Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Also, it helps if you can learn to hate lovingly...

Today's item comes to us courtesy of Abe Aamidor, veteran editor and reporter for the Indianapolis Star as well as the author of an offbeat and engaging book on Chuck Taylor, the one-time basketball phenom who's as responsible as anyone for today's passion for "name" athletic shoes. Through the years Abe has been kind enough to bring me in on a major writing project or two that evolved under his direction. He also sponsored my involvement as a featured speaker at a midwest writer's conference a few years back.

In doing a story set in the motivational-speaking circuit, Abe had an interesting experience that's not only dead-on for this blog, but yielded one of the most priceless quotes I've heard in a long time (even for a realm that tends to yield priceless quotes with regularity). Abe writes of one speaker, "He was talking to a group of commission salesmen (the main audience for these guys), and he said at one point: 'If you can fake sincerity you've got it made....' "

Abe does add that the speaker "went on to redeem himself by saying that, of course, you can't fake sincerity, so don't sell or do anything you don't really believe in.... But it was the first part, the 'set up,' that's still alarming. People want a quick fix, as you are pointing out; they think a quick fix actually exists; they think it's often a mental game, a mental key they need to unlock something. It's like they're all four year olds developmentally...."

Having attended perhaps a dozen high-powered sales-training seminars, including those run by world-class masters like Tom Hopkins and Zig Ziglar,* I can attest to the truth of what Abe writes. However, I'm somewhat more cynical than is my esteemed colleague: I'm not so sure that the speakers themselves are being sincere when they dismiss the notion of "faking sincerity." I think that's just a disclaimer, something they feel they have to say for CYA reasons in these days of "enlightened, customer-oriented selling." Even moving beyond sales, so much of what self-help teaches, if you break it down, is about adopting a false persona, about "instantly" acquiring (or aping?) attributes that are not really part of your Self--your true self.

How is that self-help? Especially when they can't even prove that it necessarily helps...?

* As noted previously, I spent my first decade post-college in the sales realm. Also, my first book, The Newest Profession (long out of print these days), chronicled the coming changes in the sales genre.


RevRon's Rants said...

I once served on a non-profit board with a man who has made a career out of "faking sincerity." His actions on the board led to another member and myself publicly resigning, rather than participate in his schemes.

As it turns out that guy (whom I will not name, but I'm certain you've encountered him) has moved beyond his weekly MLM schemes (each of which were so phenomenal they left his hands shaking and kept him awake at night), and into the realm of self-help. For a ridiculously high admission fee, you can spend a weekend with him and a select few other "seekers," during which, I assume your hands will constantly shake, and wakefulness will be the order of the day.

I will admit that his work does constitute self-help, if his helping himself to his customers' money is sufficient to qualify. For myself, I'll pass on the tremors and insomnia, and spend the money on something worthwhile, like a whole-body waxing or some designer seat covers for my car.

Cosmic Connie said...

"Studies have shown that people whose speech is powerful and forceful command more respect. And it's not what you say that matters; it's how you say it. Contrary to what some communication stick-in-the-muds might believe, you don't always have to say what you mean, or mean what you say — what's important is that your every utterance carries the force of what passes for conviction."

Or so I wrote a few years ago, in a piece that was intended to be satirical. But now I'm wondering if I could just repackage it and sell it to the bizgeeks and hustledork wannabes for a hugely inflated price...

Actually, it's pretty widely accepted in various factions of the self-help and spiritual-growth industries that "you have to fake it till you make it" or "act as if" until it comes to be. And folks such as the shaky-handed insomniac the Rev mentioned will be only too happy to give you advice on faking it...for a price, of course.

Anonymous said...

Steve- See once again tho I agree on some level with a lot of what you say, I take issue with the way you dimiss these things out of whole cloth. I have attended training sessions, in sales and other areas and I never failed to derive at least some benefit. You get out of it what you want to. And, who says change is always such a bad thing?

RevRon's Rants said...

I guess I'm a bit unclear as to what you're taking issue with here, Carl. Is it Steve's dislike for feigned sincerity, and for people who make money by pretending to be sincere? Or perhaps the implication (which I don't believe he made) that everybody involved in the self-help movement is an insincere huckster?

Anyone who spends any time looking into the modern self-help industry would learn that the vast majority of "practitioners" are really salesmen who have found a "schtick," or angle that relies upon catchy buzz-words and empty promises. Certainly, there are professionals and insightful lay practitioners whose motivation is to help those with whom they come in contact live more productive, joyful lives. I'll even go so far as to say opine that a number of the "headliner acts" probably began their careers motivated by such altruistic goals. Unfortunately, too many get caught up in their own celebrity (even if that celebrity exists only in their own minds), and end up feeding the machine, rather than touching individuals' lives. And too often, the "machine" ends up dispensing little more that emotional and spiritual Twinkies (and I mean no offense to the delicious confection), offering an emotional sugar rush that is inevitably short-lived, and leaves the consumer hungry for the next treat.

Of course, there are those consumers who will defend the practitioners, long after the Ah-ha phase has passed beyond memory, rather than acknowledge that they obtained little of value for their money. And the emperor's new clothes never wear out, until the real Ah-ha moment, when they realize that common sense, self-reliance, and a smattering of backbone are the real tools one needs to grow and evolve.

Steve Salerno said...

Carl, with all due respect--and let me emphasize that I do not intend any snideness here; I'm simply trying to penetrate the layer of fog that sometimes overhangs our "disagreements"--I often have trouble discerning exactly what it is that you're attacking me for. Well, maybe "attacking" is too strong a word, but you get my drift. If you want to undertake a more specific, pointed critique of elements of my argument here (or anywhere), I'd be happy to publish it on the blog and address it in full, space permitting.

For now, though, I must ask: When did I ever say, or even imply, that "change is such a bad thing"? I think change--genuine change--is what all of us seek, when we're mired in a rut. My problem is with the hucksters who get rich selling the ILLUSION of change (the "salesmen who have found a schtick," to borrow RevRon's nicely alliterative putdown), and the great mass of Americans who will pay almost any price to stay in denial, thereby sustaining that illusion.

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