M. Ed.'s get assigned the primary literature, whereas this book he's given you was written later for the popular press. If you're willing to engage with this, and you're comfortable with something as academic as Foucault, you might get more mileage out of Dweck's original work.

hroughout, it also seems wretchedly short on any real consideration of, yknow, race, gender, class, disability, the kinds of things I can't imagine a good work on this topic avoiding.

I wish I knew enough about this to give citations, or even phrase it better, but my understanding is that the mindsets idea is meant to be orthogonal to and complementary with privilege. Privilege makes everything easier. A growth-minded wealthy white kid is going to get a lot farther than a growth-minded poor black kid. But a growth-minded poor black kid still has a better chance than a fixed-minded poor black kid (on average, etc.)

(Which isn't to say that there aren't important interactions. E.g., under-privileged kids are a lot more likely to develop fixed mindsets. In many cases, they are explicitly taught that. But I don't think it's true that there's nothing that can be said about mindset without privilege.)
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 12:53 PM on August 3, 2019 [18 favorites]

I don't think "read this psychology book for me, because it will help you with your life" is a reasonable request for a birthday present. That is not how gifts work. Not at all.
posted by YoloMortemPeccatoris at 1:22 PM on August 3, 2019 [13 favorites]

I liken the work on fixed vs growth mindset to locus of control. I have an internal locus of control. I am close with someone who has an external one. So we each handle something like depression very differently and I have struggled to watch this person see themselves as stuck when they don't have to. At the end of the day it's their journey not mine. I could see myself and this person having the same lines drawn about that book as you're describing in comparison with your dad. People who are able to change from an external locus of control to an internal one can experience a variety of situations as easier or more satisfying and can enjoy improved resilience. I want that for my loved one, badly, as I see them suffer unnecessarily from their external locus of control and associated learned helplessness.

At the end of the day your father's desire for you to reap the benefits of something that helped him in his life is well-meaning and i would encourage you to consider his positive motivation and hope for you to have your best life as you discuss it. It does sound like he's trying to force a particular path of change on you that you don't want. He doesn't get to make you adopt this concept no matter how much it's helped him and others. But it sounds like it is coming from a good place and I'm not sure it will help the relationship for you to be antagonistic about it. It might help you feel you're standing up for your own values, but I would suggest discussing how this meshes with your values (or doesn't) without feeling you have to be right. That right/wrong mindset doesn't usually lead to positive conversations with family.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:50 PM on August 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Okay, so I've been your dad more times than I can count. I've been the person evangelizing the latest THING I've come to love, pressing it onto someone in my life who, to my mind, neeeeeeeds to try it.

There are three types of responses I get when I get like this:

1. Someone politely nods along for a minute or two, but then they let me know they are not interested in trying the thing I want them to try. Then we change the subject. This makes me feel a bit deflated, but whatever. I know I'm annoying when I am evangelizing, can't blame them.

2. Someone listens to me and agrees to try the thing out. This, oddly, is a let-down in many ways. There's a little bit of a YAY that comes with succeeding at evangelism. But I tend to feel a bit hesitant and chastened, wondering if I bullied them into agreeing, wondering if they really mean it - will they really try it or were they just saying so to shut me up? Even in the best circumstance, when they do try it, it now becomes my responsibility to listen to them, to hold space for their reactions and opinions.

3. Someone lets me talk and gush for as long as I need to. They ask questions like "Wow, I wonder what made you connect so strongly with that?" They show interest in *me* and in *my joy*. And then they *affirm* me and my joy by making observational statements: "You're so energized!" and "This means a lot to you, huh!" They don't react at all when I press them to read that book or try that course or whatever. Instead, they keep the focus on me.

Let me tell you, #3 is by far the most satisfying kind of reaction. It took me YEARS to figure this out. When I have fallen in love with something, I may *think* I want to spread the joy by converting others to the gospel of whatever the fuck it is I have found... But that's a lie. I don't really want that.

