The Secret self-help book

I remembered learning about “The Secret”, a self-help book that talks of the “Law of Attraction”, which suggests you can get what you want by simply focusing on it along with positive thinking.  It’s true that people can get what they want if they focus on the goal and figure out what they need to do to achieve the goal.  However, “The Secret” suggests that you can simply get it by just asking, believing in it and the universe will just give it to you in some warped way without doing anything on your end.

Well, an Australian show paraodied this misleading and simplistic view:

On May 16, 2007 the concept was parodied on The Chaser’s War on Everything, a satirical comedy program on Australia‘s ABC network.[43] The show provided an analysis of The Secret, with various themes and theories of the film tested to see if they work in real life, including asking for a parking spot and then pulling into it, despite the fact that there was a car already there, and asking the universe for objects in stores and then just taking them. It was the first subject of the segment “Nut Job of the Week”.

I am so glad “The Secret” fad died down a year ago.  Here are some more issues with the concept:

Editorial coverage

Catherine Bennett, of the London based Guardian compares the behavior of the leader of the UK Conservative Party to the principles espoused in the film. Touching on themes of greed and blaming-the-victim, Bennett asserts the film is a “moronic hymn to greed and selfishness” and that it “nastily suggests that victims of catastrophe are the authors of their misfortunes”.[52]

Slate Human Guinea Pig, Emily Yoffe, experimented with living according to The Secret’s precepts for two months, concluding that the film/book’s message was “pernicious drivel.” Yoffe found it particularly “repulsive” for its tendency to blame the victim and its suggestion to “not just blame people for their illness, but to shun them, lest you start being affected by their bummer thoughts, too.”[53]

Journalist Jeffrey Ressner, reporting in Time, writes that some critics are concerned with the film’s attitude toward “using ancient wisdom to acquire material goods.” In one example in the film, “a kid who wants a red bicycle cuts out a picture in a catalog, concentrates real[sic] hard, and is rewarded with the spiffy two-wheeler.”[32]

Jerry Adler of Newsweek notes that despite the film’s allusions to conspiratorially suppressed ancient wisdom, the notions presented by the motivational speakers who make up the film’s cast have been commonplace for decades. Adler notes that the film is ethically “deplorable,” fixating on “a narrow range of middle-class concerns — houses, cars, vacations, followed by health and relationships, with the rest of humanity a very distant sixth.” Noting that the scientific foundations of the movie are clearly dubious, the Newsweek article quotes psychologist John Norcross, characterizing it as “pseudoscientific, psychospiritual babble.”[3]

In an article for the Chicago Reader, Julia Rickert questions the validity and authenticity of certain quotations attributed by the film to “past secret teachers”. The article[54] describes the extensive, unsuccessful efforts by Rickert to verify a quote claimed to be by “secret teacher” Ralph Waldo Emerson — “The secret is the answer to all that has been, all that is, and all that will ever be”. Rickert also examines a quotation in the film by Winston Churchill. She claims Byrne has taken it out of context in order to suggest Churchill held beliefs in accord with The Law of Attraction — “You create your own universe as you go along”. Rickert points out that the full context shows that Churchill found such ideas “perfectly useless”.[54]

Karin Klein, editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, called The Secret “just a new spin on the very old (and decidedly not secret) The Power of Positive Thinking [book by Norman Vincent Peale (1952)] wedded to ‘ask and you shall receive’.” The editorial, in one of its strongest criticisms, asserted Rhonda Byrne “took the well-worn ideas of some self-help gurus, customized them for the profoundly lazy, [and] gave them a veneer of mysticism…”[2]

Tony Riazzi, columnist for the Dayton Daily News, also questions the merits of The Secret, calling Byrne’s background as a reality TV producer a “red flag.” He also said that “The Secret’s” ideas are nothing more than “common sense. Take out the buzzwords and pseudo religious nonsense about what you ‘manifest’ for yourself, ignore the vague prose and you get the message that thinking positively serves you better than thinking negatively.”[55]


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