Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Something you never expected to read on this blog.

Let me state herewith that I agree with the gods of self-help: Almost anything is possible.


...is it probable? Is it cost-effective? Is it even in your best interests? Ayy, there's the rub(s).

All of latter-day Empowerment is built on the strategy of blurring (if not dismissing outright) the distinction between possibility and probability. When confronted, the gurus can always fall back on the defense that they're not really lying to you, per se. And they're not. They're simply twisting the message from "you can do X"—which is technically true*—to "you will do X, if you just believe in yourself" (or if you "want it bad enough," as head Sportsthinker Tommy Lasorda likes to put it). The gurus imply a push-button relationship between effort and outcome that is fun to contemplate, but plainly does not exist.

Let's talk for a moment about coin flips. Even assuming an honest coin, it is possible that I will throw 10 heads in a row. So someone who says, "Steve, you can throw 10 heads in a row!" is not wrong. Strictly speaking. Factoring in probability, however, the odds* of throwing 10 consecutive heads are just 1 in 1024. Would you bet your life on such inauspicious odds? Would you even change your life based on such long odds against a favorable outcome?

SHAMblog's critics would say that in bringing up coin flips, I'm playing dirty pool. Flipping a coin is an inert, random activity. They'll tell you that it's not the same as talking about a career or a life plan, which, they'd insist, is totally under the individual's control. Certainly our friend Rhonda Byrne would say that.

Well then, let's look at sports, shall we? This is a relevant and socially important topic, because so many inner-city kids see sports as their ticket out; they want to "be like Mike." In motivational parlance, they want to "follow their dreams." Well-meaning coaches reinforce that mindset by telling kids from their earliest days in youth sports, "You can go as far as your attitude takes you!" If they really, really want it, how can they fail?

Easy. Take football, another annual installment of which is now thundering to life on college campuses nationwide. There are 119 Division I-A football programs, each of which has a roster size exceeding 100 players. There are only 32 NFL teams, who are permitted to dress just 45 players on game-day. That's 1440 slots for almost 12,000 would-be pro players (plus thousands more candidates from smaller programs). Keep in mind, too, that NFL rosters do not turn over from year to year—most pro players come back from one season to the next—while top college programs continue to churn out perhaps 3000 graduating seniors year after year after year.

(And football is a sport where the opportunity index is relatively high. Consider, in contrast, Major League Baseball [MLB]. With its grand total of 750 roster spotsonly a fraction of which become available to newcomers in any given year—MLB will disappoint virtually all among America's annual crop of 2.6 million bright-eyed Little Leaguers who announce as their lifetime goal, "I wanna be a Major League baseball player!" Indeed, MLB will disappoint the vast majority of players who make it as far as college-level ball or even the minor leagues. As of summer 2007, according to data released by MLB and quoted in the Asheville, NC Citizen-Times, "Of the 1,482 players selected in the 2002 first-year player draft, 93.5 percent have yet to appear in a single major league game." And bear in mind: Only the cream of the crop get drafted to begin with. Which means, again, that for the average 6-year-old taking his stance in front of his very first batting tee, the chances of fighting his way through the system and into a Major League uniform are, for all intents and purposes, nil. Zero. No matter how much he dreams about it or believes in himself. This is important because of what kids and young adults are not doing while they're focusing all that time and energy on their ultra-low-percentage "sports careers." They're out practicing their spin moves when they should be studying trig.)

Let me emphasize, I'm not portraying the starry-eyed (non)student-athletes as totally innocent victims of a corrupt system; they bear the final responsibility for hitting the books. But the kids have their heads in the clouds. The colleges know better. The overall graduation rates in college sports programs have long been a national embarrassment, and what's more, there's little doubt that many coaches and administrators are eager co-conspirators in this chew-em-up-and-spit-em-out system, despite the concerned face they put on for public viewing. Rare is the coach who talks candidly to his players about "realistic" priorities, because realism isn't inspirational; it tends not to motivate players to give the 110 percent the schools need from jocks in order to fill all those seats and guarantee ongoing generosity from the giddy, drunken alumni who fill them. You have to keep stoking the dream, stocking the stream. Then, once the athlete is expended and no longer useful to the college, he's turned out into a world where he has few other options—too often, ironically, without the degree that his "free ride" was supposed to give him. He has to start all over from square one at an age when most other kids are already in the game. The real game. The game of life.

