Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A curse in miracles, final chapter. And epilogue.

A magistrate* in the Family Court found some of Lesley's pleadings (as well as her recently declared change in sexual orientation) sufficiently unorthodox and eyebrow-raising that he would not, at first, follow convention by rubber-stamping maternal custody. Instead, the magistrate reserved judgment until child-welfare personnel could take a closer look at the setting in which the two Grogan kids would be living. There eventually came a time where Don and Lesley found themselves in front of a judge in the court, where they were asked to tell their respective stories.

That was where Don got another surprise: Lesley had changed her tune...or at least the way she sang it. She arrived in court with an amended divorce petition that used more traditional legal terminology—to accuse Don of domestic abuse. "I was sickened," he says, "not just because of the new allegations, which were totally false**, but because it made the whole thing sound so insincere. All those months I had to listen to all that crap about the universe, and she wouldn't really talk to me in normal language, no matter what I tried." But now, suddenly, with the stakes higher, Lesley had learned how to speak normal English again—and a very menacing form of English at that. "I felt someone had gotten to her," he says. "Someone told her to wise up and stop acting like a space cadet, at least till the case was over."

Fortunately for him, says Don, Lesley could not keep up the fa├žade of normalcy in court. He recounts an especially memorable exchange between Lesley and the judge that went "more or less" (his words) as follows:


Judge: What was the nature of the physical abuse?
Lesley: Negativity is known to have numerous adverse effects, like stress, blood pressure, and so forth.
Judge: What I am asking is, Did Mr. Grogan strike you or your children?
Lesley: He caused me many harms.
Judge: Were these the kinds of harms where I would have seen bruises?
Lesley: If you were sensitive enough to it.
Judge: If I was sensitive enough?
Lesley: If you were open to seeing it.
Judge (trying a different approach): But these harms did not require treatment of any kind.
Lesley: That's why I went to [the shaman and the healer].
In the end, the judge decided that Lesley and her new lover presented no actual threat to the children, Lesley clearly impressing him with her obvious affection for the kids as well as her soulful courtroom proclamation of undying love for her new "partner for life." (As Don puts it, "I guess she decided that a woman is worth more than a man," an arch allusion to the title of one of Marianne Williamson's best-sellers.) Though still seeming somewhat thrown by the whole thing, the judge granted the divorce and ordered the usual maternal custody with paternal visitation. "Which I guess was OK with me, if that's how it had to play out," says Don. "I didn't see [Lesley and her new partner] as dangerous. I just didn't want my kids to grow up as Satan worshippers." He deemed the financial arrangements "fair, probably a lot more fair than they would've been if the judge had bought the allegations about abuse."

But here's the final kicker: Almost a decade has passed now, and though the Grogan union has long since been put asunder, so has the "life partnership" that Lesley so joyously announced in court. The two women broke up within a year, and according to Don, his former wife struggled through "several really rough years, emotionally" thereafter; she took the kids out of state for a while (with his permission) and "drifted." By the time she got back, apparently, "the entity inside her wasn't gay anymore," says Don with a mordant laugh. "She's married again, for five years now, and they live in a town 50 miles away. The kids are teenagers and driving, so at least I get to see them a lot." Adding that he himself doesn't have time for a real relationship, Don says the kids take their mother with a grain of salt. "They're bright kids; they realize she's a little 'out there.' But she's a good mother, and she's not really as wacky as she used to be, either. The kids came out of it whole. Every once in a while they'll still ask me, 'So really, why did you and Mom get divorced?' And I say, 'Hey, ask your mother. Damned if I know.' "

Which is what keeps Don awake at night, sometimes. He finds himself at a loss to understand "what really happened" back in the summer of 1997: "I truly feel that the way Les got caught up in things, there would've been a crisis for her no matter who she was married to at the time—that if she'd been with [her new husband] then, she might be with me now. I think, Why did our family have to get broken up? For what purpose? Because she's pretty much back to where she was in the beginning, except with a different guy. And to hear the kids tell it, they don't get along as well as we used to, before everything got crazy! It all seems so pointless and unnecessary."

