I cannot condemn self-help books. (I’m reading some now; at a time of personal crisis, and without health insurance for therapy, I need some insight.)
As an American genre,the books have deep roots in our literature (think Thoreau, Emerson — to some miniscule extent isn’t “Self-Reliance” a precursor to self-help?). And my recent readings in the genre have guided me back to my interest in Buddhism and to explore Buddhist practice. (Meditation, I believe, has been beneficial, especially to calm a clouded mind.) I plan to continue to explore Buddhism further.
The self-help genre has taken hold in the UK, and The Guardian has an analysis of its renewed popularity. It’s clear the need for self-help is a sign of the times. The article points out that classics of the genre such as Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich emerged during the Depression, just as their current counterparts have emerged as unemployment rates have surged. My own interest in the genre re-surged after I became unemployed. And as I think back, the times when I’ve embraced self-help have been times of personal crisis (unemployment again, family breakups, deaths). We need hope. Even quick-fix hope.
At the same time, I’m skeptical. Those who write about the “power of attraction,” for instance, offer hope as long as we change our patterns of thought and imagine what we want. We imagine; we get. And I’ve tried. I’ve yet to receive. But the proponents such as guru Wayne Dyer have experienced great increase. Is it all just snake oil?
I am like Mulder on the X-Files: I want to believe. But the skeptic in me has his doubts.
I also don’t want to feel so good that I forget to be critical. Which, as the article points out, is the problem. The story notes journalist Barbara Ehrenreich’s criticism of the genre as a dangerous force shaping American thinking, or non thinking, rather. Optimism without critical thinking. Lack of critical thinking turning us into corporate robots.
In the meantime, I’m going to see what I manifest. Perhaps it will finally be prosperity. Or at the very least a new, good quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys?