Millions of people have provided millions of words of advice about how to live a better life to millions of people who consume that advice then ignore it completely. Nobody really wants to hear what they “should” be doing. It insults the ego. Advice can feel like criticism and advisers can look like self-serving know-it-alls (and they usually are).
As John Steinbeck said in The Winter of Our Discontent (1961), “Nobody wants advice, only corroboration.” This could be cynical—people want cherry-picked evidence to support their behaviour (see also: The Enjoyment Argument)—or it could be practical—people want facts, not opinion.
Advisers in fashion, lifestyle and spiritual enlightenment industries disguise opinion in palatable platitudes like: “it is what it is”, “nobody’s perfect”, “just be yourself” and “strength is something you choose,” but such generic truisms are meaningless thought-terminators.
Rhonda Byrne made millions telling people how their thoughts create reality through the law of attraction (LOA). It’s ironic that with big money Byrne attracted big lawsuits from colleagues who said she was greedy (source). As Lily Tomlin said, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”
LOA takes “mind over matter” and “the power of positive thinking” and turns it magical. Think positive, good things happen—think Lamborghini and get one—think negative thoughts, bad things happen.
But LOA is slippery. A child gets cancer. She thinks positive but still dies young. Is it because she didn’t think positive enough? Or is it, “Just one of those things?”
In Psychology Today (May 2016) Neil Farber said that LOA doesn’t exist. It’s a blame the victim game but to question its validity is blasphemy to believers.
When spiritual author Eckhart Tolle (aka Ulrich Leonard Tölle) talks about a sense of presence or “beingness” that watches and about the peace of being a no self watching, 35 million subscribers to Eckhart Tolle TV paid to see his no self talking.
When Tolle says, “the present moment is all you really have,” and, “life is the dancer and you are the dance,” it puts the pressure on. Not only might you not enjoy the present moment but you don’t feel like dancing.
When asked, “How can we drop negativity, as you suggest?” Tolle replied, “By dropping it.”
“It’s just that easy!” as they say. Strolling with Tolle is like singing “Trololo” with Eduard Anatolyevich Khil (1934-2012).
When a motivational speaker like Tony Robbins says, “We can do, have, and be exactly what we wish,” you might be disappointed if your wish to be like Tony is thwarted. If you have debts, no money and no job, what then? If your brain tumor is growing, now what?
“It is what it is,” as they say. “Just be yourself.”
Are you a man living in a van dreaming you’re a millionaire like Tony Robbins or are you a millionaire like Tony Robbins dreaming you’re a man living in a van? (Cue: Twilight Zone Theme).
People want reality to match their wanting but reality is…reality. Like a sparrow that is regarded, “There’s a sparrow,” so too does a man get labelled as the group he’s in. He becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy from a link between belief and behaviour. Behaviour influenced by expectations causes those expectations to come true.
In “Grid and Group Cultural Theory” anthropologist Mary Douglas (1921-2007) put “group” (the type of group) and “regulation” (how much a group affects your life) into a chart and came up with four incompatible types of social control that mix and mingle. Look at the chart and ask yourself where you fit in.
–Upper left is “Isolate”. Isolates attract no attention. No one asks their opinion. These are the culturally isolated—prisoners, servants, soldiers, those who are supervised, the very poor, hermits and monks.
–Upper right is “Positional”. This is a society biased towards tradition and order in which one’s role and behaviour is governed by position within a hierarchy.
–Bottom right is “Enclave”. Includes religious and cultural sects outside main society. Sects have no ranking or grading rules between members. Leaders say outsiders are evil.
–Bottom left is the “Individualist”. Extreme individualists have no group controls or regulation except for market competition. Individuals are only concerned with private benefit.
This sketch of a theory can help a person to understand and enjoy one’s species and the social and psychological manipulations of humans. When the next person speaks, see if you can hear a group talking. Within each group we conform ourselves to match other members.
Words are symbols. They’re like the brain’s “filter” for comprehending reality. Imagine standing somewhere and looking up at stars. In words you stand “here,” somewhere in the “universe,” and you look “out there,” but every time you think, “What’s beyond that?” you come up with…more words.
Each of us swings like “Bob” on a pendulum born at a point of suspension.
The amplitude (distance of a swing from the not moving equilibrium) depends on the length of your string (years lived) and energy exerted.
The trick is to let a bad time pass like unpleasant gas as you focus on a good time that was and wait for the next pendulum swing.
Geneticist Juan Enriquez said that an apple is like a computer application—it receives energy from the sun and when the input is sufficient, it executes DNA code and falls from the tree (Life Code Will Reshape Future). Imagine that you know the code and then go outside and look around. Forget politics, theories and worries and in stillness, silence and love, see “life” as purposeful, interconnected and intelligent.
Imagine that, “Only human,” doesn’t apply to you.
Instead of seeing yourself as a “true man” with self and group affiliation who will drop bombs when deemed necessary, see the big picture and rise above human. Like the sociologist Max Weber look at what’s in your head as the way to a better life. Instead of looking for what you want, see what’s really there.
With practice you can “Click” a mental switch from feeling life is horrific to beatific. Like a time traveler in a body that remembers and predicts, you are as Manfred Mann put it, “You are the sign between the high road and the low road. You are – you are [fading]” (“You Are – I am”).
If you think of what truly is, it goes beyond reason. What truly “is” clenches you in the gut without explanation. Imagine two people living similar lives in different places. One is happy, the other isn’t and the only thing at variance is their attitude. It isn’t much, but in case you haven’t heard, “Attitude is everything.”
Taylor, K. (2006). Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control. OUP Oxford.