And what message does Jock Nation get from the itinerant motivational speakers and "success" gurus that the typical major college brings in nowadays? Oh, they'll rhapsodize about a guy like Muggsy Bogues, who became an NBA superstar despite being just 5-foot-3. The implication is that a PMA can trump any handicap, including the considerable handicap of being a midget in a land of giants. What they don't say is that a Muggsy Bogues is the exception who proves the rule; that if the odds of making the NBA are a million to one for the average guy who's 6-4, they're a billion to one (if that) for the average guy who measures in at 5-3. Such talk would be off-message and "disempowering," and the last thing you want to do is take away someone's dreams. Instead, the SHAMsters pick out the one human on Planet Earth who beat the odds—and they make it sound as if just anybody can replicate his success.

Oh, sure, many of the gurus of positive thinking pay lip service to the goal of "getting a good education." But an education isn't what the athletes are dreaming about. So we've got a bit of a contradiction here, or at least a certain philosophical confusion that the gurus should resolve for us: Am I supposed to "follow my dream" (i.e. pro sports)? Or am I supposed to leave my options open by simultaneously pursuing a Plan B (i.e. concentrating, also, on education and/or trade prep)? Remember, now: According to the dictates of The Secret and similar go-for-broke theologies, merely having a Plan B is a form of "negative thinking." It shows that the individual is not single-mindedly invested in his/her dream. It shows that he's planning for the possibility of failure. We can't have that, can we?

Leaving athletics now, let's turn to the classic motivational nostrum, delivered each year in student-assemblies from coast to coast: "In this great land of ours, you can even be President of the United States if you want to!" Is that so. For starters, becoming president isn't quite like getting a job with the Post Office. In the lifespan of the average American, which today is around 75 years, there will be just 19 such job vacancies: 19 presidencies to run for. Plus, as a practical matter, incumbency can carry a lot of weight; this makes some presidents shoo-ins for a second term, further reducing the opportunity index. (There have been just 19 U.S. presidents, total, since 1900**.) Moreover, you have to throw out your first 35 years, because you can't become president until you reach that chronological milestone. That means you'll have just the last 40 years of life to become president, encompassing 10 opportunities (or as few as half that number if there are popular incumbents). Against 300 million competitors.*** Good luck!

And, of course, other factors beyond the daunting statistical hurdles further restrict what presidential opportunity theoretically exists: significant requirements in terms of wealth, brainpower (though the current occupant of the White House does give hope to less cerebral types), personal history (skeletons in the closet), etc.

There are two ways of looking at this—both of them, I think, bad. I can see where teachers, school administrators and other partisans of "self-esteem-based" learning would think that by spreading their gospel of Can-Doism, they're caretaking their students' psyches and laying the groundwork for successful lives. That's a noble sentiment, perhaps, but a misguided one. You do kids no favors by encouraging them to lead themselves down paths that are fraught with an inordinately high risk of failure, even disaster. Far worse, to me, though, is when the for-profit crowd gets into the act, packaging the same message for adults, pandering to one cheering audience after another, encouraging self-help consumers to take absurd risks at midlife. These gurus are not stupid; they're well aware of what I'm discussing in this post: that the "impossible dream" is, in fact, impossible, or functionally so, for almost everyone. And when a "truth" applies to so few people that it's effectively a lie...and when the people spreading that truth do so with full knowledge of the "catch".... Well, I refer you to the subtitle of this blog, which mentions "scams, shams and shames." All of those fit here.

Incidentally, a Google search on the phrase "make your dreams come true" yielded some 649,000 hits—even with the quote marks around it. Associated with the phrase were any number of successful people selling inspiration to others. There were also various uplifting products and services, including several coaching programs, offers of creative financing and—when garden-variety uplifting just isn't enough—those ever-popular breast implants.

