Monday, 24 August 2009

Believe in yourself? Know yourself?

On Saturday one of our Australian papers carried a feature length article about an American motivational/self help guru - a Dr Phil McGraw. I had heard the name. I know people who watch his day time television programme with almost religious fervour. He is big business. People were paying $Aus297 to go and hear this man speak. He was apparently given some sort of rock-star like welcome. The crowd cheered him and gave him a standing ovation.
I fail to understand such things. That same day Dan Holloway, over on "The Man who painted Agnieszka's Shoes", had a post starting "You make your own luck..." and went on to add a few uncomfortable truths. He followed that up with a guest post on Jane's "How publishing really works" which says, "Believe in yourself but believe in the evidence as well." There were some more uncomfortable truths. They should be required reading along with Steve Salerno's book, "SHAM How the gurus of the self help movement make us helpless."
I am tired of hearing, "If you try hard enough you will succeed." The sub-text should read, "Or you will feel bad about yourself because you failed. It's your fault."
It's the cop out, the ultimate cop out. My father and I have discussed this many times and at length over the meal table. It is something we could not talk about while my mother was alive. My mother was still attached to her upbringing as a Christian Scientist. She had ceased to attend their 'church' but she still could not quite bring herself to give up the beliefs. They work on the ultimate cop out. "If you believe hard enough then you will be cured. If you do not believe hard enough then you will not be cured. You will not be able to do all the things you believe you cannot do unless you believe you can do them. It is your fault." Your fault. Your fault. My fault?
Sometimes you are going to fail no matter how hard you try. Sometimes it may even be wiser not to try. Such sentiments will have the self-help motivational gurus screaming I am sure. But, let's be realistic. I am not going to run a four minute mile. I am not going to run full stop. Why try? Why waste the effort on that? It makes more sense to try something at which I have a reasonable chance of succeeding. I might succeed. I might fail. If I have done the best that I know I can do - not the best that other people tell me I can do - then I will have succeeded whether I pass or fail the goal I have set myself. I am not going to be dependent on the self help motivational guru. I am not going to pay the guru good money to feel bad about myself. I am not going to aim for the impossible of copperplate handwriting when I can do a fairly legible scrawl or, better still, use the keyboard. I did aim for university when everyone around me said I could not do it - and feel degrees better about myself because of it.
I have to be able to purr contentedly inside myself. What other people think really does not matter - even if I think it does.


Agnieszkas Shoes said...

Cat, this is fascinating. I spent 6 years teaching philosophy and religious studies, and part of what the course covered was the Christian Scientist movement. I remember as part of my research, I looked through the letters pages of The Sentinnel, and the letters from people with cancer who "knew" that the disease wasn't real, if only they could believe hard enough, are some of teh most disturbing and upsetting things I've ever read.

Thank you for sharing this.

catdownunder said...

Dan, have you come across a book called "God's Perfect Child". It was written by a woman brought up in the CS movement. Sorry, cannot give you the author at present - Dad has loaned his copy to someone. It is a fascinating but disturbing book.

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

Thanks, I'll take a look on Amazon. The title itself is rather disturbing (but fascinating)!

catdownunder said...

The author is Caroline Fraser - Metropolitan Books? (He's not sure about that but the author is right.)

Betty said...

I found your article very interesting. I too am uncertain why Dr. Phil is so popular. He seems to have some type of charisma that people gravitate toward. Your article reminded me of a self-help book I recently read called Natural Success Principles (author Jack Hatfield). He believes that we all have these Natural Success Principles inside us before we are born and that we are all responsible for own success. He believes in doing something you love, and staying tuned into life's lessons. It makes me think about the saying, making lemonade out of lemons. We all want to purr contentedly at the end of the day.