Self-Help or Self Responsibility?

Article added September 19, 2010

Alan Yentob cleverly parodies the current trend for quick-fix self-help.

You can’t always get what you want.

By Stuart Mcgurk.

Apparently, you can have anything you want. Just think of something say, Natalie Portman, say, or a yacht in the Carribean; or a yacht in the Carribean with Nathalie Portman on it. Soon it’ll all be yours. Or it might not.

Still, it’s the premise behind most of the booming “self-help” industry. Be positive. Negativity is so bad. You’re the best. Whoop! But tonight’s Imagine questions that shaky premise. If you really are numero uno, what about the millions of others into self-help?

In the US, the industry is worth more than $10bn (5.1bn) a year. More than 40,000 American’s work as life coaches. If you laid them end to end – then strapped them down so they couldn’t get up – then world would be a 60 per cent better place.

In a recent tv documentary, Alan Yentob begins by looking at the latest self-help phenomenon, The Secret, a film and book franchise that mixes several theories, but essentially arrives at this: you become what you think of yourself. Paris Hilton is apparently a devotee and obviously has a much lower opinion of herself than anyone imagined.

As the show continues, you can’t help thinking that blocking out negative thoughts also means blocking out thought in general – it advocates not reading the news if it “doesn’t make you feel good”. Ignorance is bliss. It’s no surprise that the first Self-Help outsold another tome published in 1859 – Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.

Yentob interviews devotees such as This Life writer Amy Jenkins and as a general motto, it’s hard to argue that having a positive attitude is bad. But when did it become unhealthy to have fears? Yentob notes that in Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, you should smile and “become interested” in other people. Just what you want: a smiling nodding moron talking to you.

This consistently engaging programme reminds us of one certainty: the only way to become a success from self-help books is to write one yourself.

The London Paper, February 19th, 2008

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