— The Sharing Project  —


By Joel Tauber

There are so many different kinds of sharing that it makes me wonder why our language lumps them all together.

We share time, energy, space, information, stories, and feelings. We also share food, money, tools, cars, and toys. We share with immediate family, extended family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and strangers.

Sometimes we share our personal possessions via loans, gifts, or charity. Other times, we decide that certain things belong to all of us (or at least some of us), and we share them in communistic ways.

Alison and I tell our son Zeke that everything in the family room belongs to our family collectively. Zeke can keep his special tools in his bedroom and moving box boat; but he can’t hide any books, blocks, or train tracks in his secret compartments, because they belong to everyone.

Before his brother Ozzie started crawling, Zeke had full control of almost all the toys. He shared them on his terms. He loaned them to Ozzie with the understanding that he would get them back; and, if he was feeling particularly generous, he offered certain toys to Ozzie as gifts.

When Ozzie started asserting his right to use the communal toys, Zeke realized that he didn’t own as much as he had previously thought. He had been taxed significantly, and he wondered why he should share his remaining prized possessions.

If I wanted to scare Zeke, I could have told him about Thomas Hobbes. He paints a picture of brutish, short, and miserable lives for those who don’t act altruistically. If Zeke is perceived as selfish, then Ozzie and others are less likely to embrace him; and he might be left to fend for himself in a competitive, harsh world.

I don’t want to motivate Zeke through fear, so I tell him that sharing his special tools will make him happy. In fact, sharing will make him happier than almost anything else. After all, that’s what John Stuart Mill suggests when he describes the particularly wonderful kind of pleasure that we experience when we act ethically.

Sometimes that line of thinking resonates with Zeke, and sometimes it doesn’t. Zeke recognizes that it’s sometimes quite hard to share, and sometimes it even makes him sad.

So, I turn to Plato and his claim that if we exercise our reason and act justly, we become more perfect human beings. I tell Zeke that he becomes a better boy when he shares. He becomes Super Zeke when he acts generously.

Zeke loves that idea, especially because he has a super hero costume with the letter Z on it.

There may be certain problems with Plato’s approach, just as there may be limitations to every other philosophical argument for altruism. Yet, ultimately, I don’t think it matters. There are plenty of reasons to embrace the value of sharing, even if it’s difficult to lump all of those reasons together into one philosophical framework.

Christian Miller believes that we probably haven’t embraced the value of sharing – or charity – enough. He points out that many of the philosophical models that so many of us believe in ask more of us than we seem to realize. The Bible commands us to love thy neighbor as yourself, Kant tells us to treat everyone as ends, and Utilitarianism mandates that we maximize happiness in the world. None of those ethical systems imply that we have the right to share or give charity only when we feel like it.

In fact, at least according to Peter Singer’s vision of Utilitarianism, we may be required to give our money and food to those who are starving up until the point that we are in danger of starving ourselves.

I feel chastened when I think about Peter Singer and my conversation with Christian Miller. I believe in the value of sharing, and I aspire to be a generous person. Yet, the ideal that Singer describes seems much too difficult to achieve.

Should I feel guilty about enjoying certain material comforts? Should I feel bad that I hope that Alison, Zeke, and Ozzie will live easy and even luxurious lives?

I was taught in my religious Jewish high school that we are acting selfishly if we don’t offer ten percent of our income to charity, but we are acting too selflessly if we give away more than twenty percent.

These guidelines sometimes feel completely arbitrary, but I’ve tried to follow them, nonetheless. They remind me to share at least some of my possessions, and they alleviate some of the guilt that I feel when I notice how many people are suffering.

Yet, I wonder if I’m blindly following convention. I contemplate sharing our 2800 square foot house with as many homeless people as possible. I consider giving away almost all of our possessions and living in a tent. The thoughts appeal to me momentarily, but then they pass. I continue living my comfortable life, and I pray that I share enough to be a good role model for Zeke.


Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

JOEL TAUBER, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – is both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.