* Except in cases where they ignore accepted rules of physics and science, which they're also wont to do, from time to time.
** This is an interesting discussion of probability as it relates to the patterns we see (or don't see) in the "random" events that occur in our lives daily.

*** William McKinley's ill-fated presidency began in 1897.
**** This is in round numbers, using as a benchmark the total current U.S. population, which is handy for the purposes of a blog entry but is obviously flawed in a factual sense. The true computation of the odds would be a complex affair, taking the birth rate for each given year since 1900 and offsetting that against the number of deaths (the mortality rate) on a constantly forward-moving basis, while also considering age requirements, etc. I invite anyone with lots of time on his hands to undertake the computation. A good place to start would be here.


Mary Anne said...

Hey Steve,

I totally agree with your post. I am getting upset with the way "inspirational" speakers are using Eistein's theories of relativety. It goes something like this, "the universe is all about attraction and you are attracting what you want." That is NOT what Einstein said about the Universe. Attraction is based on the size what is attracting what. We are all not equally attractable. I am not attracting as much as the sun in this solar system. Also, they are misrepresenting complex physics about time and Einstein's theory of special relativety and how time works. I just heard someone talk about how "time is a figment of your imagination." I nearly fell out of my chair! Does the bastarding of science piss you off as much as it does me?

Steve Salerno said...

But you know, Mary Anne, it's even worse than that (and yes, it does piss me off mightily). Because the very same gurus who bastardize and pervert science to their own ends will suddenly--when called upon to offer scientific evidence of their own wacko theories--claim that science doesn't apply! That there's something "bigger" and "more inscrutable" going on here.

And yet America buys and buys and buys...

Cosmic Connie said...

Steve, this is one of your best posts yet. It really sums up what is ultimately destructive about SHAM culture. And Mary Anne, I too get pissed off at the way the New-Age / New-Wage crowd has co-opted science. Oh, do they love quantum physics, which they "discovered" some 20 years ago and have been waving around ever since. Sometimes they do it just to sound intelligent. More often than not, though, they use it to "prove" something they want to profit from -- everything from the Law Of Attraction (as taught in "The Secret") to the efficacy of "tapping," a la EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques).

"The Secret" and its spawn are some of the most stunning recent examples of how the gurus have "bastardized and perverted" science, as Steve put it. Einstein was one of the unwitting "stars" of "The Secret," one of those who purportedly KNEW about the Law Of Attraction but chose not to share it with everyday people. (Jesus and Plato and Ben Franklin and numerous others over the centuries also knew The Secret but kept it from the unwashed masses as well. Thank Goddess for Rhonda Byrne and her stable of New-Wage hustledorks, who liberated the ancient Secret from the dustbins of history.)

As Steve also pointed out, however, science is as much an enemy as it is an ally to the New-Wage crowd. When pushed into a corner and asked for proof of their theories, they decry the "reductionist Western mindset," railing about how limited science is, and accusing those who insist on scientific evidence of being closed-minded naysayers.

The truth is that most of those gurus don't understand science any better than I do. But they do have a handle on the fine art of persuasion. And that's why America "buys and buys and buys."

I GOTTA find me a scam.

Anonymous said...

All valid points...but what if there is a "bigger" picture?

Mankind thought the earth was flat and we had no proof that is wasn't until the 50's and 60's.

I'm not defending self-help, but the time comes to begin investgating where hope originates. Where is the inspiration that pricks us on. I don't want to fall into a Falstaff diatribe, but the question is, indeed, a fascinating one?

If self-help preaches a false hope, unattainable, an over-hyped hope on steriods, then were does meaningful, productive and life- spurning hope come from?

Steve Salerno said...

Now, now, Connie. I know that frustration abounds--I feel it too. But 'twould be a dark day, indeed, if our CosCon went over to the dark side.

Anon, hey, I agree with you about the "what if?" and mankind's seemingly insatiable (possibly encoded) need to hope. But that's my point in a nutshell, and, really, the reason I went into the SHAM project (meaning my book) in the first place. I asked people, BEGGED people, to "show me the evidence." And all they could do, in most cases, was show me the money. That said, I agree with you that we should never be smug in our sense of how valid our current notion of reality is, and we should always keep our eyes and minds open. In the meantime, I think we need to go on the basis of things for which proof exists.

