Sammy and the Pecan Pie

Sammy and the Pecan Pie

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People had such effective sales that they launched a children’s edition, 7 Habits of Happy Kids, on the back of it. When I saw the fourth part of this on the shelf in the Toa Payoh Public Library, I figured it was time to upgrade my kids.

The fourth lesson, told via the allegory of Sammy and the Pecan Pie, is that we shouldn’t be jealous of the successes of others. Rather, we should recognise that each of us is successful in our own way, and measuring ourselves against others is not a great path to happiness.

Which is laudatory, but it uses a bad model to explain this. Sammy is upset because his sister, Sophie, gets various scholastic accolades, and this comes to a head when at dinner his mother serves his favourite, pecan pie, but Sophie gets a bigger slice.

Sammy is upset and runs off (a combination of the pie, and of his sister getting all the glory), and his mother comforts him by saying that life is not like a pecan pie, but like an all-you-can-eat buffet, where the size of one person’s slice of the pie is irrelevant to your own.

But Sammy was also upset that his sister got more pie, and it also seems like a contemptuous treatment because when Sammy is told that life is like a buffet, he requests more pie and his mother laughs this off. Why, if the buffet implies limitless pecan pie, must Sammy put up with a small slice?

Moreover, it’s not clear that the successes of others don’t impact our own lives. As Rawls’ Theory of Justice pointed out, it may be preferable to have less inequality in society, even if that means that everyone is individually worse off. For example, it’s not axiomatic that it’s better for me to go to a grammar school and the Bullingdon Club to go to Eton and thence to Balliol and off to lead the government, as opposed to all of us go to a secondary modern and then get jobs at 16. There’s definitely arguments in favour of unequal distributions of utility where the minimum is maximised, but I don’t see Covey’s all-you-can-eat metaphor doing enough of the heavy lifting here.

Not to mention that children shouldn’t eat as much pecan pie as they want, as they’re famously poor judges of what constitutes a healthy diet.

Still, the kids didn’t have the same political qualms that I did about the implications of this book, but perhaps they were concentrating on the charming (yet unrealistic) depictions of squirrels. I wonder if this is better or worse for them than How Many Ways To Cut A Pie?


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