Friday, November 18, 2005

Tintle tells all!

Calvin Tintle is a former student who now has forsaken the cloistered environment of the campus—as all college students inevitably must, one day—for the dread Real World. Alert readers may recall that Cal has figured in previous editions of SHAMblog; he’s back on the scene now with the following commentary, sent originally via email, which we’ll regard as “Cal’s guest column” (though I’ve taken the liberty of providing minor narration from time to time). In it, he describes for me his first live encounter with a motivational guru--someone his employer brought in to "pump up" the troops:

“I had a very interesting lunch meeting this afternoon and I had to give you a shout because the person that came into the office was a motivational speaker—or I should say, ‘Personal and Business Coach.’ (If a noose was within reach, I might have used it). After corresponding and reading your stuff I realized just what a joke it is. And when I say ‘joke,’ I mean it was literally funny. There were times when I almost burst out laughing.”

Cal goes on to characterize his guru as “an evil beast who was out to tell me all my pitfalls, and actually had the audacity to tell me how I feel. I'll tell you how I felt: I felt like, ‘Who is this person telling me how I feel?—the audacity!’ ”

At this point, however, Cal started looking around him. And that’s when he “realized that over 80 percent of the people in the meeting were buying into this load of S***! [Cal is a very polite fellow.] And asking ‘Can I have your card?’, ‘When can we get together?’, ‘Do you have any plans right after the meeting?’…. She ended with some books that we should read, and I told her I had a book for her to read… SHAM: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless...” [Whether or not you actually said this aloud, bless you, Cal!]


Cal’s experience—in particular his annoyance at the speaker’s presumed knowledge of what drove him—points up, again, the twin fundamental paradoxes (paradi?) of self-help: 1. The question of whether “self-help” can really come from outside the self, and 2. The question of whether people can maximize their highly individual selves by following a generic formula that distills complex behavioral issues into a seven-step program and prescribes the same actions (even the same attitudes) for all comers. If I walk into a room and somehow brainwash everyone into thinking (God help them) just like Steve Salerno—even if they enjoy some success thereafter—have I really helped them maximize their “selves”? Or have I converted them into something they didn’t used to be—specifically, into clones of me? This is not a purely philosophical question. For a movement that is supposed to celebrate individuality, SHAM spends an awful lot of time selling its own orthodoxies, and enforcing the idea that if you don’t want to do it their way, there’s something basically wrong with you. Go to the discussion boards of any leading guru—say, Tony Robbins. (You’ll have to register to join the give-and-take, and even to see certain site features. This will entitle you to get spammed by AR every so often.) It won’t be long before you notice that the participants all share the same world-view, and even converse in the same trademark Robbinsisms. Far from “actualizing” themselves, they have largely surrendered themselves.


To me, this is less “self-help,” in the true sense, than the creation of a homogeneous cult—the Cult of Tony.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

It sounds to me like Cal suffers from the same malady as Salerno himself, which is he was already set to be negative about the motivator before she even opened her mouth, in the same way Salerno went into writing his book with an ax to grind. I have had experiences with corproate motivation, and you can't paint them all with this kind of bruhs. There's alot to be said about self-help (bad) , but you lose people when you sound so biased.

Steve Salerno said...
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Steve Salerno said...

Now-now. "Anonymous" makes a good point about pre-judging, but let's be fair here. At a certain point I grow weary of allegations that I went into the writing of this book "with an ax to grind." I have spent much of my professional life writing well-researched pieces about various aspects of SHAM--in fact, I wrote several of the first nationally published articles about modern-day SHAM's core elements (the boot camps and corporate retreats, the sportsthink phenomenon, Tony Robbins and other gurus individually, etc.), and I spent another 18 months accumulating the material for the book. So if my tone seems jaded in discussing self-help and its utility, that is a *result* of 20 years of aggregated research and studious observation, folks, not an uninformed, a priori bias. Not to sound overly defensive, but most of the heavyweight industry reviewers--PW, Booklist, the WSJ--appreciated the depth of my research on the topic, and praised it specifically. Bottom line, Cal nailed it. He may not have done the research I did--and I confess I have no knowledge of the specific motivator who graced his office that day--but in a more general sense, he ended up right on the money.

Anonymous said...
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Calvin Tintle said...

If someone went so far as to tell you how you feel and how you should be feeling, I hope that would strike you as odd and you might get a little defensive about it. I see the SHAM movement as nothing short of brainwashing; a knocking down that requires one form of being built back up and that is through the perspective of the person doing the knocking down. This only makes those who fall for the brainwashing walking talking zombies. I like the way I am and if at times I may sound cynical, so be it, I am real and I'd like to think I have my own brain and can make my own decisions. Look, I went to the meeting thinking I might be able to learn something new; a new way to communicate to clients and more importantly prospective clients. And you have said yourself that sometimes the speaker aren't that bad while other times they are. Maybe, just maybe my first was one of those bad ones that you seem to occasionally identify with.

Anonymous said...

What Calvin says about the knocking down to build you back up reminds me of the self-help program known as "est." That's literally what they used to do: scream and curse at you for hours, keep you locked in a room without food or bathroom breaks so you were totally under their control, then finally at some point when you were on the verge of a total breakdown, they'd start the processing of supposedly rebuilding a better you. And "est" was quite the fad during the 1970's. Does anybody know if they're still doing this?