Anonymous said...

Steve: I write from inside what you call the "SHAM" movement, though like many of my peers as well as other right-thinking readers, I was always dismayed by your purposeful choice of an acroynm that gives the movement a black eye right from the start. Or maybe your publisher chose it because it's snappy and marketable. Either way I ask myself how you're any less guilty of taking marketing elements into account than people like myself.

I've been reading your blog on and off for a while, when I'm in need of a good laugh, and though I almost always find something in your arguments that breaks down once you really think about it, this is the first time you might say I've been "motivated" to write. I just couldn't let this latest column of yours pass without comment, because it is so full of distortions and flawed thinking. And once again I believe it's intentional on your part. Frankly I think this is a case of you pandering to your audience, as you accuse us of.

First of all, have you ever considered that it's the truly motivated people who rise to the top? If you take any superior athlete (and I have worked with many) who make it to the top echelons of their chosen sport, 10 out of 10 will credit the mental side of their game over the physical. In an environment where everyone has lots of talent, that is what separates the men from the boys, and the women from the girls. That is what enables that 6.5 percent to reach the major leagues, to look at your one illustration about baseball from the other (i.e. postiive) side of the coin. Everybody says they have a positive attitude but in the end it's the achievement that tells us who really "wanted it more". You enjoy poking fun at people like Tommy Lasorda, who I know and respect, and portraying them as simpletons, but in the end he's right and you're wrong, and he has the results to prove it. What do you have except clearly a lot of anger, cynicism, and I think envy?

Even in Muggsy Bogues case, has it even occurred to you that Muggsy Bogues might have been the one guy at 5-3 who actually believed in himself enough to ignore the odds and "go for it?" Have you cosnidered that maybe he demanded so much from himself, and was so personally inspired by the idea of taking on the "giants" that he got more out of his "midget" body than probably any other 5-3 player could have?

Also your illustration about the presidency is ridiculous. Do 300 million Americans want to be president and make a serious run at it? The people who are committed to embracing public service at the highest levels are the ones who make it through the rat-race of politics and to the top of the political spectrum. It takes a lot of guts and resiliency to be a top political operative and here again, the ones who make it will talk (or write in their books) about determination and the will to win. And yes, their "can do" spirit.

The success of self-help and its teachings is based in part on the idea that if you follow these principles you will have an advantage over other people who do not believe in themselves and who do not walk the walk. Nobody is claiming that all 300 million Americans can be president, but that's exactly the point. If you are one of the small handful who really want it, you can have it. You can give yourself the advantage over your competitors by simply refusing to give up or be intimidated by the "odds" you keep quoting. If everybody was intimidated by the odds, who would ever do something that's never been done before?

Maybe you should try it, Steve. It sounds to me like you could use a little dose of positive thinking yourself.

Steve Salerno said...

This is an interesting comment that makes a number of provocative points that I think I'll just leave "out there" for now, while we see what others may have to say.

By the way, anon, you can identify yourself by name here. (I truly wish you had.) We won't hurt you, and we won't even force you to turn in your SHAM membership card....

Anonymous said...

Anonymous Steve would tell you he and I don't always agree but, I think you're the one with the backwards logic. I forget what it's called, something in latin. You can't take someone who's a success, ask him how he got that way then say that's proof whatever he answered works. If you ask some hotshot ballplayer about his attitude he's probably going to say "I always have a positive mental attitude" blah blah. But how many other ballplayers who never make the grade would give the same exact answer! For every successful major leager with a great attitude there are probably 1000 guys in the minors who also have great attitudes except you never hear about them. So how do you ever know what any of it means?

Cal said...

I agree with Cosmic Connie that this is one of your best posts. I guess it's because I agree with it...LOL

Your comments about college athletes are a variation of what Stanford football Coach Jim Harbaugh said last week about the University of Michigan, his alma mater. He stated that they lower the academic standards to get a lot of the black players in. The wealthy boosters (who are alumni who donate money to the athletic program, for those not familiar with college sports) of the program regale the players while they are there and then when the guys' eligibility is up, many of them don't graduate and the boosters don't/won't hire them for jobs. The current Michigan football coach said it was "elitist" what Harbaugh said, but to me Harbaugh hit the nail on the head.