Don's feelings about self-help and modern mysticism are about what you'd expect. He worries about the movement's tendency to cause confused or restless people to "step outside their normal personalities and convince themselves they're something else." As he sees it, self-help plays to, and preys upon, people living normal lives of quiet desperation. "They say to themselves, 'There's got to be something better.' And there isn't, necessarily." Echoing a point I made in very similar language in SHAM, he says, "A lot of this stuff makes normal people living normal lives think they're unhappier than they are, that they're missing out on something."

As for me, I do think it's true that the pursuit of better too often leads to worse. And that the cardinal sin of self-help is that many of the gurus—who are not stupid people—make their misrepresentations knowingly, taking advantage of suggestible marks, persuading them that they're miserable in order to sell them the supposed cure. This also goes back to a question I posed in my book, and that I've raised before on the blog: Does self-help really help you find you? Or does it more likely help you find something else that you think you're supposed to be that, just perhaps, you were never really intended to be?

The year before SHAM, Myrna Blyth, long-time iconic editor of Ladies' Home Journal, published her book Spin Sisters as a way of repenting her role in a $7 billion assault on the psyche of American women. Blyth observes that 50 years after women's magazines became arguably the most significant phenomenon in the history of magazine publishing (certainly post-war), readers seem more restless and unhappy than ever. Thanks to the "negative messages…that bombard women," writes Blyth, today's women obsess over the smallest flaws or loose ends in their daily routines, spending their lives feeling never quite good enough, happy enough, sexually satisfied enough; never quite "there yet." This is really true throughout American culture, she contends: "Instead of celebrating our opportunities, the media portray smart, educated, talented, resourceful women as harried, hurried, incompetent losers, always but always getting it wrong."*** Is it any wonder that so many people today spend so much of their lives "looking for something" instead of appreciating what's right in front of them?

The last and largest point is one that could probably be made at the end of almost any of these stories, so I'll make it here and you can simply apply it where it fits from now on. It's not a particularly brilliant or original point, either, but it deserves to be restated. "Taking the leap" does not guarantee success. An editorial intern of mine back in Indiana once said that the only way to ensure her success was to cut the umbilical: to move to New York City and throw herself into the maelstrom, which, she said, would "force her to succeed." It worked for her, so she still goes around giving that advice to young wannabes. But throughout New York, and for that matter in any city or neighborhood focused around an appealing industry, you'll find thousands upon thousands of people who took the leap, and threw themselves into the maelstrom—and are now tending bar, waiting tables, or even living under highway overpasses. This notion, that throwing yourself into the unknown automatically (a) guarantees success or even (b) is better than the known, is absurd.

Only in the lotus-land of The Secret—fantasyland—does one gain fulfillment by the mere aspiration for it. Somehow I think even Lesley might agree, looking back.

* In Don's jurisdiction, as in many nowadays, this is the judicial equivalent of a "nurse practitioner"—not quite a judge in the commonly understood sense, but imbued with full legal authority to make decisions in many routine matters. Magistrates play an increasing role amid today's crowded court dockets, even in low-level criminal proceedings.
** It behooves me to point out here, again, that there are at least two sides to every story. Lesley declined to be interviewed. However, the dissolution of the marriage and the basic circumstances that figured in same were independently verified and are not in dispute. That's the most I can say for the purposes of this blog.
*** Before you climb all over me, I agree that this topic is encyclopedic and worthy of many, many book in its own right, and that none of the phenomena Blyth notes can be examined out of context; innumerable things have changed in American society, thus you can't point to this or that in isolation and shout "there's the problem!" Nonetheless, I urge you to read Blyth's book. Her arguments are compelling. Yes, there is a strong political slant to the book, and if that annoys you, ignore it. Her self-help-related points stand on their own merit.
=====================================
NOTE: All situations recounted in this series of stories are as described to me by the people who were kind enough to submit their experiences. Where possible and practical, I have made a good-faith effort to verify stories through independent means. I reserve the right to make minor changes to names, dates, and places, in circumstances where such verification was not possible, or where the risk of legal complications looms large. Not a single material fact has been embellished or fabricated. Like all content in this blog, these stories are subject to applicable provisions of U.S. Copyright Law and international treaties on same. All rights reserved. No material is to be reproduced in any form without my written permission, except for usages covered by "fair use" provisions of law.

