I don't watch Oprah, or any TV, so I've been kind of out of the popular culture loop lately. But I have occasionally been hearing about this new book The Secret. A friend of mine linked to this article from Salon, and it gave me a lot to think about. Perhaps I should read the book before I bash it, but I have read a few other articles on it. Apparently the idea behind it is that if you simply try and think hard enough about the things that you want, you will get them. Literally. I'm sure there's more to it than that, but it sounds pretty weird.
One thing I really am uncomfortable with about the whole "power of positive thinking" idea is that it tends to create the opposite, negative reaction: if you aren't successful in life, you must not be trying hard enough. When we constantly tell people that all they have to do is "believe in themselves" and "try their best" in order to do accomplish "anything", what happens if they don't achieve? Does that mean they really didn't want it hard enough, or that they didn't try? I've learned that life isn't just about me. Sometimes, no matter how hard I want something, or even how hard I try, it just isn't enough. Other factors come into play. I could have wanted a natural, easy delivery for both my children. I could have even believed in myself, and I could have even prevented my doctors from interfering, but it probably wouldn't have happened.
I do think we have to be careful not to let this sort of thing keep us from trying at all or from throwing our hands up and resigning ourselves to the whims of fate. But there is a balance between thinking of ourselves as all powerful and thinking of ourselves as powerless. And I don't think it's good to swing too far to either side.
I also really don't like the idea of success being equated with having lots of money, losing lots of weight, or even having everything that I want. I fear that our culture too often values the surface images of "success": the nicely decorated home, the prestigious job, well-behaved and intelligent children, etc. I worry that if we only concentrate on outside factors we lose track of something vitally important. Some of the nicest, humblest, genuinely good people I know don't have many of the trappings of success. Some of them do; I don't think that being poor automatically sanctifies you. I just worry that if we spend all our time focusing outward on material things we will lose track of the interior substance that we need to have. I'm probably a victim of this too. I know I sometimes spend more time figuring out the right outfit to wear to church than I do on my spiritual preparation while I'm there. I sometimes spend more time worrying about what others think of me and of my contributions to the lesson than I do about what I can learn from them.
And that is what bothers me the most about this whole idea: it's all focused on what I can accomplish with my all-powerful self. Unfortunately, like most people I know, I don't really need any more help becoming more selfish. I can do that all on my own.
(And while you're reading Salon, you should check this out. I wanted to write a post on it, but I don't have time.)