Hilarious Spoof of The Secret (6 Minutes)
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
The scenes unfold in "The Secret," a 90-minute-long DVD advocating the power of positive thinking that has sold 2 million copies. More than 5.2 million copies of the book of the same name are in print.
While "The Secret" has become a pop culture phenomenon, it also has drawn critics who are not quiet about labeling the movement a fad, embarrassingly materialistic or the latest example of an American propensity of wanting something for nothing.
Some medical professionals suggest it could even lead to a blame-the-victim mentality and actually be dangerous to those suffering from serious illness or mental disorders.
"It's a triumph of marketing and magic," said John Norcross, a psychologist and professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania who conducts research on self-help books. He believes some are very useful when backed by science and focused on specific problems, such as depression.
" 'The Secret' has earned my antipathy for its outrageous, unproven assertions that I believe go beyond the ordinary overpromises of most self-help books into a danger realm," he said.
The book's mantra of "ask, believe, receive," he said, easily transforms into a blame the victim mentality.
"Cancer victims. Sexual assault victims. Holocaust victims. They're responsible?" Norcross said. "The book is riddled with these destructive falsehoods."
"The Secret" is the work of Rhonda Byrne, an Australian television and film producer. Her central claim is that the "law of attraction" governs our universe.
"The law of attraction says that like attracts like, and when you think and feel what you want to attract on the inside, the law will use people, circumstances and events to magnetize what you want to you, and magnetize you to it," Byrne said in an e-mail in response to several questions posed by The Associated Press.
She said she was struggling personally and professionally several years ago when she was given a nearly 100-year-old book called "The Science of Getting Rich," by Wallace D. Wattles. In it, readers are guaranteed to become wealthy if they learn and follow "certain laws which govern the process of acquiring riches."
Inspired to do further research, Byrne said, she resolved to create a film to spread the word about what she felt she had learned about the "law of attraction."
The DVD, also available as a Web-based, pay-per-view video, was released in March 2006. It resembles a videotaped seminar, featuring commentators with titles such as "quantum physicist," "philosopher" and "visionary" -- many of whom had already written their own books. Its trailer has cloak-and-dagger images, yellowed scrolls and mystical music evoking another massive publishing hit, "The Da Vinci Code."
The book, which followed last November, features images of wax seals and paper that mimics parchment. It's currently the No. 1 nonfiction book on lists of best sellers, including Publishers Weekly, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and is No. 1 on The New York Times' hardcover advice list.
As with many publishing hits, the "Oprah Effect" played a role. Winfrey devoted two shows in February to "The Secret," and Larry King and Ellen DeGeneres also featured it on their shows. It was spoofed on "Saturday Night Live" when a man portraying a refugee in the Darfur region of Sudan was blamed for having negative thoughts.
However, the fear that "The Secret" will lead to a blame-the-victim mentality is a serious claim of critics.
For example, the book dismisses conditions such as a genetic predisposition to being overweight or a slow thyroid as "disguises for thinking 'fat thoughts.' " And during times in which massive number of lives were lost, the book says, the "frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event."
Psychotherapist and lifestyle coach Stacy Kaiser said that after reading "The Secret," several patients have worried that it was their fault they were abused, or laid off from their jobs. Others seem to expect everything in their lives to change overnight, she said.
The Los Angeles-based Kaiser joined several other therapists who praised the positive thinking espoused in "The Secret," but who question its failure to discuss action.
"People start to think that they don't have to use their free will, that they don't have to have power anymore, that they don't have to make choices," Kaiser said. "They don't realize they have to do the work. And that's the conversation I keep having to have with people."
Dr. Gail Saltz, an author and psychiatrist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, pointed out that cognitive behavioral therapy seeks to modify harmful thoughts as a way to improve patients' feelings.
She said that among people who are ill, those who remain hopeful and have a positive attitude tend to do better. But she was especially upset about a portion of Byrne's DVD in which a woman claims her breast cancer was cured without radiation or chemotherapy; the woman watched funny movies and had faith that she had already been healed.
Saltz received hundreds of angry e-mails after she talked about her concerns on the "Today" show. She thinks that some fans of "The Secret" take it figuratively -- they don't think they'll get a necklace just by thinking about it, but feel improving their thoughts improves their life. But from the e-mails she received, she said some people do believe it is based in scientific reality.
"Living is difficult. ... People want ... a solution and an answer. If it were an easy one, like 'think it' -- that would be even better, right?" she said. "I understand. It's a wish fulfillment. I really do understand that."
'The book is one of the tools'
Dr. Maria Padro, a psychiatrist at St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan in New York City, believes that Americans turn to self-help books because contemporary society is stressful and there is still sometimes a stigma connected to visiting a therapist.
She read "The Secret" to see what the "jibber jabber" was about. She jokes that she keeps the book in her bedroom, out of the view of visitors. Still, she sees value in its positive outlook.
"I think the secret is that everyone has their own secret, and everyone has their own dream," she said. "And the book is one of the tools we can use to get it, but I don't think that it's a little magic wand."
Even one of the participants in "The Secret" DVD and book laments the lack of action. James Arthur Ray is billed as "a philosopher," although he says in a telephone interview that he is five hours shy of a college degree in behavioral science.
He speaks to groups on his own philosophy of success, and he maintains that the "law of attraction" is just one of seven "laws" people must use to improve their lives. He felt "The Secret" was "a good way to introduce people to a new way of philosophical thinking and looking at their world." But Ray said during the creation of the DVD, much of his talk about taking action ended up on the cutting room floor.
"You can watch 'The Secret' and come away with the illusion that you can sit around in your living room and visualize your millions dumping into your lap, and that's just not going to happen," he said.
Byrne counters that the type of action her critics discuss isn't required by the "law of attraction."
"It is impersonal, exact and precise. Become that which you want on the inside, and you shall receive it in the outside world," she said in her e-mail. "The most important action to take is the work within you. When that is done, you will be moved in the outside world to receive what you asked for."
As for the woman with breast cancer, Byrne said "The Secret" fully supports all forms of healing, and feels "enormous gratitude" for what traditional medicine has accomplished.
"The Secret" owes its life as a book to an Oregon dinner party where the president and publisher of Portland-based Beyond Words Publishing met one of the DVD's commentators, who prompted them to watch "The Secret." Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, has a co-publishing agreement with Beyond Words. Judith Curr, Atria's executive vice president, said when she watched the movie, she immediately envisioned a book.
She was especially confident because of the success of the "teachers" featured on the DVD. The contributors, including Jack Canfield of the "Chicken Soup" series, had sold roughly 400 million copies of their own books, she estimated.
"I told everybody here when I still just had a DVD that we were going to sell a million copies," she said. "They all, of course, thought I was smoking something."
Now "The Secret" is being published in 35 foreign languages and is the fastest-selling self-help book in Simon & Schuster history.
"It's great to be involved in something that can help change people's lives in a positive way," Curr said.
Amanda Jacobellis, 25, believes her life has changed for the better since she watched "The Secret."
Earlier this year, she was trying to turn a building in West Hollywood, California, into a makeup salon specializing in eyelash extensions and evoking the glamour of Old Hollywood. Her renovation was only half done, her credit card bills were coming due and her banker couldn't explain why the money for a $50,000 approved loan hadn't arrived in her account.
Sensing her despair, a friend suggested she watch Winfrey's upcoming show on "The Secret." Jacobellis did, and bought the DVD as well.
She spent a night diagramming what she wanted in her life, using a piece of paper and a Sharpie pen: happiness, security, freedom; good relationships with her friends and family; fitness and health goals; less stress -- and in one corner, she wrote that she wanted her $50,000 loan by the next day at 3 p.m. She made a call to her banker the next morning: no news. But by 3 o'clock, the mail arrived, containing a letter saying she could call to get the funds transferred into her account.
Jacobellis now sells the DVD in her Makeup Mandy salon.
"I think where people are mistaken when they watch it is they think all they have to do is wish and it's going to happen," she said. "That wasn't exactly the case. This is something I had put a lot of energy and time into.
"What I take from it is not that you just have to wish or hope or think something's going to happen. ... There's a way it's going to happen. ... When you're more positive, I think new ideas come to you and you're able to kind of get through hurdles or over obstacles."
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
A confidence scheme similar to this can be found in The Secret (Simon & Schuster, 2006), a book and DVD by Rhonda Byrne and a cadre of self-help gurus that, thanks to Oprah Winfrey's endorsement, have now sold more than three million copies combined. The secret is the so-called law of attraction. Like attracts like. Positive thoughts sally forth from your body as magnetic energy, then return in the form of whatever it was you were thinking about. Such as money. "The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts," we are told.
Damn those poor Kenyans.
If only they weren't such pessimistic sourpusses.
The film's promotional trailer is filled with such vainglorious money mantras as "Everything I touch turns to gold," "I am a money magnet," and, my favorite, "There is more money being printed for me right now." Where? Kinko's?
A pantheon of shiny, happy people assures viewers that The Secret is grounded in science: "It has been proven scientifically that a positive thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought."
No, it hasn't.