30 comments:

S.H.A.M. Scam Sam said...

Steve,

Two things:

1) The charge of domestic violence seems to be par for the feminist/new age course in these situations. My wife also got a like-minded lawyer, who played it that way, and it got thrown out as well. The judge, a woman, got really mad when her lies were exposed: we had friends who saw part of the break-up so my ex didn't get far with it. It was my one, clear, success in the whole proceeding.

2) I've read "Spin Sisters' and you're right: it's excellent. My admiration for Myrna Blithe went way up after reading it. She was really brave to write it.

Anonymous said...

This is a very weird story, Steve. Hard to believe people would hold themsleves up to public ridiculue like this. But then there's Paris Hilton.
-Carl

Anonymous said...

Please don't take offense, but there's a very slight undercurrent of homophobia that seems to underlie this story - the shock and horror and surprise of someone 'choosing to be with a woman rather than with me, a man.' I find it disappointing. I doubt that you, Steve, are anti-gay in any way, but as a gay man and a big fan of your blog, I felt the need to point it out.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, I don't get it. Honestly. First of all, I'm just the messenger here, so you shouldn't be killing me, as it were; if I had quoted someone using the word "dyke" (or, in opposite circumstances, "faggot," or even a racist using the word "nigger"), that would not make ME a homophobe or a racist, to my mind; it would just make me a journalist doing my job, which is to chronicle things as they unfold before me.

But beyond that, let's get real here. Do you think it would've been "homophobic" in any way if Dina McGreevey was initially "shocked" and, yes, even somewhat horrified upon learning that her husband, Jim, was gay? I think one of the basic assumptions of marriage is that we're marrying someone who possesses the sexual orientation we went looking for in the first place.

Finally, I think there's a certain amount of shock and horror that unaccompanies ANY instance where a partner finds out that his or her partner has been unfaithful.

Finally-finally, I think the very idea of someone shifting sexual orientations as often as some of us buy suits is inherently (albeit darkly) funny. That's not making fun of gays. It's making fun of the situation that occurred here, and the absurdity, really, of what self-help "did to" this woman, in my view.

Let's please try not to be overly sensitive here. Though I do insist on certain standards of behavior and speech, I would hope that at least philosophically, SHAMblog could be a PC-free-zone. Now, if you want to point out specific ways in which you think I was unfair here, by all means point them out.

Anonymous said...

Hmm fair enough Steve. I think the issue for me was surprise at 'shifting orientations' - which does happen more often than people think.

There's of course no excuse to break up marriages or relationships for trivial reasons.

Thanks for responding and setting my mind at ease.

Jonathan

Renee said...

Homophobia? Really? I don't see it - at all. No offense, Anonymous, but I think you read something into it that wasn't there.

I'm enjoying this new series, Steve, although the feeling of watching it unfold while I read is a bit like watching a train wreck.

Steve Salerno said...

Don't know where the word "unaccompanies" came from in my reply to Jonathan/Anon's first comment above, but I don't want to re-post it, either, as that would take it out of queue.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant - at the present I can feel Don's pain in every word. Sadly, I see myself on the same road, only not a far along. My own spouse is devling into her own "quest" for spirituality. Too many of the events ring true.

I think the connection to the Spin Sisters book is stronger than anyone thinks. There are a lot of women in these movements and there is a reason.

Cal said...

Steve,

I am curious. Are most of the stories involving women who went through these life-altering changes? I hope that I'm not considered sexist with this question. I recently read an article where the (male) author indicated that women are more likely to believe in astrology, palm-reading, etc. And I have to admit that I don't have any male friends who talk about that sort of stuff. Now I admit my "survey" is un-scientific. Of course, there are women like Cosmic Connie on this blog who don't subscribe to these things. I think even in your book you talk about women who are looking for love in all the wrong places. Self-help is sort of related to the above mentioned practices. I admit that I bought books by Stephen Covey, Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar in the early 90s. There was a spin-off of Think and Grow Rich, but for African- Americans that a friend gave to me. I tend to think it was related to my job at the time. My bosses would use phrases such as "being proactive". But I didn't sprinkle my conversational language with them, thank you. I guess I just like the old saying "think ahead".