The chances of making it in Major League baseball are also reduced for U.S.-born kids because foreign players (primarily Latin) are also competing to make it into the majors.

I also agree with your statement of the chance of being President of the United States. Take Barack Obama, for example. There is this speculation he is the first credible "black" candidate. Let me see, he won his Senate seat in basically a forfeit. He went to Harvard Law. He is married to a lawyer and has two kids. I'm glad that he is taken seriously. But to me, there could only be someone like him (who is nearly "perfect") to be even considered seriously. If he was a "black" Bill Clinton, i.e., all the womanizing allegations and other "slick" characteristics, the Democrats (or Republicans) wouldn't have supported him for Senate.

We see most of what you talk about in the number of people who wait to audition for the American Idol and the Apprentice reality shows.

Mary Anne said...

Don't know sports so I won't open my trap about that, but the hallmark of science is "prove me wrong." Scientists are very open to new theories that is the bedrock of science. I just have a problem when I am in a room with a person who obviously does NOT know what he or she is talking about gives inaccurate information. It is like the telephone game with important subjects. There is a reason numbers are important, numbers don't lie. That's why studies are done to see what is working. That's why studies are done on drugs before they are given to the public. I read "O" and I am an overall happy person, but I do resent the fact that my critical thinking skills are labeled "negative." I have no problem defending my ideas and I welcome debate about them. This does NOT seem to be the norm in what I have seen in this industry. Those are my pet peeves.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, that's a very astute comment about Obama that reminds me of Joe (Shoe-in-Mouth) Biden's deathless words about him. It was something on the order of, "Obama's a nice guy, good-looking, CLEAN..." In the same vein, many people today don't realize that Jackie Robinson was in no way the best player to emerge from the Negro leagues; he was, however, considered the most "tractable," i.e. someone unlikely to make as many waves as such superior black stars as Josh Gibson and others.

Steve Salerno said...

Mary Anne, I would amplify on your remarks only to say that in science, the burden of proof is always on the person making the claim. (I've said this several times on this blog.) If you think you've got a better mousetrap, you'd better be able to show people how and why. In other words, it is not my job, as Mr. Skeptic, to prove that you DON'T have a better mousetrap. It is your job to prove that you DO. And if you can't, you fail on a prima facie/ipso facto basis. I don't have to lift a finger to refute you.

Cal said...

Also, Rosa Parks and, some say, Dr. Martin Luther King were "chosen" because they were the ideal people for what the specific goals were.

This is no way takes away what they did, but there always seem to be nuances to history. Just like the story of George Washington and the cherry tree.

Anonymous said...

pThere are so many things anonymous is leaving out, like the new age concept of "dualities":

O.K., you're highly motivated in "life", but because of dualities you don't believe in the concept of good and evil, right and wrong. What are you then? Ruthlessly evil, I'd say. More-than-willing to trample over others, callously destroying their lives for your personal life goal.

This is why so many marriages fall apart today (70% initiated by women). Because someone was motivated by new age to do better - and the innocent non-new age partner got blind-sided. There's no warning. Why should there be? There's nothing wrong with ambushing the people who love you in the new age world of dualities. They don't 'get' it, right? They didn't go along with the cult dictates, so they practically deserve to be trampled. Why, seen that way, becoming dog-eat-dog is practically cosmic. Who cares if the victim is unprepared - because they trust you and are so in love with you - that it's not even a fair fight?

I thought about this yesterday while reading a NYT article on divorce and real estate. How coming into money will start one partner to plotting against the other. It's sick, but that's not how it was presented - it was presented as merely an option.

We're losing our way, people.


Steve Salerno said...