What I want instead is to share my joy (not the book) with someone I love. I want someone I love to see me - really SEE me - in this state of giddy happiness. I want them to witness it. I want them to validate it.

Your dad is trying to connect with you, OP. He doesn't give a shit about changing you or improving you or making you adopt these principles from the book. He doesn't even care if you read it, I promise you. Truly. He thinks he wants all that, he is even saying he wants that, but no - what he really wants is for you to witness him and affirm him.

He wants you to:

- Notice his interest. "I read the book, dad. Thank you for loaning it! It sounds like it really struck a chord for you, huh?"
- Ask about all the nuances of it so he can talk about it to you. "What parts of it resonated for you? Wow. How come this hit you so deep?"
- Hold space for him to show off his new understanding to you. "Tell me more. Is that right? That's intense!"
- Validate his feelings. "Yeah, I can see how you of all people would find that part meaningful! I get why you felt that was profound."
- Remark on the insights he mentions having. "Right, and that hit home for you because of _[insert relevant history]__. Wow, so that made you rethink ____?"
- Affirm his joy. "You look energized! I can hear the difference in your voice when you talk about this, dad!"

This is what he's really looking for. It was never about getting your honest opinion about the book - it was about being seen and heard by you, his daughter in whom he sees so much of himself.

Obviously, this is quite a lot of emotional labor. None of us can tell you this is what you SHOULD do. I myself have such a bad relationship with my parents that I would never respond in this way to a bid for connection from them! But I hope what I have elucidated here is the opportunity you have for strengthening your connection with your dad by giving him what he actually wants, if that is what you want to do. It's up to you.
posted by MiraK at 1:57 PM on August 3, 2019 [35 favorites]

It actually seems like you have a fixed mindset about mindset

Interestingly, this highlights a key problem with the mindset research; it's essentially unfalsifiable, as anything that doesn't confirm to dwecks theory can be dismissed as "fixed mindset", or more sneakily the "false growth" mindset she frequently calls out.

The other interesting observation of the mindset research is that the only schools that have shown success with the program are the ones that Dweck and her team were directly involved in. All the program implementations that have been studied, where her team weren't directly involved, have not shown good results. The response to this is that they weren't implementing right and were instead promoting... False growth mindset. So, when it works it's growth mindset and when it doesn't it's false growth.

This all said, Dweck herself has also spoken about how much of her research has been misapplied to environments (corporate for eg) where it had not been properly studied.

So there's a few angles you citified take without an essay.

I emphasise with you. My father was also a teacher, and also wanted us to share his passions, and also had difficulty dropping the teacher role and just being a father at times.

This could be irritating. We dealt with it by remembering our was coming from a place of love, but also being up front that we were glad he enjoyed whatever but that it wasn't for us.
posted by smoke at 2:43 PM on August 3, 2019 [9 favorites]

My father is this way. When I graduated high school he got me Anthony Robbin's Unleash the Power Within. I was definitely not the audience for this woo woo, rah rah type of thing. He asked if I read it. I said, "no" and he got upset and asked why I wouldn't read something that would improve my life. He has serious boundary problems beyond this.

Much later he went through some kind of crisis that led him to new age and then "Ancient Aliens" type stuff. He would give me something ab out the aliens in Peru or something about the law of attraction. I never read them. I thought that they were nonsense and I would just put them away in a drawer. He saw that I had the books in a drawer and got upset that I hadn't read them. I just told him that I was not interested and didn't have enough time to read books that I had interest in. He was still hurt but stopped giving me books and all was fine.

I wouldn't write an essay. That's really wierd anyway. He definitely wants you to digest the material. I'd avoid engaging on this unless you are forced into a situiation where you can just say that it wasn't for you and then move on.
posted by Che boludo! at 4:29 PM on August 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

I too am extremely offended by this book and others like it, and I would be absolutely livid if a family member tried to push it on me. I wouldn't sugarcoat it at all. This sort of gross shit is victim-blaming, it's a prime example of toxic positivity, it's denying that external barriers to happiness do in fact exist.