BTW, we have may have a new self-help guru. Paris Hilton has said she will change her life after prison. I can smell a book coming.

Cosmic Connie said...

Cal, I used to really be into New-Age stuff, although I never could completely swallow all of it. But let's just say I came by my cynicism honestly.

I don't think it is sexist to speculate that more women than men are into New-Age/metaphysical pursuits, although I couldn't help but notice that most of the "stars" of The Secret are guys. Overall, though, more women than men *are* into that stuff. I'm always receiving catalogs and brochures from companies that sell New-Age wares, and they seem to be marketing primarily to women. There's a reason for that. This isn't to ignore the very real presence of SNAGs (Sensitive New Age Guys) and random hustledorks who think they can use New-Age techniques to get laid. But women, by and large, are the big consumers of New-Age products.

I believe the gender disparity extends to mainstream religion too, at least in Western cultures; more women than men attend worship services and are otherwise devout. Maybe it's because traditionally women are more willing to ask for help than guys are. :-)

And yeah, I too can smell a book or two coming from Paris Hilton's general direction. Lately she's been photographed carrying a copy of books such as "The Secret" and various other trendy "spiritual" material. So she is preparing for her next role as bad girl turned deep thinker. I just can't wait.

Stephanie said...

I don't even know where to begin with all of this.

First off, more women are into "New Age" most likely because there's a social stigma attached to men opening up their emotional and intuitive side.

Second, the New Age attracts some nutty people. Those people were nutty prior to being in the New Age. They are the same nutty people who get even nuttier when they become fundamentalist Christians.

Does this mean that all Christianity or all New Age is bad? No, it does not.

Furthermore, this entire story is told in a most condescending manner through the perspective of the husband. It is in that respect completely one-sided and not particularly useful as a good example of the danger of self-help.

What's the horrible thing that happened here? We had a woman who was obviously unhappy and miserable in her marriage. She decided to turn away from her husband and try being with a woman instead. Now, either that was an experiment, or she reverted to being in the closet.

Finally, she remarries. Let's hope she's happier now.

Either way, this has nothing to do with MARIANNE WILLIAMSON.

Now, I am not a fan of The Secret, I know a lot of self-help is overly hyped BS, and I understand why people are critical of it.

However, I am quite sincere in the work that I do. I don't try to bilk people, I sincerely believe in what I'm doing, and I am certainly NOT getting rich off of it.

If you want to provide some good journalism here, then practice it by doing better research and showing more sides to a story. It would be very easy for you to cull the net for horror stories. You could just as easily cull the net for "self-help saved my life" stories. But by putting either filter on things, you are still only showing ONE side, and a skewed side at that.

There is good and bad in self-help. That's the reality.

Steve Salerno said...

Stephanie--with all due respect--and I hope you won't think me condescending yet again--you need to catch yourself up on this blog, and my book, before you simply waltz in here and act as if this post, with this horror story, is the first thing I've ever researched and/or written about self-help.

These horror stories are being posted as anecdotal examples of a "truth," if you will, that I've ALREADY researched and presented in a full-length book that was praised in glowing terms by such knowledgeable and authoritative media as the Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist and many others. My point being, I am not (1) suggesting that these stories, in their own right, "prove" my case about self-help; rather, (2) having already made my case against self-help (in the book, as well as in some 350-odd previous posts on SHAMblog), I am presenting these stories as the human-interest component, if you want to call it that, of the philosophical and practical flaws I've already uncovered through a substantial journalistic effort. There is a big difference between 1 and 2.

Also--and I think I've said this several dozen times by now, but I'll say it again here--self-help is rampant throughout the culture. It is endorsed all but unquestioningly by major media, and receives ambient (if not direct) reinforcement daily from the likes of Oprah, Dr. Phil, most of the morning shows, etc. This blog, therefore, is a CONTRARIAN work. It is not my mission to assess self-help in an even-handed manner here, to "show the positive along with the negative." I'M NOT THE ONE MAKING THE OUTRAGEOUS CLAIMS FOR SELF-HELP'S WONDROUS TRANSFORMATIONAL QUALITIES. My mission, on the contrary, is to show that self-help has been embraced to the bosom of America based on very little evidence, and that there are cases where it does more harm than good.