Sam, here again I wonder/worry about the extremity of some of your positions, or--more to the point--your reaction to other people's positions, which is to basically demonize those who see things another way. I'm not at all convinced by an analysis wherein a "motivated New Ager" is, automatically and by definition, "ruthlessly evil." I mean, I can certainly see the dangers posed by a narcissistic/hedonistic way of looking at life--hell, that's about 70% of what I blog about!--but I guess it's the strident, my-way-or-the-highway personal labeling that I react to. It puts people on the defensive and, for my money, isn't likely to stimulate a well-reasoned give-and-take that appraises IDEAS, not the people who espouse them.

Then again, maybe you've just reached the point in your personal evolution where--as they used to say in the Vietnam era--if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. I guess we all have to walk through life in the shoes that fit best.

IN any case, once again, you raise interesting and provocative points about the New Age and the premium it places on you, you, YOU (often, ironically, in the name of "spiritual growth" and "harmony with the universe"). I also agree with where you end up, which is that we're losing our way--or have largely lost it. It is impossible to expect cohesion in a society that is composed of 300 million Individuals-with-a-capital-I, all of whom think first and foremost of how everything affects them.

Mary Anne said...

Sam, I hear you and I understand your point of view. We have gotten into an age where people are not even living by the golden rule, "do unto others as you would have done to you." I do not think this is just the New Age or self-help area either. What is even sadder is how no one is addressing this lack of personal responsiblity. Is it so hard for one to just put themselves in the other person's place? It sure seems to be. Since you raise the divorce issue, I will use that example. In my experience, divorce is never really a surprise. The signs are there, but the party who wants to keep it going does not acknowledge it. Marriages are work like anything else and if one partner slips, the whole see-saw stops. Marriages take constant pulse taking, but this should be a joy and not a burden. If one wants to leave a mate, there are compassionate and loving ways to do it. In most cases, one party wants to hurt the other for past and present grievances. Most people do not go into marriage with a clear view of what a marriage entails or what they are willing to work for. I have always said, "it should be easy to get divorced and harder to get married." A lot of divorces would not take place if this was the case.

Anonymous said...


I told you, I'm more like your dad than you are: right and wrong are not up for debate, nor do they require "an open mind". I can't write more until tonight (I'm at work) but, if you can, see if you can find a paper copy of The Onion. It's covering a lot of the same topics we're discussing and reminded me there is a real world - and very few live in it but me and their writers. Here's just one headline from the sports section about Barry Bonds:


One more thing:

For someone who has admitted, on several occassions and on several topics (like Bonds) that you don't know where right and wrong is, I think it's intellectually dubious to charge the person who's pretty certain with being extreme.

I mean, just because others abandon their values doesn't mean I've lost anything.

Gotta go,


Cosmic Connie said...

Addressing the Anon who is a "SHAM industry insider": I agree that positive thinking *can* be advantageous in some cases, particularly for people who are striving for "peak performance" (whether in sports, business or other areas). I don't think even Steve is arguing against that.

For everyday people, though -- or even for those would-be peak performers -- where do you draw the line between positive thinking and denial of reality?

And let's be honest: so much of the self-help movement is based on extravagant claims and simplistic ideas, all in the service of telling people what they want to hear so they will be inspired to spend more money. As Steve and others here have noted on numerous occasions, much of self-help is about making people feel there is something lacking in their lives -- something that they have a hope of getting if they just spend enough money on the right books, products, workshops, etc. And so much of it is tied in with New-Age stuff these days too, which just makes some of the extravagant claims even more ridiculous.

But I'm still mulling over the other Anon's question about the "bigger picture"... i.e., where does "meaningful, productive, and life-spurning hope" come from?

Anonymous said...

Also addressing the sham-insider and Connie, I’d like you to think about this. Teaching people, as SHAM soothsayers do, a hyped-hope causes people to be discontent in whatever they do. Keeping with the sports metaphor, I’ve been athletic most of my life. And, whether I was running or cycling, I always “psyched” myself up before each competition. When I was cycling, I imagine myself competing in the Tour de France. Notice I framed my cycling competitions with the word “imagine.” That’s important because our imaginations are make-believe – they’re our fantasy. Sure I “hope” and “dreamed” of riding alongside the greatest cyclists on the planet. I even imitated Greg LaMond’s training and nutrition regiment, published in a leading cycling magazine. My game improved and I was healthier for it, but the closest I came to the Tour was ESPN’s annual coverage an leaning forwarding in my chair to watch it on my 13-inch portable television.