If you had cancer or heart disease, would they think that "growth mindset" would cure that? Can they not see that mental illnesses are also illnesses?

I really really REALLY cannot overstate how harmful the attitude displayed in Mindset and others of its ilk are. The baseless popularity of this crap has prevented me and countless others from actually getting effective treatment.
posted by Violet Hour at 12:55 AM on August 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

He's said he'd love it if I took it seriously enough to write an essay in response, but I honestly don't know that he'd like to read that essay.

I come from a very guess and not ask family, but even with that as a caveat, what you’re describing seems like an absolutely bizarre family dynamic to me. Asking for birthday presents is already tacky and rude— from a child to a parent, or a parent to a child. But demanding that your loved ones write an academic essay about assigned reading that you think will better them in some way?? That’s such an aggressive, controlling move, and just, honestly completely fucking nuts. I’ve never heard of such a thing out of situations like Che boludo! describes, where the proselytizing family member is a hardcore Christian trying to pull a secular child back into the fold, on a conspiracy theory kick, or involved in a cult. Your question honestly made all the hair on the back of my neck go up. Like, please, please understand that this is just a deeply abnormal thing for your father to ask, and you don’t have to do it. You don’t have to read the book, you can grey rock the request away and be like “I haven’t been able to find the time, but here’s [Dad’s favorite fancy candy or brunch at his favorite restaurant or whatever normal, human birthday gift that isn’t a passive aggressive drama bomb using his birthday as a veiled excuse to tell you you’re living your life wrong], why don’t you tell me how your summer’s been going?” Don’t engage with this invasive, manipulative bullshit. Be kind, and deflect it, but you have absolutely zero obligation to engage in the kind of profoundly emotionally draining intellectual argument your father is trying to bait you into.

I’m sure there are subreddits for dealing with aggressive Christian parents— r/exmormon or similar groups— where you can find help for how to set boundaries with this kind of inappropriate, evangelizing behavior from a parent. Good luck. Please don’t write that book report.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:37 AM on August 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Hey, could we allow for the possibility that it's ok for the parent here to express that it would be neat for their child to feel moved to write an essay? My parents write/wrote a lot -- they were basically zinesters -- and they like and think highly of my writing, and it is part of their affection for me that they appreciate and try to encourage me to write essays about stuff, post them on my blog, and so on. It is fine for Acid Communist to not want to do that at all, but I do not see the suggestion itself as ridiculous.

I agree with the folks here who are suggesting finding a way to connect with what the parent got out of the book, and building on that conversation in the future with genuinely curious questions about how to make more equitable learning environments and opportunities in standardized education.
posted by brainwane at 8:33 PM on August 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Does he want to discuss why the book works for him? Bring your notes and ask him questions. Don't necessarily argue with him, but point out where your interpretation differs from his. Let him have his joyfulness, celebrate his improved functioning and his decreased stress, whatever is working right for him.

Does he want you to apply the book to your own life? "I read through the book and there's a lot of stuff I don't think will work for me. (optional: a few specifics.) Thanks for thinking of me, it's very kind of you." If you want to get into your objections of the book, you can do so, but if it's going to invite argument, I'd just omit it.

If the birthday present is your reading the book and discussing it with him for his birthday, that's a kindness and I would probably be willing to put forth the emotional labor. If he got you the book as a present for your birthday, I would nope the fuck out.
posted by disconnect at 6:51 AM on August 6, 2019

Hey, thanks everyone.
I decided to be fairly honest with him. Writing something wouldn't exactly be something I objected to in other circumstances, and he wants to help me sharpen my writing skills, but I chose not to. I told him I saw some value in the book, but not a great deal for me. We discussed it at some length and will again in the future, but I do feel he was disappointed.
I'm going to go through something of my choice with him as well at some point in return, but we'll see. He has a copy of Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher from me, but I don't know that he'll read it.
posted by Acid Communist at 11:01 AM on September 3, 2019

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