Sunday, November 25, 2007

A brief clarification about the whole point of this blog.

Every once in a while I'll get an email that goes something like the following, which I actually received just about a year ago, i.e. Thanksgiving 2006. It was somewhat longer than this, which explains my use of ellipses, but the basic flavor remains intact:

"Dear Steve, I was one of your biggest fans when I read your book. I told everybody I knew to buy SHAM. I was also one of the most avid readers of your blog, at first. But lately I find that I can't start each and every day with another dose of your never-ending pessimism. It just takes too much out of me. Especially with the holidays upon us, I need to be able to 'get in touch' with the childlike glee that still lives in me somewhere.... You may think that life is mostly full of disappointments and sorrows, but I just can't face that view of life right now.... I do wish you the best, and I hope you find something to be joyful about this holiday season."

You know, I am always sad and even a bit shocked to hear that that is what people make out of SHAMblog. Sure, it's what I'd expect my critics to say—especially those critics who are happily and lucratively engaged in conning mass numbers of Americans. But this blog is not a celebration of pessimism, folks. Nor is it intended as an unending exploration of "why life sucks." I'm simply functioning as something between a journalist and a social critic in puncturing the mythology of self-help, which—at least these days—is mostly about telling people there are no limits, we're all special, your dreams are attainable no matter how absurd they are, yada yada. Rest assured, if gurus wrote books about why life is a hopeless journey of perpetual heartache, thus we all might as well drink the Kool-Aid right now, I'd spend just as much time attacking that mentality. Of course, parody aside, only suicidal poets write such books, so there's no related "movement" for me to attack. (The truth of life is middle-of-the-road: "maybe things will work out, maybe they won't." Trouble is, MOR doesn't sell.)

America is, for the most part, an optimistic nation. America very much wants to be like the fellow who wrote that email to me last Thanksgiving: It wants to wake up every day with some sense of optimism. Sadly, that is the very mentality that makes people vulnerable to the charlatans of self-help. What this blog is, for the most part, is an examination of the con-trepreneurs who live parasitically off the emotional desperation of their fellow man and woman. SHAMblog is dedicated to exposing the self-styled guru who'll tell you any lie—no matter how out of conformity it is with everything we know to be true about the world and the people who inhabit it—just because he knows that you crave that false reassurance and will pay top dollar to hear it again and again.

This may surprise most readers of this blog, but I myself wake up almost every day eager to see what the new day will bring me. No lie. I am by nature a resilient person, as a rule, so it doesn't (usually) crush me if something fails to pan out. (And just as an FYI, there is probably no more childlike a celebrant of the holidays than yours truly. I'm still keeping an open mind on the existence of Santa Claus.) I'm not sure I'd recommend my approach to daily life as an across-the-board prescription for most people, and I certainly don't recommend that most people wake up each day expecting the moon and the stars, because there's only one moon, and the stars are zillions of miles away. The fragility of human nature being what it is, I'd think most of us are better served by a slightly more reserved/guarded attitude towards life and what it's likely to provide. However—I can't emphasize this enough—although there's no logical reason to "expect" life to hand you success and happiness, there is no logical reason to expect life to burden you with failure and misery, either. On any given day you're as likely to be the beneficiary of something wonderful (and totally unforeseen) as you are likely to be the victim of something horrible (and totally unforeseen). It can go either way at any time. I truly believe that. And which way it goes has almost nothing to do with you, and what you expect or don't expect. At least as I see it.

To sum up, then, there's a subtle but profound difference between (a) pessimism and (b) debunking fraudulent optimism. This blog is about (b).

Now go out and enjoy your holidays. I can promise you (as well as my emailer from last year) that I personally will find many things to be joyful about this holiday season.


Mary Anne said...

That e-mail says more about the writer than it does about you or your blog. The person who wrote that e-mail does not have too firm of a grip on the holiday season/happiness if he(she) cannot read a blog without getting depressed. That e-mail does raise a good point about why people get into gurus, self-help, and what not, they are trying to escape from reality. I am of the belief no dream can be realized without being fully awake. If the holiday season depresses you-why?
Are you lonely? Are you estranged from people/family? Did you have an incident during this time of year? Are you going bankrupt? Did you lose a job? Do you have SADD(seasonal depression due to loss of sunlight)? Maybe if the person could answer those questions, blogs would not depress them so.

Debbie said...

Dear Steve,

Thank you so much for commenting at my blog. I thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment on it. Actually, I was incredibly excited about the fact.

My heart broke when I read your Nov. 11th post and the subsequent comments. I'm keeping your family and Sophia's maternal grandparents in my prayers. I hope you are able to reconnect with Sophia. She needs your family in her life now more than ever. It's amazing what grandparents can teach a child that parents never could. I see that every day with my boys.

I am looking forward to reading more of your blog. I'm sure Santa will bring you great things this Christmas!


Steve Salerno said...

Best to you as well, Debbie. Thank you for your prayers and kind thoughts.

Mary Anne, thanks for the vote of confidence; I still have a hard time believing that people see this blog as being that much of a downer. But this guy is hardly the only person to voice that criticism--and as Barbara Ehrenreich wrote so compellingly in Harper's earlier this year, anyone who takes a stand on reality (as opposed to fantasy) is going to get an earful, nowadays.

Anonymous said...

Never saw you as a downer Steve, but I don't see myself that way either and yet thats what everyone tells me!

Mary Anne said...

Another thought on that e-mail, how does that person handle the news? Does he (she) not read newspapers or watch television? I myself cannot watch the news, but am alright with newspapers and online media for some reason. Carl, you might need to look for new friends if the ones you have call you a downer. My friends come to me for advice, because they know I will look at the situation from every angle and they value that. Now there are people out there who look at life ONLY from the negative aspect, but I know people like that in self-help. I know a guy who makes me depressed being in same room with him and he HAWKS self-help! He wears misery like a cologne, but he will tell you he is a HAPPY man due to the program he created. If a person is in a depressed state, ANYTHING can depress them. That is the state of being depressed. In my view, it is negative NOT to look at any situation from all angles, whether they be good or bad. If I were diagnosed with an illness and needed medication, you bet I would learn as much about that illness as I could and everyone should do that. That is my biggest problem with self-help they CANNOT address questions without labeling the questioner "negative." I for one do not believe being informed is depressing or negative. Actually, the great philosphers agreed with that view of life. Knowledge is power.

Your PR Guy said...

While I haven't thought of SHAMblog as a downer, I do think that posts like this are important to remind people of the larger picture, and focus of the blog.

Come good or bad in anyone's life -- each tragedy and triumph presents an opportunity to grow and learn. That's my two cents. We just need to be aware of that all the time. And when we're not, the "con-trepreneaurs" will win cease on that weakness every time.