If you come to me with a new magic pill and tell me that your pill is "almost 100% effective at helping everyday people achieve amazing things!," then all I need to do is find a handful of people for whom your pill DIDN'T work, and I've done my job as a contrarian. YOU, on the other hand--as the person making the claims--need to find an entire universe of people for whom your pill worked, in order to do YOUR job. That's how the scientific method works: The burden of proof is on the individual making the claim. And the gurus of self-help, by and large, have done a woefully poor job of meeting their burden of proof.

I welcome EVERY "new face" that comes to the blog, Stephanie, but I shouldn't have to repeat my very raison d'etre for each new visitor. You also have a responsibility to do your homework about the blog before you start firing away.

Cosmic Connie said...

Stephanie, all I can add to Steve's rebuttal is this: For this series of stories, he specifically solicited stories of "collateral damage" -- i.e., tales of spouses and others who had been damaged by a loved one's involvement in a self-help path. He didn't ask for stories of people who were "saved" by self-help. And he did, apparently, try to get Lesley's side of the story but she declined to be interviewed.

It does not seem to me that he is "blaming" Marianne Williamson for what happened to this couple. And you are probably right that people who are prone to going off the deep end will find a way to do so, whether with traditional religion or New-Age spirituality. But I will say this: the vague airhead language that Lesley used in conversations with Don -- and that she tried to get away with in court, for Pete's sake -- were DEFINITELY a product of Marianne's teachings. If Lesley had been a fundamentalist Christian she probably would have spoken in terms of the devil or demons or something. But instead she used the nebulous language she must have picked up somewhere in her Course In Miracles reading or consultations with her shaman.

Steve Salerno said...

Yes, Connie, and at the risk of piling on, let me add a few procedural notes.

1. I try to talk to both sides in putting together these stories. I have not had as much luck in that area as one would hope.

2. I do attempt independent verification of material facts, where possible. However, when it comes to conversations and even recollections of certain specific events (from a decade ago, no less), I am basically at the mercy of the individual telling me the story; I simply lack the time and resources to mount an exhaustive investigational effort for a project like a blog, which of course is a totally non-commercial enterprise. In the end, there are times when I have no real choice but to take my sources at their word. Because of that,

3. There are legal considerations (invasion of privacy; libel) that make it necessary for me to make some concessions in presenting these stories. Much as I would like to promise and offer "full disclosure," I cannot always do so. I cannot personally assume that level of legal liability for a blog posting, which cannot be "vetted" to the same degree as more traditional journalistic efforts.

Stephanie said...

"You also have a responsibility to do your homework about the blog before you start firing away."

How on earth is that my responsibility? I read three very long posts of yours for this story. I am responding to the story as it stands. Now, either you stand by your piece for what it is or you do not.

No-one should have to read your entire book and its purported glowing reviews, or "research" your blog to be qualified to comment on a story. Who on earth researches a blog?

You wrote a story, and I commented on it. And I did read the entire thing and the previous comments before putting my two cents in.

And you tell me I should research you before saying anything?

As a writer you should know better.

Now. I don't have a problem with you poking into the worse parts of self-help. I criticize it myself and I am in the freakin' business. But I'm saying that this particular anecdotal story of yours did not work for me as an example of the supposed "dangers" of self-help, based on the reasons I posted.

Marianne Williamson does not encourage women to leave their husbands and run out and shack up with the first female wannabe shaman they find. I've read Marianne Williamson and she's surprisingly far more sensible than that. Have you even read Marianne Williamson yourself? As far as self-help people go, she is verrrry tame. The one book of Williamson's I read didn't have one darn thing in it about prana or chakras either. And she is hardly out there making unrealistic promises in the way some of the wealth gurus do. She basically says, forgive yourself and forgive others, and be more accepting of people. That's what I got from her.

(Disclaimer: Not a Williamson fan. Just trying to clarify that she's not promising you a million dollars or an instant cure...nor is she pushing lesbianism on unsuspecting women.)