— The Sharing Project —


By Joel Tauber

By Joel Tauber Freud writes in Civilization and its Discontents that when we’re first born, we recognize little separation between our egos and our surroundings. However, we soon learn – unless we have certain psychological pathologies – that we’re distinct entities. We notice that we desire things that aren’t contained within our bodies, so we adopt the reality principle and sever our egos from our environment.

Maturity” isolates and shrinks our egos, but not irrevocably. The act of sharing re-awakens our more interconnected selves. It blurs the boundaries between what is mine and thine, as philosopher Win-chiat Lee so eloquently explains; and it brings us together in the process.

This blurring is beautiful; but it’s not necessarily easy, even with the people that we love the most.

My birthday, Alison’s birthday, and our son Ozzie’s birthday are all within a few days of each other. While we attempt to honor our individual birthdays separately, the realities of the calendar don’t really allow us to do so. Ozzie made his second birthday explicitly communal by singing birthday songs for Alison and me. He sang one for his big brother Zeke as well, even though his birthday was three months away. It made both Alison and I want to cry, but it upset Zeke. He was happy to celebrate his brother’s birthday, but he didn’t want to lose the autonomy of his own special day in the process.

I encountered similar feelings when we invited some friends over that weekend. We sang birthday songs for Ozzie and Alison, but no one did so for me. I felt jealous and hurt, even as I worked to suppress those feelings. I found sharing my birthday to be both difficult and joyful, and I tried to make sense of my layered and conflicting emotions.

Philosopher Christian Miller talks about psychological studies that indicate that we have mixed characters. We’re neither purely compassionate nor purely selfish, and we tend to act more generously in particular contexts. If we feel especially happy, unhappy, or guilty; we are more likely to act altruistically.

When Zeke is happy, he shares so that he can perpetuate those feelings. When I’m unhappy or feel guilty, I share so that I can replace those feelings by better ones.

If we feel empathy, we are much more likely to share. Daniel Batson has done extensive research that demonstrates that people who are particularly empathic are more likely to be altruistic and that we are more likely to be altruistic towards people we know.

Batson’s research makes me optimistic. We can increase our capacities for altruism and sharing, once we allow ourselves to become more empathic people – a process that we can begin remarkably early in life.

Jessica Sommerville has discovered that we’re capable of acting altruistically as early as infancy, despite what Piaget and others once believed. 9-month olds give things to their parents and siblings of their own volition, and 12-month olds share toys with strangers.

There are plenty of individual differences amongst the infants in Sommerville’s studies. Some of them share quickly and generously, some share less generously, and some don’t share at all. As they get older, they tend to share more often, or at least up to a certain point. At the same time, they tend to become more discerning with their sharing, as many of them desire to share only with those they view as fair.

Zeke’s fort is sacred to him, and he only shares it with those he fully trusts. He shares it with his family. He also shares it with his close friend Connor, who is the only one of his peers who is “always nice to him.” Zeke lets Connor into his fort because he feels that he can share his problems with him and work together with him to solve them.

Zeke’s fort is both a refuge and a cure for bullying and other cruel behavior that causes him grief. He’s secure in his fort with his most beloved things. He uses his special tools and super hero powers to place the people who are hurting him into “jail.” He then “fixes” them by turning them into “good guys.”

At one level, Zeke understands that he’s pretending. At another level, it’s very much a conscious act. I see it as a personal and imaginative prayer or ritual aimed at fixing the universe – his particular version of the Kabbalistic concept, Tikkun Olam.

When Zeke shares his fort, it’s an act of extreme intimacy. I’m deeply moved whenever I enter Zeke’s fort. I feel the boundaries between us blurring; and I’m filled with awe at the profound level of sharing that Zeke is capable of achieving.

Joel Tauber, "SHARE" (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, "The Sharing Project"

Joel Tauber, “SHARE” (photo direction: Joel Tauber, shot by Kristi Chan) from the art installation and movie, “The Sharing Project”

Joel Tauber is an artist and filmmaker who teaches experimental film and orchestrates the video art program at Wake Forest University. His current undertaking – “The Sharing Project” – will be presented as both a sculptural video installation and a feature film.