"Our physiology creates disease to give us feedback, to let us know we have an imbalanced perspective, and we're not loving and we're not grateful." Those ungrateful cancer patients. "You've got enough power in your body to illuminate a whole city for nearly a week." Sure, if you convert your body's hydrogen into energy through nuclear fission. "Thoughts are sending out that magnetic signal that is drawing the parallel back to you." But in magnets, opposites attract--positive is attracted to negative. "Every thought has a frequency.... If you are thinking that thought over and over again you are emitting that frequency."
A pantheon of shiny happy people assures viewers that The Secret is grounded in science.
The brain does produce electrical activity from the ion currents flowing among neurons during synaptic transmission, and in accordance with Maxwell's equations any electric current produces a magnetic field. But as neuroscientist Russell A. Poldrack of the University of California, Los Angeles, explained to me, these fields are minuscule and can be measured only by using an extremely sensitive superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) in a room heavily shielded against outside magnetic sources.
Plus, remember the inverse square law: the intensity of an energy wave radiating from a source is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from that source. An object twice as far away from the source of energy as another object of the same size receives only one-fourth the energy that the closer object receives. The brain's magnetic field of 10 15 tesla quickly dissipates from the skull and is promptly swamped by other magnetic sources, not to mention the earth's magnetic field of 105 tesla, which overpowers it by 10 orders of magnitude!
Ceteris paribus, it is undoubtedly better to think positive thoughts than negative ones. But in the real world, all other things are never equal, no matter how sanguine your outlook.
Just ask the survivors of Auschwitz.
If the law of attraction is true, then the Jews--along with the butchered Turkish-Armenians, the raped Nanking Chinese, the massacred Native Americans and the enslaved African-Americans--had it coming.
The latter exemplar is especially poignant given Oprah's backing of The Secret on her Web site: "The energy you put into the world--both good and bad--is exactly what comes back to you. This means you create the circumstances of your life with the choices you make every day." Africans created the circumstances for Europeans to enslave them?
Oprah, please, withdraw your support of this risible twaddle--as you did when you discovered that James Frey's memoir was a million little lies--and tell your vast following that prosperity comes from a good dollop of hard work and creative thinking, the way you did it.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Unless you’ve been hiding in a cave for the past year or you are not interested at all in anything alternative, spiritual or relating to personal development, you have without a doubt heard of or seen the movie “The Secret.”
This has been a very well-done, extremely publicized and super-well marketed movie/documentary on the “Law of Attraction”.
Brought to us by the same gang of people who did the very interesting movie “What the Bleep Do We Know,” the Secret is probably the first high-budget, widely distributed movie on the topic, or actually on any “personal development” topic.
Today I’m going to look at this movie and give you my own, uncensored opinion, and try to answer the question: is the movie the secret good or potentially harmful?
First a few facts to realize how wide an audience the movie has reached:
- The movie has been a number one best-seller on Amazon.com
- The authors have appeared twice on the Oprah Winfrey show
- With all that publicity, more than 150,000 people have viewed it online and over 700,000 copies of the DVD have been sold in the US alone.
That may not seem big in comparison to a Hollywood production but when you think that all of it has been done through viral marketing it’s rather impressive.
So what’s behind the buzz?
First you have a powerful movie, in terms of production. A lot of resources and efforts have been put to create a documentary of that caliber.
As for the content, if you’ve read “Think and Grow Rich” and the other classics of the genre, you know that the concepts shared in The Secret are not new.
The Law of Attraction
The idea is how your thoughts create your reality. It’s the law of attraction and abundance. How by thinking about what you want instead of what you don’t want you can magically attract everything you want in your life.
The movie appeals to the materialistic desires of the US population. There are examples of people “manifesting” checks in the mail (with really no context of how it happened!). You see people thinking of mansions and expensive cars and see them appear almost as if by magic!
Here’s what I think:
- The basic idea behind the movie is good
- The movie presents some important concepts that really should be part of everyone’s “mental habits”
- The concepts of the movie, however, when taken to an extreme can be potentially harmful or misleading
- The movie puts too much importance on simple “thoughts” and not enough on the real way to make things happen.
Here’s what’s missing:
It’s not really your thoughts that create your reality, it’s your actions and your decisions.
While it’s true that it’s your thoughts that lead to taking action, it’s ultimately your actions that determine the course of your life.
The movie presents two contradictory systems, in a way.
First, you get to think that just by “thinking” alone you can create anything you want in your life.
You see the little boy who wants the bike, he believes he will get it, and BANG, it appears at his doorstep.
You see a man who magically gets checks in the mail for no particular reason.
But then later in the movie, they talk about action. They say that visualizing is not enough… that you’ve got to “act on it.”
So is it really your thoughts that create your reality, or your actions?
The Secret really leaves you believing that your thoughts are powerful enough to create anything.
But then it warns you that you have to take action… So if you have to take action, doesn’t this render this “magical thinking” process flawed and irrelevant?
There are two conflicting systems there!
It’s your decisions that create your reality
So is it just the positive vibes and the power of belief that allows us to control our lives… or is it that this positive thinking helps us to take the right action, which ultimately is responsible for our reality?
My experience has been: Your thoughts are at the origin of your feelings, which in turn determines your action, which leads to your reality, or results.
But it’s really the actions and decisions that determine the results.
Thoughts alone are not always powerful enough to:
- Reverse a disease
- “Attract” the money that you need (without doing anything for it)
- Reverse the aging process
- “Attract” the right partner into your life
And then, comes the question, why do we have the thoughts we have?
It’s all the conditioning and the emotional baggage and all of the stuff we really have to deal with if we want to master our thoughts and control our reality.
In psychology they have found that children when they are young have something they call “magical thinking,” when children believe that whatever they think will happen for real. For example, if a little boy is mad at her sister and wants her to “disappear”, and then the sister gets sick and goes to the hospital, the little boy will start to think that her sister’s illness was her fault.
But eventually, as healthy adults we grow out of this “magical thinking” and realize that our thoughts don’t actually have the power to affect everything around us.
We realize that we can’t just believe that we’ll win the lottery to solve our financial problems, or that if we have a bad thought about someone it won’t necessarily mean that we’ve caused someone to die!
The people who don’t grow out of this magical thinking are usually dysfunctional in some way or another.
Where It’s Potentially Harmful
So the Secret, taken to an extreme, can lead people to make irrational decisions about their lives. In fact, I’ve seen this in “personal development” circles a lot, even before the movie was out, and I’ve been the prey of this myself too!
The example is someone deciding to buy something they can’t afford, putting it on their credit card and rationalizing the purchase by thinking they will just “manifest” the funds to pay it back.
Taken to this degree, this so-called “positive thinking” is nothing but a form of irresponsibility and avoiding the situation!
- Yes, let your thoughts be positive.
- Yes, pray every day.
- Yes, be grateful.
But then, take action! Because ultimately it’s really your actions that determine the course of your life. Your actions are what shapes your reality.
All of the spiritual traditions in the world have recognized the difficulty and almost impossibility in trying to control your thoughts. Thoughts fly in an a million miles an hour and even though one day you may think positive, the next day the same negative thoughts can come back.
But you can control what you DO. Often, by getting into action it helps you change your thinking. In fact, a big cause of worry and anxiety is not taking action on what you know you should be doing.
This is the true “Secret”. I bet that the producers of the Secret didn’t just use positive thinking to make their movie widely successful. I’m quite sure they didn’t just put on their dream board “I will sell over 1 million copies of this DVD by the summer 2007″.
In fact, I know that they worked pretty damned hard to reach their success. They took massive action.
There’s a prayer that I learned from my mother, who at some point learned it from someone who was in AA.
You may have heard it before. It goes as follow:
“God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference…”
Until next time, stay positive!
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
By Valerie Reiss
When I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, I was afraid to tell my New-Agey friends and acquaintances. Mainly, I was afraid they would say, "Why did you do that to yourself?" Not out of cruelty, but from a genuine desire to help me see how I had "created my own reality," a central tenet of New Age thinking. Thankfully, no one said any such thing. (Though one woman did ask if perhaps I should have just ingested a lot of wheatgrass instead of having chemotherapy.)
This choose-your-own-adventure thinking has caught fire recently with the wild success of "The Secret" book and DVD by Australian TV producer Rhonda Byrne. There are already 400,000 copies of the book in print and Simon & Schuster just announced they’re printing two million more, which is what happens when Oprah champions your book in two separate shows and says this is how she’s lived her own life for years.
The book and the documentary-ish film are essentially the same: a compendium of talking heads—philosophers, life coaches, and authors—all talking about how the essence of our thoughts affects, nay, creates, the world around us through the power of quantum physics, energy, and our interconnectedness. It’s similar in a lot of ways to "What the Bleep Do We Know," but without the narrative Marlee Matlin part.
Except this time the production values are better—everything looks very luxe and DaVinci-code-esque—and the heads are all hitting the same point home over and over: If you "align" yourself by feeling good, the Universe (New Age-speak for God) will provide limitless abundance. This is illustrated in numerous dramatizations: a woman wraps her thoughts around a necklace in a window, pretty soon it appears around her neck; a gay man who’s harassed for his homosexuality starts practicing the secret and soon finds people are offering him new respect.
