Heidi's Reviews > The Shelter of Each Other

The Shelter of Each Other by Mary Pipher
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Apr 17, 12

Read in April, 2012

I picked this book up because I loved the title. Being shelter for each other seems like a wonderful aspiration for families.

I found the book a bit uneven. The first third of the book was all about romanticizing the values of the Depression era while vilifying the modern day ("modern day" being the mid-90s when the book was written--heaven only knows what Mary Pipher thinks of our world now). She talks about how happy her grandparents were growing up on the Nebraska prairie, and contrasts it with how miserable everybody is living in the 90s. She spends a chapter going through a list of things that contribute to the deterioration of American values: TV, advertising, etc. I suppose I agree with her about some things, but it mainly just made me feel sad for Mary Pipher that she could only see the bad things about this world we've created.

And parts of it are already dated. The book, published in 1996, was largely pre-internet. At some point Pipher remarks with horror that soon people will be able to BUY THEIR GROCERIES online, and at that point society as we know it will fall apart--or something like that. Since I've been happily ordering my groceries online for many years (just call me Heidi the Subversive) I can definitively say that society wasn't destroyed.

Pipher, a therapist, is critical of parts of her profession. Therapy has done more harm than good in many cases, especially when it encouraged people to break away from their families or caused struggling families to lose confidence in themselves. She says, "In the 1920s the emphasis was on proper behavior, and people rarely shared feelings. In the 1990s the expression of honest feelings is often valued, while behavior is overlooked. But feelings and moral behavior must be connected if families are to survive."

She also talks about modern therapy's love affair with self-esteem and how it quickly crosses the line into narcissism. True self-esteem, she says, comes from the belief that one is making the world a better place. "It's a by-product of a life lived wisely." I usually turn off my ears and mentally walk away when someone starts talking about their self-esteem, so I couldn't agree with her more.

I suppose that being a therapist, she's in contact with much different types of people than I'm normally in contact with. In her eyes, the younger generation (defined as those who came of age post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-Chernobyl, and post-Exxon-Valdez) has values that entirely come from ads, pop psychology, and media. Other than Buddhism, she never talks about religion except in a derisive sense. As a person whose values were largely shaped by religion and a religious family, and as a person who's often around other religious people, I have to disagree with her on the source of values for everyone younger than herself. And I would also have to point out that her parents were probably lamenting the deteriorating values of her own generation, as were their parents, and probably every generation of parents extending back to Noah.

The saving grace of the book is that Pipher is a wonderful storyteller. She spends some time talking about how she, as a therapist, tries to encourage people to build their values and to strengthen their families. The case studies she uses in the middle third of the book are wonderful. She shares concrete examples of things people have done that worked.

The last third of the book is full of suggestions about how to protect and shelter families. Once again, she uses solid examples and I thought her ideas had a lot of merit. I think this book would be helpful to people looking for ideas on how to strengthen their families. But all the good stuff is in the end--I'd suggest starting in the last chapter and working your way backwards until the moralizing starts getting boring.
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