Self Help Mayhem

Posted on May 4, 2010.

Kudzai Makombe

My collection. Photo credit: Trevor Davies

My collection. Photo credit: Trevor Davies

As I struggled to find something interesting or at least a bit fun to write about this week while using little distractions to avoid the inevitable putting of pen to paper, something landed in my email in box that made me go “aha!”.  ‘How deep is your love for you?’ the email questioned and offered to provide the answers in a one day self help seminar.  Here was another opportunity at self improvement that many of us are fascinated with and possibly even addicted to at the moment.

Reading through the email I nodded away in agreement as it described what sounded exactly like my relationship with myself and others. And I must say the inclusion of a neck and back massage in the seminar package seemed like a real deal clincher. Who doesn’t need to better understand and improve themselves and de-stress (or is that distress) a little at the same time?

I’ve not been to one of these seminars/motivational talks, but I have spend at least a year going through the gamut of magazine articles, books, talk shows and dvds like ‘The Secret’. I have found tidbits of enlightenment but mostly I realise they’ve  been telling me things I already know and may be fueling my own insecurities that I don’t have the right life. Not to mention the large amounts of cash I’ve  contributed to the industry.

I am aware my new-found cynicism is due to a book I’m reading that has forced me to re-think even my fascination and deep admiration for Deepak Chopra.  In ‘How mumbo jumbo conquered the world’, Francis Wheen tears to pieces pretty much the entire self help section of the biggest and most comprehensive bookstore you could imagine and ridicules as desperate our desires to transform our lives in X easy steps, our growing love for public displays of emotion and the culture of celebrity that has gripped us in the last few decades.

What really made me wince is the chapter where he questions our undying  adoration of Princess Diana. The world was captivated by Di and I admit the press-fueled fascination did not pass me by. When she died my husband woke me in the middle of the night to tell me the news and like many others around the world I stayed up all night flicking through the 24-hour news channels to catch any further developments on the death of the woman Wheen describes as a “pampered princess”. I should mention here that after telling me the news, my husband sensibly went to bed. Did we get carried away with our grief? Wheen certainly thinks so and while I did not shed tears, the spectacle drew me in more than was necessary and I suspect this may be the case with the self help revolution too.

Fortunately, reading Wheen’s book has brought me to recognise the pitfalls of getting totally sucked in — even by Wheen. It seems natural to me that we always strive to improve ourselves and expand our world view. So I’ve not sworn off the self help literature forever. However, I will  approach it with the happy knowledge that I already have a life that’s quite alright and the latest 12-point plan is not going to totally transform it as some of the literature claims to be able to. A neck and back massage might do that though — at least for a few hours.