The "secret" is kind of like prayer on steroids: Instead of a personal God processing and granting requests, a web of energy simply bounces your mindset back at you in material form. As one of the teachers in the film, Mike Dooley, sums it up, "Thoughts become things."
I first encountered the "secret" about 13 years ago when it was much less sexily called "The Law of Attraction" or "Intentional Reality" by many, many authors and alternative spirituality teachers, from Esther and Jerry Hicks to Wayne Dyer to Deepak Chopra. Living at a yoga ashram the summer between sophomore and junior year of college, two friends and I were walking through the woods. City girl that I was, I carried a stick, hoping to fend off dangerous animals or deranged woodsmen.
My curly-haired friend Scott looked at the stick and shook his head, "What you resist persists," he said, very much the 22-year-old sage. He explained that what we fear, we "magnetize" and manifest in our lives. So by holding the stick as defensive weapon, I was actually putting us in unnecessary peril. I reluctantly let it go. And proceeded to head-trip myself on and off for years about my negative thoughts, which were abundant.
I would realize I was thinking negative thoughts, which would trigger more thoughts about how awful I was for thinking negative thoughts and how I was ruining my life with those thoughts, and so on and so on, until my head was ready to explode with all the bad juju. The only thing that freed me from that loop was something else I also learned that summer at the ashram, meditation.
The teaching that inside of us is a "witness" who is not our thoughts, not our body, but just a still, silent observer, soothed me. I could find that perspective when I quieted down and simply did as I was told: watched the thoughts roll by like unimportant clouds—not clinging no matter how great or terrible they seemed, just watching. Buddhism also teaches this, of course, non-attachment to thoughts good or bad; in one of many out-of-context quotes whispered sotto voce throughout the film, "The Secret" cites Buddha as saying "All that we are is a result of what we have thought" to back-up its claims.
Did Anne Frank just not 'align her desires with the Universe' well enough?
The secret, a.k.a. law of attraction (LOA), works, goes the theory, because our bodies and thoughts are made up of the same vibrating matter as the air, the trees, and God. According to a segment of quantum physics, each thought has a vibration that the Universe can somehow respond to, and each thought, especially those charged with emotion, helps to manifest every experience, person, or object in our lives. And, the LOA-teachers say, we can use this knowledge to create lives we want and intend. It’s supposed to be empowering. It supposed to point out how we’ve been unconscious victims of our own undirected intentions and allow us to become victims no more.
To some this seems laughable, like the Tooth Fairy or Ouija boards. To others it’s downright offensive—where does God fit into this DIY existence? Fate? Karma? Destiny? Are those disposable as paper plates? And what, of course, about genocide? Did Anne Frank just not "align her desires with the Universe" well enough? Were Rwandans’ thoughts too focused on what they didn’t want ("Don’t slaughter my family") instead of what they did want ("Give me peace")?
Rhonda Byrne actually addresses this seemingly gaping lack of compassion in a recent Newsweek article: "‘The law of attraction is that each one of us is determining the frequency that we're on by what we're thinking and feeling,’ Byrne said in a telephone interview, in response to a question about the massacre in Rwanda. ‘If we are in fear, if we're feeling in our lives that we're victims and feeling powerless, then we are on a frequency of attracting those things to us ... totally unconsciously, totally innocently, totally all of those words that are so important.’"
It’s difficult, when you follow this line of thinking to this ultimately icky conclusion, to not feel sort of gross about wishing yourself a new plasma TV. And yet. This is hard. But what. If. It’s. True? What if Darfur is getting worse because we’re focusing energy on stopping the violence instead of emitting requests for peace? What if we do end up electing presidents we don’t want because they’re the ones everyone’s thinking about, as one man says in "The Secret"? What if, nothing personal, I did create my own cancer by being afraid of cancer? Then what?
I don’t even want to ask these questions, but if we’re going to be buying into this law of attraction stuff, we must take a legitimate look at its ugliest parts, in the same way that if you’re going to eat meat you should be willing to spend a day at a slaughterhouse.
I’m of two minds on law of attraction. Of course, like any good American, Horatio Alger-championing, magic-loving, wannabe-mystic control freak, the warm fuzzy you-can-do-it-by-wishing parts of the secret are delicious, delectable, enticing things—I can "manifest" my dream home without working more? Cool. I can wish myself to stay well without more self-care? Cooler.
I’ve experienced a taste of this before, putting lots of intentional thoughts out into the Universe and having them come back quickly, as surprise goodies, just like James Redfield said they would in "The Celestine Prophecy." I’ve had amazing coincidences all over the world, thinking about people minutes before running into them. I believe in the power of positive thinking, and I believe that once we are clear in ourselves, aligned with our purpose, and going toward our dreams, magic can and does happen, miracles do occur.
And I also think we are connected to each other and God and nature more than we know, and that our minds hold huge reserves of untapped potential. I even buy the part about "anti-war" movements being less successful than "peace" movements, and that the war on drugs and terror only gets us more of what we’re fighting against.
And yet. When "metaphysician" Joe Vitale says in the film that the Universe is like "a catalog" that we can flip through and shop, my stomach churns. When Lisa Nichols says at the film’s end that, "It’s not your job to make the world a better place," I want to sit her down for a good long chat with Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. And when the weirdly out-of-it looking woman says she cured her breast cancer in three months with affirmations and funny movies, I want to hit the TV for all the false, dangerous hope it’s transmitting.
When I had cancer (and I carefully choose the past tense though the doctors never will, no matter healthy I am, because I want to send my body a happy message), I made sure to lower my stress levels, think nice thoughts, listen to an affirming CD, and ask my friends and family to pray for me. The mind-body connection is real to me. My thoughts may or may not affect the Universe, but I know they affect my body; I have willed warts away, calmed myself when fearful, visualized love pouring into me and felt a shift. Energy is real to me too.
I’m just not so convinced that a woman peddling borrowed ideas (and that’s the generous word for how Byrne has ransacked the work of people like Esther and Jerry Hicks, authors of "The Law of Attraction" and other books) about wishing ourselves fabulous is for real. If it gets people thinking more positively, great. If it gets people clear and making strides to do good things for themselves, even better. I’m just patently suspicious of something that’s a) so slickly marketed and obviously co-opted and b) is supposed to be about feeling good yet doesn’t mention the word compassion or seem to take seriously the idea of harnessing this great law (if that’s what it is) to help others.
In other books on LOA, the materialism isn’t quite so bald, the hubris and lack of humility much less egregious. But no one to my satisfaction addresses the blame-the-victim issue at the slippery heart of this; in a culture that’s already not too fond of "losers," do we really need another reason to disdain or pity those who suffer because they’re not "manifesting" the right reality? In a culture that already likes to look away from systemic political and economic oppression (bo-ring!), do we need another excuse to walk away from it all and say, "not my problem"?
"The Secret" feels like white rice to me—stripped of its nutrition for maximum palatability and fluffy appeal. And I’m all for fluff, with the Entertainment Weekly subscription to prove it. But not when it comes to something as serious as creating genuine joy and peace. That should be sacred—done with a combination of faith in a force that knows better than I do and compassionate free will to make my life and the world a better place. Manifest that, Universe.
The leaders of Delta Zeta – the sorority which just made national news by expelling all overweight and nonwhite members from its Depauw University chapter – must have read The Secret. In this runaway self-help bestseller, author Rhonda Byrne advises that you can keep your weight down by avoiding the sight of fat people. "If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it." Don’t worry about calories, just get rid of that 150-pound sorority sister down the hall.
Here’s The Secret, in case you missed it: You can have anything you want simply by visualizing it intensely enough. I don’t have to write this blog, I can simply visualize it already written – or could, if I’d bothered to read the whole book and finish the DVD. To be fair to Byrne, she does not suggest avoiding nonwhite people; in fact one of the teachers of “the secret” she cites is the African-American motivational speaker Lisa Nichols. The Delta Zeta leaders probably just thought: Why take a chance?
Can you really get anything you want through some mysterious “Law of Attraction”? It may not be as easy as it seems. Take the case of Esther Hicks, spirit-channeler, motivational speaker, and co-author of a book entitled The Law of Attraction. Byrne had told Hicks she would have a starring role in the DVD of The Secret, but her face was never shown in the film’s first cut (although her voice, channeling a group of spirits called “Abraham” was used throughout.) Hicks was furious and demanded that her voice, or Abraham’s, also be excised from the DVD, which has now sold about 1.5 million copies.
Possibly Hicks was just too fat for the film, or at least too dowdy. It’s hard to judge her weight from a photo in the New York Times, which shows Hicks seated – eyes closed in channeling mode – inside her $1.4 million bus. But just underneath is a photo of a sylph-like Byrnes frolicking on a beach in a fur-trimmed jacket. From a Delta Zeta perspective, who would you rather look at?
Hicks says she is not going to sue, and why should she? She could just use the Law of Attraction to reinsert herself back into the DVD. Or to deflect Byrne’s profits into her own bank account. Or to take off 15 pounds and have them padded onto Byrne’s tiny waist.