To me, your story did not logically connect Marianne Williamson with the wife's confusion over her sexuality or the break-up of that man's marriage. If anything, it appears that the wife might have met some folks who believe that lesbian entities possess you...but that is still not Marianne Williamson, and I suspect the husband's interpretation of the wife's explanation is probably skewed anyway.

So all in all the story did not really do a good job of "exposing" Marianne Williams and a Course in Miracles as your title suggested.

I'm all for people critiquing the self-help industry...pardon me for repeating myself here...I critique it myself and I am in the business. I hate the fact that charlatans are running around promising the moon and taking advantage of people. It makes it harder for people like me who are sincere.

So I'm not just knee-jerk reacting here. All I'm saying is, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Steve Salerno said...

Stephanie, I don't know if you follow baseball (which has basically been the one consistent theme in my life--well, one of two, along with jazz--since I was about 9). But the attitude you brandish here--"You wrote a story, and I commented on it"--reminds me of the guy who knows very little about baseball, goes to a game in which Mickey Mantle is playing, sees the Mick strike out three times and says, "Man, that Mantle sucks. How can the Yankees even justify having him on the team?" Sometimes, you need to know something about the context--the stuff that happened "before you were there."

Also, I'm not saying that Marianne Williamson made Lesley Grogan into a part-time lesbian. I am saying that self-help tends to catch confused people at a vulnerable time in their lives, and it fills their heads with a kind of "hope" or world-view that often has little or no validity. (B/c as a rule, it's not blissfully happy people who go looking for "help"--and I say that based on marketing studies we did at Rodale, when I was there.) And yet those people make life-changing decisions, or fall into certain "brainwashing-type" patterns, based on those bogus systems. That's all.

Bottom line, if Lesley and Don had some hidden problems, I think they probably would've been better off if they both went to a marriage counselor, together, rather than Lesley alone falling into the self-help trap. Can I prove that? No. I'm just putting the stories out there, after almost two years of talking about these things in generalities on the blog. Take it for what you will. Or reject it. You are who you are.

RevRon's Rants said...

I find it interesting - and significant - that so many aficionados of the self-help movement tend to react with righteous anger to criticisms of self-help, especially when they have completely ignored the context in which the critique is offered. Perhaps a regimen of bran muffins, along with a course in Transactional Analysis is indicated. :-)

As you know, Steve, I suspect that there were factors in the breakup that were not disclosed, and that the Course was merely the catalyst of choice. Does that make the Course inherently evil? Of course not (no pun intended). However, it does point out how charging blindly into any "program" can have deleterious effects on a relationship, especially on that is shaky already.

As I'd noted previously, the Course in Miracles, once stripped of its mysticism, ritual, and dogma, can be summarized in 4 words: Love leaves nothing undone. Perhaps if this sad couple had each spent more energy on strengthening that love, there would have been no sad story. Then again, perhaps the love was gone already, and the wife just needed to find a way out that she could live with. Only the two of them know.

Rodger said...

Steve,

I crafted an elaborate and somewhat terse response to your editorializing at the end of this post. But I’m not going to use it. I know it’s not your point to drain all the hope from human existence. So it seems best to let the stories stand alone, sans the editorializing, don’t you think? The burden of proof, as you’ve said, is on the SHAM-spinsters.

Hope is good and striving to make one’s self better is good too – that’s important to remember. It’s a basic human need. Otherwise, let’s just throw out the work of Maslow and his disciples. Striving to be better, however, should produce two outcomes: an authentically better person and a general improvement of the immediate people influenced by that person. SHAM fails to meet the burden of proof in both instances.

Steve Salerno said...

To which I might add, it is not my intent to "throw the baby out with the bath water." I just want to throw the b.s. out with the bath water. And there's no end to the b.s.

Cosmic Connie said...

Stephanie, I see what you're saying, but once again, this story is not, at its core, about Marianne Williamson. Lesley's infatuation with Marianne and with A Course In Miracles was just the starting point.

