Saturday, February 23, 2008

Does Self-Help Hurt?

For Steve Salerno, the answer is yes. Salerno is the author of Sham: How Self-Help Made America Helpless, and he spent years researching the life coaches, self-improvement gurus, and spirituality purveyors who are so powerful in America today.

Steve was February's featured speaker for the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, and his message was clear: There's nothing wrong with wanting to improve your life. What is wrong is that (1) to sell you a "cure" for what ails you, publishers and self-help pushers make you feel bad and use market information to make you feel even worse and (2) so-called life coaches brainwash readers into believing that hope = reality, that if we simply believe it will be, it will be. By believing--and teaching our children--that any effort is enough for success, we--and they--develop a sense of entitlement that Gen Y has been so criticized for. It is that kind of thinking that forces teachers to let students slide, that makes employees believe that effort, not results, will make them successful, and that makes crooks and killers think they'll never get caught.

After explaining why his book didn't sell as well in England--Brits are much more cynical than Americans and don't buy into the Stuart Smalley self-affirmations--he surmised that Americans are more susceptible to these cults of personality because pioneering and innovation are part of our culture. We're always looking for ways to reinvent ourselves, be more effective or more efficient, and are always looking for the uncharted territory. It would seem that some territory should remain uncharted.

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