April 9, 2007

The Secret: Is it even worth debunking?

In case you hadn’t already seen or heard of it (and I’ll bet many of my readers haven’t) a craze has been going on surrounding an Oprah-endorsed book called “The Secret”. The book is so popular, it’s pretty much everywhere. I even saw it at the Boston Museum of Science gift shop last week.

Put simply, “The Secret” is a new age self help book that encourages its readers to envision success and it will simply happen. It’s the age old idea of “attraction” — that you bring on your own success or failure not through working hard, or thinking about solutions, or anything of substance. Instead, pretending you’re successful, and envisioning that you are is what makes things happen.

Now, I have long thought that if you change the way you think it can motivate yourself to surpass some of your limitations. But that’s more to get beyond problems like a lack of self confidence, or underestimating your abilities if you tend to have those problems. “The Secret” wants you to believe that if you think differently, or play pretend, the external world will actually change. From a WaPo article:

In the book, investment trainer David Schirmer describes his own experience. He used to receive bills every day. “So I got a bank statement, I whited out the total, and I put a new total in there,” he says. “I thought, ‘What if I just visualized a bunch of checks coming in the mail’? Within just one month, things started to change. It is amazing; today I just get checks in the mail. I get a few bills, but I get more checks than bills.”

Read the rest of the article, if you have a chance. It goes on to point out some of the dangers of this line of belief, for example how it encourages you to conclude that those who receive misfortune are bringing it on themselves by their negative thoughts. While it’s true that you can get caught up in negative thoughts, and that depression is rarely a path to success, such thoughts only affect your life insofar as they affect your perception of the world and the actions you take in the world. Imagining that the world is a bad place doesn’t suddenly bring on serial killers and debt. This is such a loony idea, it almost doesn’t deserve a post on my blog.

However, the book is so popular that it seems to warrant a mention. There is danger associated with the crazy belief that any sort of mantra or thoughts or play-acting will cause a mystical force to activate and bring you good things. If people abandon practical, realistic approaches to solving their problems in hope of a miracle, their lives and the world will be worse off for it.

This post and that article and any skeptical criticism of The Secret is going to fall on either deaf or disinterested ears. Because I expect that if you’re reading my blog regularly, you probably have very little interest in candy-coated bullshit like “The Secret”. For us it’s either a curiosity or a frightening statement on how little things have changed since we crawled out of the superstition of the dark ages. Look around and you wonder if the Age of Enlightenment ever happened.

“The Secret” shouldn’t need debunking, but, sadly, people have bought it eagerly. Literally and figuratively.

Posted by James at April 9, 2007 8:38 AM
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Did you see the SNL skit last week about it? HILARIOUS.

Posted by: pippa at April 9, 2007 10:23 AM

I read SOME article about The Secret recently, probably linked form skepdic. It's just BSC (bat-shit crazy). If the "law" of attraction were true, every kid would have a pony, and I'd be an astronaut. Everyone would win the lottery and no one would have cancer.

Posted by: Julie at April 9, 2007 10:43 AM

Sounds like a bunch of tosh designed to make someone rich... namely the person who wrote the flipping book.

Posted by: Chuck S. at April 9, 2007 12:02 PM

Chuck S: LOL! No wonder he's receiving lots of checks now - he's got a book on the f'n Oprah list. Hello! He conveniently neglects to mention he *worked* for money while doing all this fantastic visualizing of money.

Posted by: pam at April 9, 2007 12:09 PM

Then there's Oprah. Oprah, a woman so mind-bogglingly rich, she *can* almost literally get whatever she wants on Earth, just by visualizing it. So inspiring!

[Okay, time to retract fangs and step away from the keyboard.]

Posted by: pam at April 9, 2007 12:12 PM

I don't know where to start - a rant about Oprah, or about this book/movie/industry. Bleah.

I have two friends who swear by this. Both hired a local "life coach". I honestly wish I could say that success followed, because both are nice people. However, in addition to becoming really critical of those whose visualizations don't lead to fame and fortune, both have spent a lot of money which could have been better spent elsewhere. Like on lottery tickets. Snort.

Re Oprah : the one Oprah magazine I ever read featured an article about learning to love yourself just the way you are, another about putting your best face forward at work, and another about being able to do it all. And had a three page spread on Oprah getting all done up before fixing to go on TV. After her hair stylist turned the mess into gorgeous hair, her makeup artist hid the wrinkles and bags and her...um, whatever you call the person who chooses your outfit and dresses you in the morning if you are rich (it's called 'mom; if you aren't) - um, anyway, after her team finished working on her, she was able to put her best face forward, love herself exactly as she was, and was ready to do it all. Show of hands, who knows the velocity of a hurled magazine just before it hits the wall?

Posted by: Cindy at April 9, 2007 5:37 PM

You crack me up, Cindy.

I can't tell you the velocity, but I can tell you that its motion described an arc. However, you probably threw it so hard that the arc was not noticeable.

Posted by: James at April 9, 2007 5:56 PM

LOL, Cindy. I do not know much of Oprah, but I was in a waiting room once (waiting rooms are where I get my dose of culture), and I had to endure Oprah telling a woman that she was fat because she didn't love herself.

Grrr. There was nothing to hurl but my lunch.

Posted by: Maggie at April 9, 2007 7:32 PM

I took a time-management class to fulfill a requirement at work, and one of the first things the instructor said was that Oprah (specifically), President Dumbass, and we, the students, all had the same 24 hours a day, and that the thing that made us different was the way we each spent those 24 hours.

What a crock. I'm sure I could get more out of my 24 hours if I could pay someone else to nuke my meals, do my laundry, fix my hair, drive me places while I read, screen my fan mail, etc.

Posted by: julie at April 9, 2007 9:13 PM

I like to think that a little more separates me from Oprah and the President.

Posted by: James at April 10, 2007 8:50 AM

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