Sunday, February 11, 2007

Self-Help, Self-Sized Hole

Yesterday I found myself perusing the aisles of my local bookstore. I decided to wander over to the Psychology section of the book store to see if there were any new books I wanted to check out to advance my learning now that I am no longer required to anymore. Not surprisingly, the Psychology section is right next to the Self-Help section. As I browsed through my section and then moved onto to other more entertaining sections in the store, my gaze was constantly drawn back to the Self-Help aisle and I watched person after person pick up various books.

The Self-Help section is a curious thing in itself. On the shelves one can find help on anything from dating to weight loss to counseling to becoming better leader, lover, friend, or parent. Each author claims to be at the forefront of the field and many boast a PhD. There are so many troubling things here I don't even know where to begin.

I should start by saying that nobody is beyond the Self-Help section and almost everyone has bought a book from there or took advice from someone who got it from there. But who are we trusting to tell us how to lead our lives. John Gray? For those unfamiliar with this class act, he wrote Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. I know some of you are thinking that I should shut up because his book sold over a million copies. P.T. Barnum has been quoted as saying, "there is a sucker born every minute." John Gray is metaphor spitting crackpot who I would not be surprised to learn may have ruined more marriages than he saved. Have you read his junk? I have. His big break down of marriages is that they are in trouble simply because men and women communicate differently, which as true as it is, does not set the bedrock for improving a failing marriage. He has taken a good concept and turned it into the end-all to be-all. And that PhD that give him credibility is from a school that you get your PhD through the mail by writing a paper. Little Billy in the third grade could get his PhD from there. And John Gray is just one example in the Self-Help section. If he is at the top, think about what else you are reading from there.

Despite my critical analysis of the credibility of the Self-Help books, I think my problem with them goes deeper. I think my problem with Self-Help books is that they are made available to someone with a legitimate hurt or need and convinces them that their book is the solution. I kid you not when I tell you that I once met someone who was reading a book on leadership because people did not listen to him. The book was giving him advice on asserting himself and creative ways to present himself. The problem was if you were around the guy for more than two seconds you would find him to be bossy and over assertive. He did not know how to lead people because he was listening to a book instead of the people who needed him to be a leader.

Which actually brings me to my next point. Self-Help books imply that you can do it yourself and you don't need any help from the people you interact with on a daily basis. But that is not how God created us to be. God created us to be relational, community oriented people. In the Scriptures, God is the ultimate source of counsel and counseling. But God also places people in our lives to convey a message. Whether it is a message of hope, inspiration, leadership, purpose, or goals God will give you answers directly or through someone else. I cannot stress how important I believe community is to healthy functioning. Even if community consists of one other person in your life, it is better than being alone with an author who does not know your past and proclivities. We have been trained like Pavlovian dogs to turn away from community in times of despair instead of allowing community to embrace us. We have become embarrassed to show weakness and insecure in our selves. But God and community are the very things that have the chance to set us free in our struggles

So in closing, put down the book. It does not know you and has created a blanket answer that does not take your specific circumstances into account. Instead of running to the Self-Help section, take a moment, humble yourself, and realize you were not meant to journey through this life alone. Pick up the phone and call a friend, or email someone you trust. Share your struggle with them and listen to what they have to say. Hit a wall with one friend? Try another. Just don't give up. Talking to people builds up the community and support. Try getting the author of that book to call you once a week to see how you are doing. And if you run out of personal resources or are not getting the help you need, get some counseling. Most Counselors are trained to help you lead a better life and aid you through the tough circumstances you are dealing with.

My prayer for you:
May God be your source of comfort and peace. May He direct you in your ways and place the people in your life to be wise sages. May He provide you the answers in your searches or the contentment when you are not ready for the answer. May He guide you to fulfillment in Him and give you a restful heart. Amen.

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