If a leading proponent of the Law of Attraction cannot control a little thing like a DVD with her thoughts, then why are millions of Americans spending good money to find out how to use that Law to control the entire universe? The scary thing is that the subscribers to the Law aren’t just a bunch of wistful, isolated, misfits. Read the reviews of the DVD of The Secret and you find that companies are beginning to impose it on their employees. An N.Van Buskirk writes that:
I was presented this DVD at work and I found it disturbing. A gimmick to say the least, but the real issue is that I felt like I was being indoctrinated into a cult -- I had to leave about half-way through.
And Steven E. Cramer, an employer, reports that “I had my sales staff watch ‘The Secret,’ and saw an immediate jump in morale, goals and production.”
Or check out the credentials of the “teachers” enlisted in The Secret. Most are well-known motivational speakers who claim to instruct such business heavy-weights as financial advisors, developers and a “master marketer.” One of The Secret’s teachers, Denis Waitley, includes on his website testimonials from Merrill Lynch, WorldCom, 3M, Dell Computers and IBM, among many others.
Well, here’s a little secret I’d like to share, channeled to me by Einstein, Newton and thousands of enlightenment thinkers: When the leaders of a major economy lapse into mysticism and come to believe they can accomplish things through their mental vibrations, without lifting a finger – then it’s time to start thinking about going into subsistence farming on a remote compound in Idaho. I’ll have the DVD out in no time.
February 27, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink
Relevant links and references at the end of the transcript
Stephanie Dowrick: At some level we’ve had a huge democratisation of psychological information, I mean, that’s part of what the self-help movement, in a sense, has achieved. On the other hand, what a lot of people are very attracted to is a very hierarchical relationship between the writer and their readers. I mean Dr Phil for example is the most successful self-help writer ever and he definitely writes and speaks and teaches through his television program from the point of view of the expert. I know how you could and should be doing better.
Dr Phil: All right, we’re going to be talking about things from empty nest to doctor phobias to desperately trying to marry off your daughter.
Julie Browning: Dr Phil, whose TV program is watched by millions around the world. And before him, self-help author Stephanie Dowrick. Hello, I’m Julie Browning joining you for this week’s All in the Mind on ABC Radio National which is coming to you on the airwaves and on your pod. Today on the show we put the self-help industry under the microscope.
The mantra of personal development saturates our daily lives. We can buy books, videos, audio-tapes on anything from achieving the right body mass fat index to raising happy children. Even the jar of honey I bought the other day exhorted me to ‘live your life fearlessly’. But is there any evidence to the therapeutic merits of self-help and what credentials do these self-help gurus have? While we might find some of this literature of momentary benefit, the long term effectiveness is less clear, with some critics arguing that rather than a tool for empowerment it can be damaging.
Sociologist Micki McGee is the author of the newly published Self-help Incorporated: Makeover Culture in American Life. Micki is highly sceptical. She argues that the current popularity of self-help is less to do with the efficacy and more a reflection of the particular vagaries of our lives. However self-help literature is not a new phenomenon, its history stems back a couple of hundred years.
Micki McGee: I think that the literature that we understand as self-help literature really does have its roots in books by Benjamin Franklin, I mean The Way to Wealth, he wrote a little booklet which was he published called The Way to Wealth. Paul Richard’s Almanac was advice and guidance for people in a popular generic form. So self-help literature does go back deep into the American, the history of American that kind of consciousness, but the kinds of self-help literatures that we have now, the literatures have been transformed over the course of the last 200 years and you see many changes. So for example at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century you see the emergence of what we call ‘new thought’.
Now we think of it as new age literature, but the idea that there is no boundary between self and other, and that you can you sort of imagine your life and invent your life. Now that’s a relatively new idea, that’s not an idea that you find in Christian traditions, rather it’s an idea that’s an amalgam of eastern traditions which had at the point been introduced into the United States. There had been translations of eastern philosophical texts that were available at the turn of the century. And as we see that happening in American self-improvement literature at the turn of the century and as economic and social circumstances change, different parts of these literatures come to the fore.
One of the things that we see in the 1970s, which was the beginning of a kind of ferocious economic retrenchment in the United States, is you see the rise of a kind of literature that is deeply, deeply individualistic and market based. So Winning Through Intimidation, Looking Out for No. 1, these books by Robert Ringer, a real estate broker turned self-help author. And that kind of idea that one should be looking out for one’s own market interest is new, that is new in the 1970s. Prior to that these literatures had a religious or spiritual tongue to them but it changed as the economics of daily life changed in the United States.
Julie Browning: Somebody like Robert Ringer seems to bring aspects of, say, Thomas Hobbes with a Darwinian notion, so life is nasty, brutish and short unless you actually get the upper hand.
Micki McGee: Precisely, absolutely, I think I referred to it as a Hobbesian sort of literature. Self-help literature is really a kind of popular philosophy of daily life, it used to be called conduct of life literature, how one should conduct oneself in one’s daily dealings. But you see in someone like, even like Robert Ringer with Looking Out for No.1, that they keep an idea sort of for the invisible hand of the market place that will somehow take your own self interest and turn it into good. That is you know from Adam Smith’s famous theory of moral sentiments. So there’s this notion that if I’m just looking out for myself, for my own individual self interest, that everything will work out well in the end for all concerned. And of course we know that that market, free market ideology has proven to be incorrect, false, completely mistaken.
Reader: Because of the creative energy of the universe in all of us is limitless and readily available so potentially is money. The more willing and able we are to open to the universe the more money we will have in our lives. A lack of money merely mirrors the energy blocks within ourselves. The stronger and more open your channel is the more will flow through it.
Julie Browning: What a lot of this self-help literature people like Anthony Robbins seem to do is to grasp onto the notion that our minds our incredibly capable of transforming, that we are not fixed.
Micki McGee: I think that is the appeal of someone like Anthony Robbins, Tony Robbins, he’s very upbeat and inspiring and gives you the idea that you can change anything, it will be true if you only believe it to be true. And that the shape of one’s life is in one’s own hands and I think of him as a sort of a Nietzchian figure because he’s sort of the uber man, he’s sort of the superman, he even presents himself in that way in his kind of spectacular, stadium shows where he pumps up his entire audience into a kind of frenzy of enthusiasm. So this idea that one can change oneself and ones world is of course a very, very appealing one. Who wants to feel that they are powerless to change the circumstances of their lives, that’s a dreadful feeling to have. The notion of having some kind of what psychologists call self-efficacy is tremendously important particularly for anyone who has an interest in seeing a political and social change. We need for individuals to experience themselves as having power and personal power but the way in which it is understood in the self-help literature is generally not aimed towards social goods.
Julie Browning: I would imagine that’s because it’s much easier to work on yourself than it is to try and engage or work on the entire society. So it’s much easier to think ‘OK, I’m going to try and make $100,000 extra this year’ or ‘I’m going to try and be happier in myself this year’.
Micki McGee: One would think so, I mean one would imagine that it wouldn’t be easier to work on one’s self but what I argue and what I believe is that the idea that one can change one’s self and improve one’s own life without attempting to make any changes in the larger political, social, economic structures around one - that essentially it’s doomed to failure because your own individual change will be limited by the social constructs around you. And psychologists who’ve done efficacy studies of self-help literature, you know does it really work, they find that for a week or a month a person can kind of think themselves into an optimistic framework. But if they’re confronting, for example, ongoing social forces, sexism, racism, any number of oppressive social circumstances, that their own will to sort of imagine themselves and their life as OK is profoundly limited by what exists around them, by external forces that are not completely under their own sort of mind management or mind power control.
Julie Browning: You use the term ‘belaboured’ to indicate that people seem to be into this mode of perpetual renovations of themselves that we are just constantly labouring to make ourselves employable, or marriageable, or whatever else it may be that we want to be.
Micki McGee: Absolutely. Since 1972 in the United States the income, the average income has declined almost continuously (it went up a little bit in the early 1990s) but by and large the average income, earned income for working Americans is considerably less today than it was in 1972. Of course employment stability has also changed and we’ve had the sort of emergence of words like a downsizing which essentially means that, you’ve lost your job because it’s been off shored. Or technology has made you obsolete in your workplace. Under these kinds of economic pressures, economic and social pressures, people work on themselves as a way to remain viable and I see in this literature a move towards the idea that you can invent your life as a way of alleviating the responsibility of the social, of the corporation, of the community for the individual’s well being. If you were the artist of your life, if you’re the CEO of Me Inc. then it’s up to you to find your market, or to make your market, or to make your place. And then in such a context being laid off is supposed to be viewed as for example ‘an opportunity’. So we see in literature that encourages people to sort of pull themselves up boot straps but there’s just only so much that boot straps can do.
Julie Browning: You seem to divide the literature, the self-help literature into two, it’s like a Cartesian split, the rational, and the emotional sort of literature, so that somebody like Ringer would fall into the rational sort of literature and somebody like Louise Hay would form part of that emotional sort of literature. Can you kind of describe the difference between the two?
Micki McGee: What I see is that there are different understandings of how the self functions in this literature and some of the authors of self-help books for example Stephen Covey or Robert Ringer imagine the individual as a rational, reasonable creature. So reason is fore-grounded, particularly for someone like Covey, the goal is to be rational and to sort of master your – it’s a strong super ego literature if you want to think of it in psycho-analytic terms but the idea is to master yourself and your world. And then you have another kind of literature that’s about being in the flow, the new age literature would fall into that category and to some extent Anthony Robbins does as well. The idea that one succeeds by being in tune with the infinite.
