My first exposure to self-help took place several years while I was enthralled in a pyramid-schemed business venture. I was still fresh meat in college and was dealing with the same concerns many college students struggle with throughout their time: how to pay for college, searching for a career that meant more than a paycheck, finding myself, and all that existential crap.
I was encouraged to order certain books to read on a weekly basis, ones that would empower me to become a better business owner and and overall human being, apparently. Dozens of new books soon flooded my personal library, ranging from topic-specific books (How To Win Friends and Influence People) to the more fluffy, quasi-biographical ‘self-help’ books.
At first, like many, I was touched and inspired by the words printed on the pages. ‘It’s as if they were talking directly to me,’ which I suspect is a sure sign of a generalized book that uses this language to form a bond with the reader. I tried applying some of these ironclad strategies into my own life. Some of which are gobbled up by the masses of people who attribute to their success to a specific book. The 5-AM club, the ‘Dream board,’ the ‘Focus on You’ attitude, I tried several of these in search of the answer I was so desperate to find.
Somewhere along the way, I started to listen to a little voice, which I later recognized as my instinct. What were once omniscient passages suddenly turned into spin tactics and ridiculous comparisons. Inaccurate and paraphrased quotes. Misguided, albeit well-intentioned generalizations. And some of it, just plain bullshit.
Some of the authors and life coaches may classify me as a negative person, a ‘leech’ of life, or just someone one should ‘stay away from’ because my views may not encourage personal growth. As if rational thought should be shunned and one should blindly follow advice and apply all of it to their own life and Poof, Here’s your brand new life.
Why do I say all this?
My issue with self-help, in general, is well, it’s vague and misleading. It’s as if we carry our crosses with us to some ‘guru’ and expect him or her to have the answer. Do they know exactly what we have been through and know that the answer to our question is exactly what exactly what will be said? We throw our problems to and fro onto a veil of putty, expecting to find specific answers when all we get back in return is a glossy-filtered, sepia Facebook post with ‘It’s all about you, live your life’ written on it. Such is much of what composes self-help,IMHO, using general information and guidelines geared towards isolated events and claiming this is irrefutable dogma. When in reality, all that’s really happening is a morphed version of cold reading, and all the listener fills in the blank.
I believe it was Adler who ascribed to this form of therapy. This is coming from the little I remember from my Psych classes, but I believe he prescribed all of his patients with the same diagnosis: “It’s all in your mind.”
While I don’t have a problem by the people who classify themselves as self-helpers or consultants, as it’s their way of life and their means of helping others, I do have a huge problem with people who willingly and flippantly accept their words without doing their own research or seek out other mediums.
In a world writhe with quick answers, this, to me, is another symptom of a global epidemic of instant gratification, having the solution neatly wrapped up for you for the low price of $xx.99.
And here’s another unsettling notion.
Why do you think self-help is so rampant? And encouraged so well within societies to these gurus actually rub shoulders with politicians, clergymen, even leaders?
Think about it.
When people go these events, and swear by these teachers’ words, do you think they’re happy with their life?
No, You wouldn’t feel the need or want to attend if you weren’t convinced that you were unsatisfied. For optimal results, one must be in a very malleable state of mind, one of which any strong push will leave a significant print on your psyche, even much more so when the push is a positive one.
And now, with this newfound happiness and will to live, what do you think these once downtrodden men and women will be more inclined to do?
Travel (stimulate tourism), Start businesses (Banks receive more loan applications), ‘Do You’ (including but not limited to shopping, dining out, buying gym memberships, taking up that new hobby of painting, go out more often and meet new people, ‘indulge yourself’ in buying that expensive gift to yourself etc.)…do you see the pattern?
Self-Help is a win-win. You help the individual, and in return, that individual becomes a larger contributor to a mercantile society. Now, on the surface, this may not sound virulent. This is great news, right? Why wouldn’t we want to empower people to become more active? To love ourselves and indulge and enjoy the finite time we have?
While it may not be evident when told this way, think of it another way.
Millions of people, doped up on endorphins, looking to better themselves and enjoy themselves and live their lives and take every day by day? To themselves?
With all this happiness and bliss, who has time to think about anyone else? Who wants to open their eyes to the ‘negativity’ of the world if it’s not part of the ‘blessing,’ as if the two are mutually exclusive?
What I see when I see self-help is extreme self-entitlement and loss of humility and reluctance to see the world for all of its aspects that are outside the realm of ‘pretty.’ There’s a fine line between a generally positive attitude and a blatant, self-imposed blindness to the reality of the world.
That reality is that there are some fucked up things in the world.
Rape. Torture. Genocide. Human Trafficking. Racism. Hate Crimes. Injustices.
These have no borders, no origin, nor are they contingent to any specific area. They are real, palpable aspects of life. Whether we choose to open our eyes to them or look away, they will continue. And it is my fear that this ‘Me’ attitude will ’empower’ us to think even more about ourselves and even less about the rest of the world.
It is my hope (Yes, although the tone of this entry is pessimistic, I am still hopeful) that this new hype of self-awareness will empower people to open their eyes and believe that they CAN do something about the issues we face today. That we stop focusing so much on what we deserve or are entitled to, and focus on how we are blessed how we can help those who are not as fortunate. It is my hope that we realize that we’re all in this together.
A young man joined a guru for a walk downtown. As they approached the inner city, the two stopped into a cafe for tea. The T.V. played in the back, flashing images of violence and war-torn villages. Scenes of crying women holding their sons’ body played back as the reporter read off the casualties of the civil war. The young man lifted his eyes from his phone and began to feel angry, but only said ‘Someone should do something about this.’ The guru continued to sip his tea and after a long silence signaled the man to leave with him. As they walked back, the two witnessed a man being mugged. His assailant had taken his wallet and left him badly beaten. The young man stood defiantly, and watched as the mugger ran off with the wallet. A small crowd began to form, but the assailant still ran. “How could you just stand there and do nothing?!” screamed the young man to the guru. What is wrong with you?!” The guru kept walking. The man reluctantly followed after the crowd dispersed. When they finally returned, the young man could no longer contain his frustrations of the guru. He finally blurted out “How can you be so relaxed? There are people dying and injustices taking place everyday. Yet you do nothing nor even bat an eyelid. Why didn’t you help? Someone has to do something about this.” As the man finished his tirade, the guru looked back at the young man and finally asked, “Are you not somebody?”