As I noted in my comment to Part 1 of this series, I briefly "met" Marianne years ago (if you could call a five-minute conversation at a book signing "meeting"). And I have read some of her books. I have "A Woman's Worth" and "Enchanted Love" and have read them both. I've heard her speak live a couple of times and on TV a few times. I've read numerous articles and comments and interviews by and about her.

And I think that yes, as A-list self-help gurus go, she's definitely one of the more benign. She's not going around promising people the moon, or encouraging women to leave their husbands or change their sexual orientations on a whim. She seems to be goodhearted and altruistic, and she's definitely not a "hustledork" like virtually all of the "stars" of "The Secret." But that doesn't mean that a lot of what she's peddling isn't b.s. My opinion is that, at best, her "advice" is really not very useful, other than providing doses of transient feel-goodism.

I am sure that you are sincere in your dealings with people, Stephanie, and if what you have to offer is truly helping people, I hope you *do* get rich (if that's what you want). But please don't shoot the messenger who's trying to tell the "other side" of the self-help story.

moi said...

What an interesting dialogue going on here! While I agree that self help can sometimes mess up people when they at a vulnerable place in their lives, I have to admit that Stephanie makes some good points. I think discernment needs to be used when criticizing self help as a movement. Not all programs lead to the same pathetic results. It depends on the integrity, intelligence, and emotional stability of individual self help leaders, imo. I do agree with Stephanie on the point she makes about why women are more open to new age and self help ( "more women are into "New Age" most likely because there's a social stigma attached to men opening up their emotional and intuitive side.) It has always been ok for women to get in touch with their masculinity (since the 60's at least), but not as ok for men to get in touch with their feminity. In fact, it's easier to find men who are more relational in the new age movement than in mainstream culture. Unfortunately, a lot of sham usually comes along with it, which has sent me running back to the mainstream(I don't mean to make crude over-generalizations, but this has been my experience.)

Stephanie said...

"I find it interesting - and significant - that so many aficionados of the self-help movement tend to react with righteous anger to criticisms of self-help, especially when they have completely ignored the context in which the critique is offered."

No self-righteous anger here. As for context...once again, a three-part story should stand on its own.

And I just feel this story was one-sided and taken through the perspective of an angry ex-husband who is more than willing (as others have pointed out) to put the blame on something outside the marriage instead of looking at himself and his own role in it.

I am not some mindless New Ager. I don't blanket approve of everyone in self-help. For one thing, I am a very vocal critic of The Secret. (You can find this easily enough if you poke around my profile.)

I just don't feel this story was any evidence whatsoever of a Course in Miracles being a dangerous thing. I feel like some folks here are just looking for any little "shocking" evidence they can find, rather than finding a reasonable middle ground.

Extremist beliefs on both sides of an equation are rarely helpful or accurate.

Citizen Deux said...

To all the critics, there is some significant information which is often overlooked in the SH field.

Steve makes a good generalization which deserves some thought.

I am saying that self-help tends to catch confused people at a vulnerable time in their lives, and it fills their heads with a kind of "hope" or world-view that often has little or no validity.

It is the irrational applied to an individual's possibly desperate situation which results in abandoned children, destroyed reltaionships and bankrupt finances. In the worst of all cases it manifests (oops - wrong word) as something like the Jonestown disaster or the siege at Waco.

In the best case scenario it results in the person finding some meaningful support during a trying period.

The problem is that there is no basis for believing the latter will occur and every indication that the former is more likely, whenever we give over our own critical thinking to another philosophy.

Espousing people "not to take things personally", for example, is counter to human nature. Encouraging folks to abandon all their "preconceived notions" is the first step to brainwashing and mind control. Finally, advocating elements of the fatanstic as reality - JZ Knight channelling Ramtha or some ex-civil engineer, nut case promoting EFT as a panacea is morally wrong.

PS - I think the female tendency has more to do with the social and psychological makeup of women than any "reluctance to share feelings" from men.

S.H.A.M. Scam Sam said...

"I suspect the husband's interpretation of the wife's explanation is probably skewed anyway."

I was gonna stay out of this until that one came out. Steph, the husband only has what his wife told him to go on, and he wasn't the one that was changing right before her eyes. He wasn't engaging in goofy-talk or looking for spirituality. My point being, the wife's descriptions to the husband are more suspect than the other way around.