Reader: It is my mind that creates my experiences. I am unlimited in my own ability to create the good in my life.
Micki McGee: That idea, the idea of being in tune with the infinite and being wealthy because one imagines one’s highest purpose and therefore is in the flow. So there’s a lot of this very, very appealing to people but what it does is it by changing the terms and saying that one is either in tune with the infinite or not, it eliminates ‘the other’. That is to say it eliminates your community, instead one imagines one’s self in some kind of natural, pantheistic universe in which one succeeds by you know imaging one’s self in the flow and being connected to ‘the source’. ‘The Source’ is often very you know capitalised in this literature.
Julie Browning: For you this emergence of this literature, this phenomenal success, is so deeply rooted within an economic structure where people have no security.
Micki McGee: Absolutely. I would say that self help literature is the literature that helps Americans and I assume Australians and I would assume other people, other countries, to deal with the difficulties created by global capital. Some people turn to their religions, to their religious backgrounds, to their religious communities. It has another kind of value in that they are turning to a community of other individuals. But for the isolated individual the self-help book, self-help reading creates a way of kind of bullying one’s self against the exigencies of every day life under advanced capitalism.
Reader: I now choose to rise above my personality problems, to recognise the magnificence of my being. I am totally willing to learn to love myself. All is well in my world.
Julie Browning: A quote from Louise Hay’s 1984 book You can Heal Yourself and thanks to Micki McGee author of Self-Help Incorporated; Makeover culture in American Life which is published by Oxford University Press. I’m Julie Browning with All in the Mind on ABC Radio National and internationally via your pod, the net and Radio Australia. And today we’re exploring self-help literature. While Micki McGee suggests that many of us waste a great deal of time and money on books with no evidence of any long-term value there are others who passionately defend the industry.
Former publisher Stephanie Dowrick is the author of many successful self-help books including Intimacyand Solitude and The Humane Virtues. While Stephanie is critical of some of the popular literature she believes that self-help can and does work.
Stephanie Dowrick: There are ways in which we can change our patterns of thinking for the better. In order really to change our minds which is in itself, the most fascinating of topics, in order to change our mind we need to understand something about how the mind functions, we need to learn how we can observe the mind, and we certainly can learn to observe the mind. We can learn to observe the mind compassionately and curiously rather than just critically and we can also learn that whatever the contents of our mind is or are, reflects much more on attitude than on individual thoughts. So for example that in that example you gave you know, I tried to be kind to my neighbour but actually I didn’t feel any better. That kind of complaint takes on or would be seen really very differently if the person looked at it on the context of their more general attitude towards other people and towards themselves. And I think that the best writers who are talking about how we affect our mood through the ways that we think are really looking at these bigger questions of attitude. And certainly I would say that this has been a change in my own writing. I’ve got a book coming out this year which is on happiness – now I’ve had to look at thinking in a much more direct way than I ever have before in my books and I’ve benefited from that. Because as I’ve been writing about it, as I’ve been thinking about it, as I’ve been talking about it, of course I’ve also been practising it. And I can see very clearly that patterns of thinking can very productively be changed but most productively when you look at them in the context of your overall attitudes.
Julie Browning: I’ll just take you back to when you began writing, I’m interested in what brought you to the self-help genre, what was it that you were curious about in terms of your mind that made you want to explore these questions more fully?
Stephanie Dowrick: Well what I started with was not so much a sense of my mind because in fact, 20 years or so ago we weren’t talking about the mind in quite the ways that we are now. You know it’s been an explosion, it’s been a wonderful thing actually, I’m very excited by it, talking about the mind not only from the perspective of thought but also in the perspective of understanding the spaciousness of the mind and the observances that we can do with the mind. So what I really started with was relationship between two different, apparently different emotional states which were intimacy and solitude. Now at the time that I had the idea to write Intimacy and Solitude, I was still a publisher, I was the Managing Director of the Women’s Press and I was used to having a lot of different ideas for books. I’d been very involved in psychotherapy and psycho-analytic issues for a long time but I was used when I had an idea for a book to giving it away you know, to saying on well this is marvellous idea that I’ve had and who would be right author for it?
And it was enormously significant for me when the title of this book, which I had no idea what the contents would be, the title of this book came to me Intimacy and Solitude and they are fascinating words to think of in juxtaposition together. And I had this enormous kind of heart flip when I realised that I didn’t want to give this book away, that I actually wanted to write it myself, that there was something about the dissonance between the way in which I presented myself to the world as a very successful young woman who was a publisher as I was at the time, and the way that I actually felt about myself on the inside. And even though I’d had an analysis at that point I felt that those questions hadn’t really been answered so it was partly out of my own emotional and psychological need but it was also strongly driven by my intellectual curiosity.
Julie Browning: Your ideas within Intimacy and Solitude, you wrote them and you were obviously exploring issues that were important to you at that time.
Stephanie Dowrick: Yes.
Julie Browning: In terms of your ideas now in relation to the way in which human consciousness works and issues that are particularly important for people in our society have they shifted at all to the days that you wrote Intimacy and Solitude?
Stephanie Dowrick: Certainly I’ve been more influenced in the last five years or so by cognitive behavioural therapy which I hadn’t been at all influenced by earlier on, but cognitive behavioural therapy alongside all the insights that also come from meditation and so on. The more, the bigger view of what the mind is and what the mind is capable of and especially how we can observe the mind. Yes, that has changed very much for me. Also as my journey has progressed I have wanted to be more explicit in my books about the bringing together of the spiritual with the psychological and still remaining in the context of the social. So for example when I wrote Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love, what I was really interested in looking at there was how could we possibly be supported by the universal values, the universal humane virtues which were courage, fidelity, restraint, generosity, tolerance and forgiveness. It seemed to me that those were qualities that had stood humankind in great stead throughout human history but how could be look at them with the particular neediness of 21st Century life. But when I wrote that book as when I’ve written any of my books, I have to take a risk, I have to take some risk at least that what I’m interested in is also reflecting the zeitgeist. Could people possibly be interested in re-examining the humane virtues at this point in human history? Well the happy answer was ‘yes’. And of course the Dr Phil’s know that they are writing the right book for this moment for many kinds of readers but I’m probably writing for a different kind of reader, although there will be many readers who will want Dr Phil at one moment and for a certain kind of question, who might want Steven Covey who actually I have a lot of time for, in another moment, Martin Selegman in a different moment and maybe Stephanie Dowrick or somebody else, Thich Nhat Hanh for example who’s an explicitly spiritual writer but has a great psychological affect on readers, or the Dali Llama at another moment.
Reader: Find a place to read these next few pages where you can be alone and uninterrupted. Clear your mind of everything except what you read and what I will invite you to do. Don’t worry about your schedule, your business, your family or your friends. Just focus with me and really open your mind. Now think deeply.
Julie Browning: We’re all sounding, these people who need these things, sounding incredibly lacking in confidence and ability to make decisions for themselves.
Stephanie Dowrick: I think you’re quite wrong there. I think you’re absolutely wrong. I think the person who is really lacking in confidence or has an inability to think for themselves is the person who’s going to make fun of this kind of writing. I think it takes courage, good humour and a real dose of reality to say that what is really going to make a difference to my life? It’s the quality of my interactions with other people.
Julie Browning: The sociologist Micki McGee who we had on the program earlier suggests that people, the saturation that we have reached in terms of self help genre is at a point that people are just constantly reflecting upon who they are and who they could become rather than what is happening within society.
Stephanie Dowrick: Right.
Julie Browning: So those big broader questions about politics, about society, about community are being overlooked in the interest of just introspection.
Stephanie Dowrick: Yes, oh I completely agree with that. But again you know we are talking about an enormously broad range of books. So if in one moment we were going to be talking about the Victor Frankel’s classic book Man’s Search for Meaning and in the same moment we were going to talk about you know something that really suggests that you should turn your whole life around in a weekend but that turning your life around means actually having you know a faster car, or more lovers, or something that’s you know perhaps desirable but frankly rather superficial. You know we’re talking about very, very different kinds of books under one umbrella. If we look at them with more subtlety we can say that there are some books which will absolutely open people’s eyes to their social responsibilities and there are some books that will simply feed a rather narrow view of the ego.
Julie Browning: Author Stephanie Dowrick. And that’s it for today’s show. You can find the transcript of the program on the web later in the week – head to abc.net.au/rn and click on All in the Mind under programs. Lots of extra references there. And you can catch the show again as real audio or as a pod cast. Thanks today to Brent Clough who read extracts from books by Louise Hay, Stephen Covey and Shakti Gawain. Thanks also to studio engineer Jenny Parsonage and producer Gretchen Miller.
I’ll be back next week – see you.
And Click "Listen" at the top.
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Talk of the Nation, March 27, 2007 · The Secret, a treatise on the power of positive thinking, has become a mainstream best-seller. A discussion about the pros and cons of the mass marketing of a self-help book.
