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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Self-help books no help

In her new book, Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life, sociologist Micki McGee lambasts the self-help market, claiming that most of the thousands of self-help books offer overly simplistic solutions to complex problems, deluding the reader that he or she is "in charge" when in fact, most problems are beyond individualistic resolutions. In an interview with Newsweek, McGee says substantial solutions require more than getting better organized or "getting the most recent Blackberry." Some solutions take societal change and that change can only happen with the effort of the many, not just the one. A person can make individual changes to better her life, but if larger, social structures are working against her, she “will be at best swimming upstream...”

Still, people want to feel they are in charge of their lives. Or, at least, that God, is. Although McGee’s assertions seem as simplistic as the self-help advice she derides, she brings up some good points. Life isn’t something that can be neatly structured, nor are we powerful enough to do it alone. I suspect most self-help books don’t take into consideration the "shit happens" contingency. Yes, you can buy books in an attempt to improve yourself so you can get that better job, the better mate, the better life. So you can find personal happiness. But all of the reading and soul-searching won’t stop the nepotism or other –ism that bars your way. It won’t stop that "better mate" from stepping out on you. Losing those extra pounds won’t guarantee personal happiness if outside forces are wearing down your self-esteem. Reading every self-help book there is won’t stop the million and one variables that can skewer your well-laid plans.

Yes, it is good to have faith. Faith is a touchstone in any predicament. But even faith won’t shield you from life’s foibles or tragedies. It will just help you get through them. Hopefully.

As McGee points out, all of us must look toward the community outside ourselves. This fact became horrifically evident in the wake of Katrina and Rita (and now, Wilma). Individuals couldn’t brave the disasters alone, and individual faith didn’t prevent the floodwaters from rising or the storms from destroying whole cities. It was concerted effort of community, of individuals coming together, that provided a human levee against the onslaught's aftermath.

So, here’s some advice. If you’re looking to take off a few pounds, to become clutter-free, to find out how you’re sabotaging your relationships, self-help books are good primers to get you started on your journey. But to complete your trek may require more than help from a book; it may require help from others.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 10/26/2005 09:57:00 AM Permanent Link     | | Home


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