'The Secret' of a snake-oil saleswoman
"WE BECOME what we think about."
A line from "The Secret" best-seller? Nope. Anyone who's ever been to a motivational seminar will probably recognize those words from Napoleon Hill's book "Think and Grow Rich," published in 1937, or Earl Nightingale's audiotape "The Strangest Secret," recorded in 1957.
I don't begrudge author Rhonda Byrne for repackaging ideas that predate even those guys. But after reading "The Secret," I have to say some of her claims are not just silly, but downright dangerous.
Yet I also credit my recovery and continued sobriety largely to the same principles she talks about. Positive thinking, gratitude and faith are all part of 12-Step programs for addiction. Except you get this stuff for free at AA meetings, plus coffee at no extra charge.
The main difference is priorities. In 12-Step programs, you're frequently reminded that material concerns should be secondary to spiritual matters. By that, I don't mean you have to adhere to any particular religion. It's about believing in a power greater than yourself, and realizing you are not the center of the universe.
However, "The Secret" says we're all gods in effect, since our thoughts can manifest everything from money to curing cancer. It's really a return to the magical thinking of pagans. Byrne sidesteps that comparison by adding vague references to quantum physics and padding her book with feel-good stories that get broadcast on Oprah's show to millions of people.
The Oprah endorsement mystifies me, because she achieved success the old-fashioned way: she earned it. But "The Secret" claims you need not struggle or work hard if you just go with the flow of the universe. Now it's true that when artists or athletes are in the zone, they experience a state called "flow" in which everything seems effortless. To get to that level, though, requires perfecting skills that only comes from countless hours of concentrated effort or practice.
I know, I know, but on Oprah this woman said she didn't do anything and she started getting checks in the mail! Folks, if I got a hundred people to join the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I predict at least one of you would have a stroke of good fortune that could then be attributed to becoming a Pasta-farian. Ergo, since millions have bought "The Secret," it would be impossible not to have a few success stories.
"The Secret" has become a phenomenon, I think, because of the growing disparity between the rich and the rest of us. More families are living from paycheck to paycheck, and yet they continue to spend beyond their means. But like a drunk in denial, they don't want to face the truth. Instead of making necessary sacrifices, they're told they can make debts vanish simply by wanting more money and pretending they have it already. That isn't a life of "abundance." That's insanity.
What's also troubling is that Byrne tells followers not to read or listen to negative news. According to her, the media gives us "bad news" because the public wants it as evidenced by higher ratings whenever there's a disaster. She says when the public "emits a new signal" of what we want to hear, the media will report "good news" instead. As if that will solve pesky problems like global warming, poverty and war. Reality is such a bummer.
I did laugh, though, when I read that food doesn't make us fat -- thinking about being fat makes you fat! Not so funny is her assertion that all illness is caused by stress, and victims of disease make it worse by their own thoughts of being sick. This is where it crosses the line from being a benign fad to quackery. No one disputes that a positive attitude can have health benefits. But to suggest illness is wholly the result of the mind not being in harmony with the universe is looney. On top of that, Byrne says aging is merely a figment of your imagination. Tell that to my mirror.
My advice: Don't buy this book. Get a used copy of "Think and Grow Rich" or one of Earl Nightingale's audio recordings. Then start praying to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I guarantee you will see amazing results by the time my next column appears!
Rich Figel is a screenwriter and recovering alcoholic who lives in Kailua. His column appears periodically in the Insight section. firstname.lastname@example.org