I remember, when Dina McGreevy was on Oprah, Dina said Jim was a liar and delusional. Oprah shot back, "Well, he says you're delusional." like the whole of the American public hasn't, with their own eyes and ears, seen and heard Jim stand up and say he had been living a lie and now, with these credentials, thinks he's qualified to be a priest. I thought it was an amazing example of Oprah's relativism at work.

As someone who's "in the business" (and we all know it's a business) I understand that you're defensive, but the truth is the truth: There's a down-side to thinking this way - and mostly for the rest of us. The new age maxim to "follow your own truth" just doesn't leave much room for anyone else. And, as Connie said, this woman's switch to new age lingo is revealing.

To moi, and Stephanie, about the feminist take on men and their emotional sides: it's been found that this insistence to make boys and men more like women is actually harmful to boys and men, making them much more hostile to the effort. I'm no expert, but I don't think we don't want to be more emotionally open. We like who we are (unlike many women - ever noticed Hillary's, or Katie Couric's, frown lines?) Maybe women should focus more on accepting the nature of men - as well as their own, considering men practically worship them - than trying to change us because, in my experience at least, that ain't gonna happen. Has anyone else read Nora Vincent's undercover expose' on guys, "Self-Made Man"? It should be required reading for anyone - especially women - interested in the nature and thoughts of men. After living as a guy for a while, Ms. Vincent (a lesbian) came away, not only impressed by the sensitivity, and straight-forwardness, of guys (compared to women) but feeling better about herself as woman - privileged even. That's a message you don't hear much, today, in this age of unbridled, angry, feminism.

And one last thing, regarding Stephanie's sincerity:

In his mini-tome on ethics, On Bullshit, professor Harry G. Frankfurt ends with this:

"It is preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for a person to know. Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial-notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit."

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that these shamans are really playing with people's minds. It is really buyer beware out there. The New Age makes a real disgrace of ancient practices. To be a shaman is to be born one and often real ones you have to find because they stay hidden. Even the term shaman is a misnomer, it is a white man's term for medicine practices revered by aborignals. The sad thing is that by the time a person finds such people they are acready vulnerable and a little off center so the potential for psychological damage is great. People are tempered mentally and spiritually. How tragic!

moi said...

Steve, after thinking about what you've written and reading a book review of sham, I have come to the conclusion that you are doing a good thing by criticizing the self help movement. After having been involved with someone who was constantly trying to get me to take the 'fast track' to self improvement, it really is a relief to get confirmation for what I already thought about most of these programs, i.e. chrasmatic opportinists taking advantage of people's weaknesses and desire to have better lives. I agree with one of your reviewers, though, that you might focus more on how we got here and what the alternative might be.

moi said...

......On the other hand, I don't think people like Stephanie, who seem to be sincere in their desire to help, should be criticized for what they are doing. It is mainly the opportunists like the millionaire mindset gurus, and Secret 'teachers' who make false promises and charge thousands for their workshops who I am referring to.

Steve Salerno said...

Moi, I never denied that there were well-intentioned people out there. In fact, I've said countless times on radio that I think even some of the biggest SHAMsters around may have been sincere when they started. But power and money corrupt people. And also, regardless of how well-intentioned someone may be...you know what they say about the road to hell, and what it's paved with. The regimens themselves are just so flawed at the core.... I mean, if I'm the most sincere doctor in the world--but I don't know what I'm doing--is that really of any help to you, when you get sick? And at least doctors are LICENSED. Most of these folks aren't.

moi said...

Yes, I know that saying, 'the road to hell...', and I agree that despite people's best intentions, their regimens may be flawed at the core. I went to Stephanie's blog, though, and didn't find anything deceptive there, or potentially harmful. I really liked her piece about the Secret.
However, with life coaching, I think it depends on the individual. I wouldn't want to go to one unless I knew how they conduct themselves in their personal lives.

Steve Salerno said...

I'll give you the last word here, Moi (and, by extension, Stephanie); I cannot deny that there may be gold among the ruins, or flowers among the weeds, or however you want to put it. Just keep caveat emptor in mind, and you should be OK....