Hale Dwoskin, author of The Sedona Method; one of the "teachers" cited in The Secret.
Micki McGee, author of Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, professor of sociology at New York University.
Stephen Ross, senior vice president and publisher of Crown Publishers.
Monday, March 26, 2007
By Courtney E. Martin, AlterNet. Posted March 26, 2007.
Through wildly successful viral marketing and a faithful fan base spreading the word, The Secret, a documentary film explaining the "law of attraction" tops Amazon's bestselling DVD list. The companion book of the same name -- and as far as I can tell, an almost word-for-word transcript of the film -- just had the largest reorder in Simon & Schuster history (2 million copies) and is #1 on the New York Times Self Help Bestseller list.
If you are one of like three people left who haven't heard about The Secret -- come on, it was even on Oprah -- let me explain. Australian talk show producer Rhonda Byrne read The Science of Getting Rich, a book written in 1910 by Wallace D. Wattles, in her darkest hour and discovered what she believes is the essential truth -- that "your current thoughts are creating your future life. Your thoughts become things." Translation: if you are thinking about how bad your life is, bad things will continue to happen; if you start thinking about great things, they will inevitably manifest.
Byrne went around with a camera and manifested her own motley crew of entrepreneurs, financial gurus, and pop psychologists -- including the king of the Chicken Soup for the Soul dynasty, Jack Canfield -- to attest to the truth of this claim. I have no quips with the power of positive thinking.
There is sound research that confirms that envisioning yourself succeeding has a real impact on your performance, sports being the most prescient example. At a time when a violent, morally-messy war is going on four years and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, who doesn't need a good dose of wide-eyed idealism?
But idealism is not all the fast-talking "experts" behind The Secret are dishing out. They are also articulating a dangerous message about conspicuous consumption and distracting people from crippling systemic problems.
Both the film and the book are filled with promises about the secret's capacity to attract wealth and "things" -- fancy cars, huge mansions, Rolex watches -- into your life. For example, the book reads: "Make it your intention to look at everything you like and say to yourself, 'I can afford that. I can buy that.'" In a country where the average household consumer debt is $8,000, it appears most of us need no encouragement in pretending we have more money than we do.
John Assarof, founder of a company called One Coach, stars in a hokey reenactment sequence in the film in which he realizes that he has miraculously attracted his new, unconscionably large home into his life. As he is unpacking boxes beside his five year old son, Assarof pulls out his "vision board" -- on which he had pasted images of things he wanted to attract into his life years earlier -- and finds the exact picture of the mansion he newly owns. He explains, "I looked at that house and started to cry, because I was just blown away." His son asked, "Why are you crying?" and he answered, "I finally understand how the law of attraction works."
What is the message to this five year old? What is the message to us all? That the secret to life is the capacity to desire "things" without regard to the environmental or spiritual consequences? That these "things" will somehow satisfy that deep and most universal of desires -- to matter in the world?
I cringe when I think about copies of both the DVD and books flying off the shelves and into debt-ridden, exhausted, and hopeless folks' hands. It is not just the exploitation of their dissatisfaction with their lives that offends me, but the distraction that promoters of The Secret are creating from the very real, systemic issues undergirding poverty.
The book boldly and ignorantly states, "The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts." Tell that to the 36 million Americans living in poverty. Even worse, tell that to the 3 billion people worldwide who live on less that $2 a day.
If The Secret's logic is to be believed, than those who are hungry are not envisioning food hard enough, those without running water aren't imagining the feeling of satiation with enough enthusiasm. It doesn't matter if you are born in the Sudan or San Francisco, according to The Secret's catch-all claim; you can always fantasize your way into "massive wealth."
This point of view neglects the effects of government policy, class, race, gender, geography, and a host of other systemic influences on the kind of wealth -- and life -- one is able to create. It is the good ol' American Dream delusion supersized into ridiculousness. Now you don't even have to work for your wealth, you just have to sit back and dream it into existence.
No matter if you are from a poor family, living in a war zone, or a thousand miles from the nearest medical clinic.
In another particularly offensive sequence, Bill Harris, a teacher and founder of Counterpointe Research Institute talks about a gay student who was harassed about his sexual orientation by coworkers and strangers on the streets. Harris explained the law of attraction to the frustrated young man: "He started taking this thing about focusing on what you want to heart...what happened within the next six to eight weeks was an absolute miracle." All the harassment, reportedly, ceased.
Sure, those who look scared are sometimes picked out as easy targets by homophobic jerks with some self-hating steam to blow off, but that doesn't take the responsibility for harassment off of the harasser. This argument is tantamount to saying that those women who fear rape are asking for it.
The idea that people invite abuse or oppression with their thoughts is insulting. The Secret crew only acknowledges this interpretation briefly: "Often when people first hear this...they recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event. If people believe they can be in the wrong place at the wrong time...those thoughts of fear, separation, and powerlessness, if persistent, can attract them to being in the wrong place at the wrong time." I can't begin to imagine how offensive this claim must be to those who have lost family members under horrific circumstances, like the massacres in Rwanda or the events of September 11th.
If the creators of The Secret wanted to truly empower people, they would focus more on the part of their message that invites people to dream about their best, most joyful lives. This invitation is mentioned in the work, but feels sullied by all of the talk of covetous accumulation and innocent people essentially "asking for it."
The promise of future money is a surefire way to get people to spend money now. Perhaps the purveyors of The Secret see the money message as the sugar that makes the medicine go down, but it seems hypocritical for a group of people purportedly committed to enlightenment to dwell in the material.
I would never claim to know the secret to life, but I have a hunch it has something to do with love, community, joy, and purpose -- not the size of your mansion or the brand of your watch. Further, I think it probably has something to do with alleviating suffering and inequality, encouraging people to think about changing the systems which keep them poor or in danger, not internalizing their failures -- financial or otherwise -- as proof of their own anemic imaginations.
Courtney E. Martin is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, will be published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press next month. Read more about her work at
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The metaphors we use about the world powerfully shape how we relate to the world.
If I see my current challenges as a test I will react to them one way - if I see them as a curse I will react another way and if I see them as a blessing - still another way.
I remember my first thoughts after I broke my arm. “Thankyouthankyou!” For some reason - those were my first thoughts. I knew my arm had just broken but I also felt that there must be some incredible gift in this for me to find. And there was in the end. But that’s another story.
If I see my wife as a gift I will treat her one way. If I see her as my ‘ball and chain’ I will treat her another way.
If we look at the planet and see resources, we will treat it one way. If we see relatives, we will treat it entirely differently.* * *
If you could only use one word to describe the person in the following situation - what word would you choose?
This person's only job is to the bidding of their master. They are unpaid for their work. If your work displeases them, they can lock you away for the rest of their life. You own their home. Their work brings great wealth and benefit to their master but none to themselves. The only time the master and this person talk is when the master wants something. The master isn't really that interested in people's story.
What word would you choose?
Maybe - slave?
Or maybe you might choose another one.
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So, let’s look at one of the central metaphors of the Secret.
One of the things I actually admire about the Secret is how they are incredibly respectful of people’s religions and speak in very open terms about spirituality. I think they did a wonderful job of that.
But, it doesn’t change the fact that the central metaphor of the movie is that of the genii. A slave in a bottle whose only job is to give us what we want. Whatever we want. He seems to have no opinion of his own.
Such a seductive view. So wonderful! Such food for our narcissm. Finally, we think. someone who understands just how important we are.
Now, ignoring for the moment that most genii stories are, in fact, cautionary tales along the lines of 'be careful what you wish for' and encouraging people to be cautious of the temptation to have too much power without the wisdom to weild it . . . there are other concerns I have with this point of view.
This view of the universe - that it is some singular force that exists only fulfill our wishes (come on - what else have you ever seen a genii do except fulfill wishes) - is central to the way we’ve come to see the world - as our slave. It’s there to give us what we want. Its resources are - of course - for us to use.
Nature is a slave. It has no opinion.
The spirit world is also our slave. It has no opinion.
It’s one of the tragedies - to me - of monotheism. In monotheism, there is only one God and one force. In most traditional cultures - while there is an acknowledgement of the central life force - there is also a deep understanding that the spirit world is just as diversely populated as the material world. Some of those creatures you can trust and some you can’t. Some are benevolent and some are mischievious.
But they are real.
But we need to back track.
Central to civilized, white, western thought is this focus: how do I get what I want.
Central to the thought process of traditional and life affirming cultures is this focus: how can we support everyone in getting their needs met.
These are two very different orientations.
If you’re only agenda is to get what you want - and this (let’s be clear) is all that the Secret talks about - then you can move very fast. You can leave a lot of “collateral damage in your wake”. You can treat people as less than human. You can use and exploit. So long as it gets you what you want.
One woman sent out an email describing the movie as: “The Secret is about THE LAW OF ATTRACTION, the power of thought, visualization and your inalienable, DIVINE right to have, Be and do whatever your heart desires; it is our birthright.”
My main critique would be to lift up that word “whatever”.
After all, what if something I want would cause harm to others?
And who is included in this group of others?
