Monday, November 15, 2010

Real people don't need self-help books.

When I see books like this one, just out last month, I am so tempted to follow through on my oft-made threat to write a parody: maybe something like Escaping Yourself: Your Journey Away From the Irredeemable Schmuck That You Are. Although in a sense, that's already the implied topic of just about every other self-help book. The funny part is, if I went ahead and did it, that would probably be a best-seller! (a la 1982's Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, which, for those who don't know, had its genesis in a column its author, Bruce Feirstein, did for Playboy).

Jesus H. Christ, is there no end to the people who "want in" here...?


Tyro said...

I've gone to see counselors a few times in my life and friends & family have had professional psychiatric help for different periods. Through this, I have found a few things which can lead to genuine self-help and which "real people" can benefit.

Problem is that genuinely helpful books are few & far between and they're always unsexy and unpopular because they require patience and hard work and promise only moderate returns. Perhaps by merely acknowledging reality these books should be removed from the self-help section and categorized elsewhere.

Steve Salerno said...

Tyro: Exactly. You echo the sentiments I expressed in one of my most recent comments on another post. Real help ("self" or otherwise) is never a question of simply pushing this or that button. It's a complex, often time-consuming process that deals in numerous gray areas of human personality and behavior. But you can't sell a mass-market book that sounds like it dwells in gray areas and iffy answers; the book has to drip certitude and simplicity in order to sell. Hence, the fundamental paradox of the self-help realm.

Chet said...

Recently, I asked a clerk in a bookstore where the self-help section was. She said that if she told me it would defeat the purpose!

Steve Salerno said...

Chet: ta-da-dum!

Of course, that harks back to the old Carlin line about how "if you're reading it in a book, folks, it ain't self-help. It's help."

Man, I miss that guy. He got a little weird--perhaps a bit too angry--in his later years. But he was still a one-of-a-kind voice in American culture.

renee said... There is no end to the people who want "in."

But if you can stop just one person from buying the next crock of s--t, doesn't that make getting out of bed each day worth it??

Deep breaths, Steve....

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - Anyone who looked as closely, as keenly, and as objectively at how we humans behave as did Carlin has not only a right, but a DUTY to get angry. The only alternatives, as I see it, are to shake one's head in disbelief, to laugh at or collective stupidity, or to cry. IMO, the anger is probably the most likely to actually bring about change, and change is desperately needed.

RevRon's Rants said...

I should have noted, as an afterthought, that there are lots of people who are angry, but who are unlikely to have any positive effect on how society functions. Such folks are effectively excluded from the group by way of my original description of Carlin, "who looked as closely, as keenly, and as objectively at how we humans behave."

Mere anger doesn't cut the mustard where human improvement is concerned (but it does seem to be a free ticket to some powerful meds!).

Dimension Skipper said...

Was not crazy about how this relatively short piece started out, but kind of like how it ended up, sort of veering away from what I expected...

Happiness: What a Concept!
By Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D.
(At PsychCentral's Managing Depression Skillfully)

But, happiness is being indirectly defined as something obtainable. What are the effects of striving for happiness when people are told they “should” be happy because they’ll live longer and live better? Who wouldn’t want that? So, people who never really gave it much thought, who never really contemplated whether they were (or needed to be) happy or not, will likely be cajoled or even pushed onto a new treadmill, one where striving for happiness becomes the goal. And the therapists who can convincingly promise people the greatest levels of happiness in the shortest amount of time will likely have the most lucrative practices. People want to feel good and will follow anyone or anything they believe can eventually help them achieve it.

Separate thought, but I was checking out these illusions presented by io9 and while the "amazing color changing card trick" didn't really fool or even amaze me, the write-up about "priming" made me wonder if maybe that concept isn't also a key component (whether consciously or not) of a lot of these self-help gurus and seminars.

I believe someone else recently commented somewhere in SHAMblog about illusions in some relevant way, so I'm not claiming the thought as my own, but the io9 piece sort of hammeed it closer to home for me.

Anonymous said...

There is a clear correlation between the kind of society America has created -- based on unfettered capitalism and growing social inequalities -- and levels of, if not despair, then growing malaise. Americans are the among most unhappy people in advanced nations.

And yet, in a triumph of social engineering that will (or should) be studied by humanity for centuries (if we survive that long), instead of looking outside of themselves to finally notice systemic problems of their society and trying to correct them, Americans are steered, en masse, both inward and toward their wallets. They are convinced that if they buy this new product (idea, program, etc.) and do exactly what it tells them to do, they will achieve happiness, wealth and ever-lasting peace.

There is a reason this mass delusion known as self-help has flourished so stunningly in the US (and to some degree, in GB, but not anywhere else).

In other parts of the world, people are not (yet?) hoodwinked into

1. buying tons of crap they don't need,

and at the same time,

2. looking for the center of the universe within themselves, while the real world is being purposely destroyed all around them.

I would say that without that mass self-help delusion, the US as we know it -- the last refuge of unbridled greed and selfishness -- would cease to exist. And we can't have that -- just ask Wall Street & Co.

Anonymous said...

Chet: brilliant!

RevRon's Rants said...

Damn, Elizabeth... You're pretty AND smart (the latter of which means, of course, that I agree with what you have written). :-)

However, I don't think that the US will cease to exist if we rid ourselves of the self-help delusion. We've proven ourselves quite capable of creating new delusions at will, and would find a suitable replacement in no time.

Anonymous said...

Well, Ron, if you put it this way, I just have to agree with you. ;)

Tom said...

Why are there so many self help books and courses out there? Because there is money in it, simple! Most don't really care about you and your troubles, they see you as a dollar sign.