Of the races I competed in, my record was average. Win or lose, however, I always had fun. My equipment was off-the-shelf and never custom-tailored, but I was content with both. While SHAM soothsayers use envy and fear to produce a false need of wanting something more – it’s the grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side syndrome – that creates restlessness and a wont for more. Research has show that many of use are uneasy with that and want our lives stabilized. So we seek quick fixes which aren’t fixes at all – nothing new to regular SHAMblog readers.

When I was competing, did I fear that my life was going to be scared if I never raced in the Tour? Was I afraid that life just wasn’t worth living without racing the pros? That’s ridiculous! Without ever racing alongside Lance Armstrong and others, my life is turning out okay. That’s being content, and its byproducts are happiness, a fulfilling spirit, and – believe it or not – spurns one hope.

Being content, resisting restlessness and ignoring unfounded fear is in fact the key to hope, happiness and wealth. Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was shopping for new computers. Everyone I talked to about the subject had an opinion. One day I was meeting a graphics designer at his home office to discuss a project. He had just purchased a top-of-the-line iMac. Twenty-four inch, wide-screen and loaded. That’s what I wanted! That’s envy. He didn’t play to my envy and neither did I. A few weeks later, I purchased a lesser model that does everything I need it to do. Do I still compete on the same level as others in my market and profession? Sure. And I’ve also set an example – that less it better. Which is the exact opposite of what SHAM preaches.

I don’t know how many literary folk read this blog, but Falstaff’s catechism is telling in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Act 5, Scene 1. He speaks of “honor” like we speak of “hope.” He sets the price of honor to a leg and says it has no skill in surgery. That it doesn’t “take away the grief of a wound.” In the end, he peela back honor for what it really is – “a word … air.” Nothing.

Like honor, the hyped-hope preached by SHAM soothsayers brings no peace, nor help, nor certitude for pain. Peace only rests with the dead. But they cannot feel it. They cannot taste it, they cannot enjoy it. To be content, restful in our life – whatever that may be – is the only way to catch a waft of hope.

As a public relations counselor, I must show my clients results. If you’re a SHAM insider, show us the results of a program you have managed? Of a seminar you have conducted? What’s the frequency of people served by your program have witness demonstrable success? From a research perspective, showing frequency is the lowest common denominator for evidence. Anecdotes are fine, but back them with numbers.

Cash said...

"You do kids no favors by encouraging them to lead themselves down paths that are fraught with an inordinately high risk of failure, even disaster."

This statement is qualified by "inordinately" and "high risk", but it begs deeper thought. If casually read, this sentence will lull you into a low-risk life path. The truth is that hard work's companion is failure. The key is not to fold when failure happens. I like telling my kids that I had 21 interviews out of college before I got a job offer. I just didn't quit. I also like telling them that each year they stay with a sport or discipline, they reach a higher level simply because more and more people quit. Society teaches failure is bad...which causes imagination and risk to go way down. I see it in Youth Hockey. A team gets down 4 goals and the attitude becomes, "I don't want to get spanked anymore" and the whole team goes into defensive mode....and no effort is made on offense. I see it in classroom settings where the kid that took a risk and shouted the wrong answer is humbled by the instructor and withdraws from independent thinking. Should we not teach our children to strive because we don't want them to experience failure?

I agree with your assessment that most motivational/self help authors are repeating a formula for profit. What I'm more concerned with is what society is subconsciously feeding our culture that causes a numb-minded existence.

Steve Salerno said...

Cash, you say, "The truth is that hard work's companion is failure." This is where I think you and I differ. Though it's true that a person can do everything right and still fail, I don't think that hard work leads to failure nearly as much as sheer "positive mental attitude" leads to failure. Hence this post, and my stance on (mindless) self-help as a whole. Hard work, indeed, is one of the core American values that has been tragically devalued and even fallen by the wayside, in some quarters, amid the notion that some sort of automatic success is almost a birthright, merely by "being confident" about it.

Cash said...

Clarification: Hard work's companion is failure...(along the road to achievement)