For example: what if I believe that only the experiences and opinions of other white, male, land-holding slaveowners matters (a stretch I know - could never happen)? If that were true - then I would be able to disregard the opinions of women and people of colour (and certainly indigenous people). But I’d also be able to ignore (more to the point would never even stop to consider) that the animals and land around me might have opinions about my actions. And what about the spirits of the land?
Whose needs matter?
* * *
Consider this quote from page 212,
If we come from a place that all our needs are equal - we are suddenly in a place where we need to move much more slowly, as we build up a consensus.
And perhaps we would act very differently if we saw nature as full of relatives not resources.
Nature, Nurture and Culture
By Wangari Maathai, Resurgence. Posted
A Nobel Peace laureate says cultural revival may be the only thing that stands between the conservation or destruction of the environment.
"What shall we do to conserve this forest?" I asked myself.
As I tried to encourage women and the African people in general to understand the need to conserve the environment, I discovered how crucial it is to return constantly to our cultural heritage.
And then the missionaries came. With all due respect to the missionaries (they are the ones who really taught me), in their wisdom, or lack of it, they said, "God does not dwell on
We have been looking for heaven, but we have not found it. Men and women have gone to the moon and back and have not seen heaven. Heaven is not above us: it is right here, right now.
So the Kikuyu people were not wrong when they said that God dwelled on the mountain, because if God is omnipresent, as theology tells us, then God is on
After working with different Kenyan communities for more than two decades, the Green Belt Movement (GBM), which I led until joining the new Kenyan government in January 2003, also concluded that culture should be incorporated into any development paradigm that has at its heart the welfare of the people. The Green Belt Movement's mission is mobilizing community consciousness for self-determination, equity, improved livelihood security and environmental conservation – using trees as the entry point. When we began, we believed that all that was needed was to teach people how to plant trees and make connections between their own problems and their degraded environment.
But in the course of struggles to realize GBM's mission and vision, we realized that some of the communities had lost aspects of their culture which had actually facilitated the conservation of the beautiful environment the first European explorers and missionaries recorded in their diaries and textbooks.
Culture is an important part of humanity. Development agencies, religious leaders and academic institutions are increasingly recognizing its central role in the political, economic and social life of communities. A focus on culture is important to environmentalists as well as to traditional communities. Too often, when we talk about conservation, we don't think about culture. But we human beings have evolved in the environment in which we find ourselves. For every one of us, wherever we were, the environment shaped us: it shaped our values; it shaped our bodies; it shaped our religion. It really defined who we are and how we see ourselves.
Cultural revival might be the only thing that stands between the conservation or destruction of the environment, the only way to perpetuate the knowledge and wisdom inherited from the past, necessary for the survival of future generations. A new attitude toward nature provides space for a new attitude toward culture and the role it plays in sustainable development: an attitude based on a new understanding – that self-identity, self-respect, morality and spirituality play a major role in the life of a community and its capacity to take steps that benefit it and ensure its survival.
Until the arrival of the Europeans, communities had looked to nature for inspiration, food, beauty and spirituality. They pursued a lifestyle that was sustainable and that gave them a good quality of life. It was a life without salt, soap, cooking fat, spices, soft drinks, daily meat and other acquisitions that have accompanied a rise in the "diseases of the affluent."
Communities that have not yet undergone industrialization have a close connection with the physical environment, which they often treat with reverence. Because they have not yet commercialized their lifestyle and their relation with natural resources, their habitats are rich with local biological diversity, both plant and animal.
However, these are the very habitats that are most at threat from globalisation, commercialisation, privatization and the piracy of biological materials found in them. This global threat is causing communities to lose their rights to the resources they have preserved throughout the ages as part of their cultural heritage. These communities are persuaded to consider their relationship with nature primitive, worthless and an obstacle to development and progress in an age of advanced technology and information flow.
During the long, dark decades of imperialism and colonialism from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, the British, Belgian, Italian, French and German governments told African societies that they were backward. They told us that our religious systems were sinful, our agricultural practices inefficient, our tribal systems of governing irrelevant, and our cultural norms barbaric, irreligious and savage. This also happened with the Aborigines in
Of course, some of what happened, and continues to happen, in
There was some degree of accountability to people from their leaders. People were able to feed themselves. They carried their history – their cultural practices, their stories and their sense of the world around them – in their oral traditions, and that tradition was rich and meaningful. Above all, they lived with other creatures and the natural environment in harmony, and they protected that world.
Agriculture, democracy, heritage, and ecology are all dimensions and functions of culture. Agriculture is the way we deal with seeds, crops, harvesting, and processing and eating. One result of colonialism was the loss of indigenous food crops such as millet, sorghum, arrowroot, yam and green vegetables, as well as livestock and wildlife. Like culture itself, the possession of cattle as a sign of wealth or the growing of one's own food were trivialized by colonizers as indicators of a primitive mode of living. Loss of indigenous food and the methods to grow it have contributed to food insecurity at the household level and diminishment of local biological diversity.
People without culture feel insecure and are obsessed with the acquisition of material things, which give them a temporary security that itself is a delusional bulwark against future insecurity. Without culture, a community loses self-awareness and guidance, and grows weak and vulnerable. It disintegrates from within as it suffers a lack of identity, dignity, self-respect and a sense of destiny.
By the end of the civic and environmental seminars organized by the Green Belt Movement, participants feel the time has come for them to hold up their own mirror and find out who they are. This is why we call the seminars kwimenya (self-knowledge). Until then, participants have looked through someone else's mirror – the mirror of the missionaries or their teachers or the colonial authorities who have told them who they are and who write and speak about them – at their own cracked reflections. They have seen only a distorted image, if they have seen themselves at all!
There is enormous relief and great anger and sadness when people realize that without a culture not only is one a slave, but one has actually collaborated with the slave trader, and that the consequences are long-lasting. Communities without their own culture, who are already disinherited, cannot protect their environment from immediate destruction or preserve it for future generations. Since they are disinherited, they have nothing to pass on.
A new appreciation of culture can give traditional communities a chance, quite literally, to rediscover themselves, and to revalue and reclaim their culture. This is no trivial matter of reviving pottery or dancing, or whatever limited ideas of indigenous culture some Westerners may still have.
Of course, no one culture is applicable to all human beings who wish to retain their self-respect and dignity; none can satisfy all communities. Humanity needs to find beauty in its diversity of cultures and accept that there will be many languages, religions, attires, dances, songs, symbols, festivals and traditions. This diversity should be seen as a universal heritage of humankind.
Cultural liberation will only come when the minds of the people are set free and they can protect themselves from colonialism of the mind. Only that type of freedom will allow them to reclaim their identity, self-respect and destiny. Only when communities recapture the positive aspects of their culture will people relearn how to love themselves and what is theirs. Only then will they really appreciate their country and the need to protect its natural beauty and wealth. And only then will they have an understanding of the future and of generations to come.
Wangari Maathai is Kenya's Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Wildlife. Winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, she is the founder of
A few years ago, this article caught my eye . . .
VILLAGERS who protested that a new housing estate would “harm the fairies” living in their midst have forced a property company to scrap its building plans and start again.
Marcus Salter, head of Genesis Properties, estimates that the small colony of fairies believed to live beneath a rock in St Fillans, Perthshire, has cost him £15,000. His first notice of the residential sensibilities of the netherworld came as his diggers moved on to a site on the outskirts of the village, which crowns the easterly
He said: “A neighbour came over shouting, ‘Don’t move that rock. You’ll kill the fairies’.” The rock protruded from the centre of a gently shelving field, edged by the steep slopes of Dundurn mountain, where in the sixth century the Celtic missionary St Fillan set up camp and attempted to convert the Picts from the pagan darkness of superstition.
“Then we got a series of phone calls, saying we were disturbing the fairies. I thought they were joking. It didn’t go down very well,” Mr Salter said.
In fact, even as his firm attempted to work around the rock, they received complaints that the fairies would be “upset”. Mr Salter still believed he was dealing with a vocal minority, but the gears of Perthshire’s planning process were about to be clogged by something that looked suspiciously like fairy dust.
“I went to a meeting of the community council and the concerns cropped up there,” he said. The council was considering lodging a complaint with the planning authority, likely to be the kiss of death for a housing development in a national park. Jeannie Fox, council chairman, said: “I do believe in fairies but I can’t be sure that they live under that rock. I had been told that the rock had historic importance, that kings were crowned upon it.” Her main objection to moving the rock was based on the fact that it had stood on the hillside for so long: a sort of MacFeng Shui that many in the village subscribe to.
“There are a lot of superstitions going about up here and people do believe that things like standing stones and large rocks should never be moved,” she said.
Half a mile into Loch Earn is
This summer Betty Neish McInnes, the last of that line in St Fillans, went to her grave — but not before she had imparted the ancient Pict significance of the rock to many of her neighbours.
“A lot of people think the rock had some Pictish meaning,” Mrs Fox said. “It would be extremely unlucky to move it.”
Mr Salter did not just want to move the rock. He wanted to dig it up, cart it to the roadside and brand it with the name of his new neighbourhood.
The Planning Inspectorate has no specific guidelines on fairies but a spokesman said: “Planning guidance states that local customs and beliefs must be taken into account when a developer applies for planning permission.” Mr Salter said: “We had to redesign the entire thing from scratch.”
