Self-Help Diatribe

Actually, not from me. I've been skimming a book called Self-Help Nation: The Long Overdue, Entirely Justified, Delightfully Hostile Guide to the Snake-Oil Peddlers Who are Sapping Our Nation's Soul by Tom Tiede. Like most diatribes (and self-help books), it goes on and on and on. His first chapter "Magic Bullets" sums up his position, which is then repeated ad nauseum for the next nine chapters. He goes after various self-help writers like Schlessinger, Peck, The Rules ladies, etc. And he has a point. He just only needed to make it once. Which, to be fair, I think he knows, but hey, if other people can write long-winded books, repeating the same advice over and over, why can't he?

Basically, his point is that self-help books are giving the kind of advice you can get from your mother or the Sermon on the Mount. He blames self-help manuals for creating dysfunctions when all that is really there is life, messy but liveable. That is, people make stupid choices and get into bad relationships and take dumb jobs and hurt their families and themselves because they are human, not because they are "dysfunctional."

And he goes on from there. And he's right. And it's very refreshing. But I think he misses something in the meantime. He opens by telling a story about going to a house that had just been repossessed. The house was filled, top to bottom, with self-help guides, worth $12,000. The ex-tenant's marriage had broken up, his business had failed and his house had been, as mentioned, repossessed. Tiede points out that the guy could have used that $12,000 to keep his house. (Since the books obviously didn't help.)

What Tiede fails to realize is that buying self-help books that don't help you when you are hoping that they will is also part of the messiness that is life. I think Tiede's cardinal sore point is the creating and marketing of "dysfunctions," and I agree with him that it's kind of icky, but the market caters to readers. I think people like diagnosing themselves. We like explaining ourselves to ourselves. Some of you know that I am not a huge proponent (which is putting it mildily) of Meiers-Briggs (that test which determines that you are a ITSJ or whatever), mostly because I think it becomes (like Marxist theory) a substitute for understanding. But I'm in a minority. At least, I feel like I'm in a minority. And even I will take personality tests in magazines.

Self-help falls into the came category. Wanting to read advice that we should already know about occurrences which aren't really controllable (in a step 1, 2, 3 kind of way) in the hopes that said advice will work some kind of magic cure in our heads, that's human nature, Mr. Tiede. Get used to it.


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