The new estate will now centre on a small park, in the middle of which stands a curious rock. Work begins next month, if the fairies allow.
* * *
Consider the words of Martin Prechtel as he describes the process of making a knife.
Prechtel: Technological inventions take from the earth but give nothing in return. Look at automobiles. They were, in a sense, dreamed up over a period of time, with different people adding on to each other’s dreams — or, if you prefer, adding on to each other’s studies and trials. But all along the way, very little, if anything, was given back to the hungry, invisible divinity that gave people the ability to invent those cars. Now, in a healthy culture, that’s where the shamans would come in, because with every invention comes a spiritual debt that must be paid, either ritually, or else taken out of us in warfare, grief, or depression.
A knife, for instance, is a very minimal, almost primitive tool to people in a modern industrial society. But for the Mayan people, the spiritual debt that must be paid for the creation of such a tool is great. To start with, the person who is going to make the knife has to build a fire hot enough to produce coals. To pay for that, he’s got to give a sacrificial gift to the fuel, to the fire.
Jensen: Like what?
Prechtel: Ideally, the gift should be something made by hand, which is the one thing humans have that spirits don’t.
Once the fire is hot enough, the knife maker must smelt the iron ore out of the rock. The part that’s left over, which gets thrown away in Western culture, is the most holy part in shamanic rituals. What’s left over represents the debt, the hollowness that’s been carved out of the universe by human ingenuity, and so must be refilled with human ingenuity. A ritual gift equal to the amount that was removed from the other world has to be put back to make up for the wound caused to the divine. Human ingenuity is a wonderful thing, but only so long as it’s used to feed the deities that give us the ability to perform such extravagant feats in the first place.
So, just to get the iron, the shaman has to pay for the ore, the fire, the wind, and so on — not in dollars and cents, but in ritual activity equal to what’s been given. Then that iron must be made into steel, and the steel has to be hammered into the shape of a knife, sharpened, and tempered, and a handle must be put on it. There is a deity to be fed for each part of the procedure. When the knife is finished, it is called the "tooth of earth." It will cut wood, meat, and plants. But if the necessary sacrifices have been ignored in the name of rationalism, literalism, and human superiority, it will cut humans instead.
All of those ritual gifts make the knife enormously "expensive," and make the process quite involved and time-consuming. The need for ritual makes some things too spiritually expensive to bother with. That’s why the Mayans didn’t invent space shuttles or shopping malls or backhoes. They live as they do not because it’s a romantic way to live — it’s not; it’s enormously hard — but because it works.
Western culture believes that all material is dead, and so there is no debt incurred when human ingenuity removes something from the other world. Consequently, we end up with shopping malls and space shuttles and other examples of "advanced" technology, while the spirits who give us the ability to make those things are starving, becoming bony and thin, which is one reason why anorexia is such a prob-lem: the young are acting out this image. The universe is in a state of starvation and emotional grief because it has not been given what it needs in the form of ritual food and actual physical gifts. We think we’re getting away with something by stealing from the other side, but it all leads to violence. The Greek oracle at
* * *
My second critique would be the use of the word “birthright”. That’s a very dangerous word. After all, many kings ruled their people by “divine right”. Many Americans still believe that the
Of course, today it’s so different.
But it’s not really. Just more hidden. The reality is that we still feel deeply entitled to live a lifestyle that most of us know is destroying the world.
If you don’t understand that yet . . . well. I’m sorry.
What if the universe wasn’t a single genii waiting to fulfill our every whim? What if it was a dynamic ecosystem that needed to be courted and negotiated with?
Call and Response
An idea . . . - astonishing possibility!
Fire in the head
The love at first sight.
The seed waking.
This first birth inside happens inside you.
You carry it in your belly.
The second birth happens in the hearts of the Others
When it is welcomed into the world.
It must be wanted.
It must find the right place.
Babies die when they’re not touched you know.
Or grow to become twisted men
A Mockery of the ancestral impulse.
There are stories i could tell you.
All possibilities must be offered up to the universe
And their response waited for
After all, the response shapes everything.
This is where you learn to dance with what’s real
Call and response
Patience is required here
There is an old etiquette here -
Permissions to be gained
Protocol to be followed and
Blessings to be invited
Consent to be given
The rock that wants to be a part of the wall
Will carry half of its weight you know.
If you ask it.
Don't rape the universe with your ideas
And force the birth of unwanted children.
Do not force your possibilities onto the world
Offer them up instead - with open hands
An idea is only an idea
A bright spark
Until it lives in the heads, hearts and hands of the Others.
Do not rush this birth -- it knows its own timing
Would your throw this spark with no one to catch it?
You must see what has heart and meaning for you
And where the universe replies.
There are others involved here -- their response matters.
For the child there are many possibilities
For the elder only a few
You must learn to discern real hopes from false ones.
The shadow side of knowledge is not ignorance
There are abstract worlds were trees stand in isolation
With roots that merely lay like ropes on top of the earth
Where the world changes in brilliant flashes
And everything is possible.
There's this world,
With its harsh limits
Asking you daily just how seriously you take them.
You must learn to discern real hopes from false ones.
The shadow side of knowledge is not ignorance
Stories are first lived and then told
But they lose something in the telling
A life story takes a lifetime to live.
It cannot be told in less time.
Everyday you are telling your story to the universe.
Everyday you are part of this larger story.
This is what we have forgotten.
The aborigines of
They cannot sing the sacred song lines of
While driving in a car.
More time is needed.
With every step you enter a new space
A larger story
Of which you are not the center.
No, you'll never understand someone's life story
Try as you might.
No one will understand yours
Try as they might.
Painfully - most will have no interest.
You will come to know the look of disdain.
You will find yourself alone in this common experience.
Other people have their own lives and agendas
That have nothing to do with you.
This is -- I'm ashamed to say -- a revelation to me.
These are not your pawns to play with
You're not a child anymore.
There are worlds inside people I will never understand
Are you trying to help because you feel that
If you don’t you may disappear?
Your possibilities will destroy you
They will exaggerate your influence.
How many men and women
Have come to ruin saying
“It should have worked. Why couldn’t they see?”
But, the truth is, with every step you enter a new space
A larger story
Of which you are not the center
There are others involved here -- their response matters.
Your job is not to create.
Your job is to call -
With an intense etiquette
Respect in your belly
It’s not charm that’s needed here.
Take time and care
In crafting your invitations.
The universe does not understand your words
Ritual and feeling are the language here.
It wants to help you, but spiritual etiquette requires that you ask.
Your job is not to create.
Your job is to call.
Your job is to wait for the response.
This is no false dichotomy of your will
In the face the Divine.
It’s not just about you and your voice.
When i was young and foolish
I thought my voice not to be the most important
(to be honest - I thought my voice to be the only voice there was.)
Ugly demands were made
Clumsy, jagged and
Reeking of desperation
(and i think this must be the most unbearable stench in the universe)
How often it was not an offer from my heart
But a cry for help
The echoing of emptiness.
And how my fear of dying from emptiness has bred entitlement
A clutching and grabbing at everything.
And then resentment -
And petty rebellions! - the major wars for minor causes.
Enemies at every corner
Who would keep me from what i want.
Protocol is how people want love.
Why not give it to them?
Why withhold your love?
No, this is not a backroom negotiation
Between you and the Lord
This is an acknowledgement of community.
That our voice is one amongst many
In the family of creation.
Life wants to express through creation
And each voice, every creature
Is an expression of this.
Offer everything up in the spirit of humility
“If this be for the highest good of all involved
May it be so.”
Your equals surround you
Seemingly endless allies at every turn
For did any hero ever achieve a worthy cause without allies?
What hero was so foolish as to refuse allies
Or offend them with stinginess?
Did Fionn rescue Grainne without his sword,
Without the Great Grey Sea Lion or the little mouse?
A pine needle can spring a forest to cover your retreat
And slow the advance of enemies.
Volcanoes can erupt
Oil can vanish leaving corporations bewildered
Water can leave its well dry - offended by fences.
There is a place you can stand
That will carry your voice
Clean and sweet smelling
To the ears of allies.
You are not alone here in a world begging to be rescued.
You are shoulder to shoulder in a community of equals.
After all, with every step you enter a new space
A larger story
Of which you are not the center
There are others involved here -- their response matters.
Toss them softly
Place them gently
When you can.
The times will come when fierce urgency will not allow
If you don't hold to your own center
You will need to be the center of another’s story.
You will try to weave yourself into their life
With sweet gifts and charming words
But lying at the bottom of this dark and dank need to give
Will be a cry for help.
If you need help - ask.
If you have a gift - offer it up.
But do not confuse the two.
This is simple but it is not easy.
Are you seeing what people really need
Or just what you're wanting to give?
And why do you want to give it?
Is it because you are desperately afraid?
You're trying to save a world
That doesn't want to be saved
That doesn't need to be saved
Because this world is not afraid.
Perhaps we misunderstand and think that simply because we can use something that we understand it.
Perhaps the universe is not a genii.
Perhaps the world is not full of resources - but relatives.
[i] Rand, Ayn. For what it’s worth, she absolutely emphasizes the word white in the last sentence.