May 20, 2007
Continuation of review of “The Secret” and our tendency to want to believe someone has knowledge we don’t have.
PART TWO OF TWO PARTS [See Part One]
The following is a continuation of my commentary of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne:
- The author of The Secret doesn’t read the papers or watch TV because it’s too depressing. She wants to keep her mind clear for positive thoughts. Yet it seems to me that trying so hard to limit your vision to only that which is positive prevents one from understanding what it means to be fully human.The essence of who I am today has been forged from both my many fortunate blessings and my trials and tribulations, which have been more than a few. Since I don’t believe that the pain in my friends’ lives has been brought upon them by their thoughts—even when I can see that a change in their attitude could make their lives easier, I don’t abandon them. By going through their struggles with them, I believe that today I am stronger, more empathic, and more compassionate than I would be if I were given my every wish.
- I agree that sometimes things happen that can’t quite be explained. You think about a person and five minutes later they call. Is that just serendipity or did you cause it? How many people do we think of who don’t call? When someone wins the lottery and says it is because they “knew” in their heart that they would, I’ll almost guarantee you that there are others who also “knew” (with the same intensity) that they would win, but didn’t.
- Unfortunately, there is little evidence in The Secret to support the idea for the “Law of Attraction.” Anecdotal evidence is selective.For example, Jack Canfield has produced many excellent “Chicken Soup” books and has made a pile of money in doing so. In The Secret his story is told as though he went from earning $8,000 a year to almost $100,000 with a lot of luck and fortuitous connections.What wasn’t mentioned is the fact that every day he and his partner would do five things to promote their first book, from signing five books and giving them to people for free, to giving talks at churches and sending out free copies to reviewers, or giving five radio interviews. If that isn’t work, I don’t know what is. His “success” comes as much from what he did as from what he believed was possible.Throughout The Secret there are many opinions given and statements made without citations and proof, such as the quote that “there is scientific proof that positive thoughts are 100% more powerful than negative thoughts.” I would love to read empirical evidence to support that statement, but it was nowhere to be found in the book.
- And while I don’t know the source for some of the quotations, I do know that a quotation by Buddha was taken out of context. Then it was used to support the Law of Attraction.
- There are few specific steps offered in The Secret that one can take to achieve the success that the author, and her supporters, claim are possible for everyone. In one of the few practical suggestions, Bryne recommends that, at the end of the day, you review the events you didn’t like and imagine a different ending.I’m not surprised that it would make you feel good if, for example, you had had an accident because you turned left in front of a line of traffic and then visualized yourself not having an accident. But wouldn’t it be much better, in the long run, if you thought about why you were in such a hurry that you jeopardized the lives of other people? A little self-reflection may help you discover how not to let that happen again.
To the extent that The Secret encourages readers to stop feeling sorry for themselves and to set positive goals toward which they want to move, it can be of value, especially for what some have called the “worried well.” However, the book’s simplistic, convoluted, black-and-white reasoning and platitudes without substance are little help to those who, like homeless schizophrenics, make up the “walking wounded.”
The author accurately recognizes that what you believe influences how you experience what happens to you. Then she extrapolates that observation into a simple, magical theory about cause and effect—a theory that we don’t just influence what happens, we control everything through our thoughts.
Do you want to have whatever you want? Believe it will be possible and you will make it true. Do you have something? We wanted it. Do you not have it? We didn’t want it.
Unfortunately, such circular reasoning can led us into a pile of trouble. Consider the present mess in Iraq. Our president and vice president, together with other true believers, had faith that we could win. They sincerely believed in victory. They had absolute faith. Now millions have suffered, and will suffer, from the hubris of operating from a position that belief without supportive facts is good enough.
If you want to get a levelheaded perspective on why we all (from presidents to janitors) justify foolish beliefs, make bad decisions, and commit hurtful acts, be sure to read Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me). In this excellent book, two well-known sociologists, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, cite many studies and observations of social and political events to explain why and how we can accept inconsistent ideas and not see a contradiction between them. The need to justify our opinions to ourselves, and to others, is particularly important when we hold fairly extreme ideas—and when our identity is tied to those positions—even in the face of glaring evidence to the contrary.
As I read The Secret, I kept coming up with questions I wished the author would address. For example, I wondered whether the thoughts of children created abusive parents. (According to some metaphysical concepts, we choose our parents before our births, so in a sense I guess you could say children are responsible for their unhappy childhoods.) Do genes play any role in who we are, or do we have the power to overcome our genetic makeup with our thoughts? Does a person born with spinal bifida have the ability to think himself onto the Harlem Globetrotters?
I end this review with an observation I would love Rhonda Bryne to answer. Imagine there are two high school football teams. Each has been practicing for many hours. Every member on both teams believes deeply in his heart that their team will win. They imagine the trophy on their shelves. Their thoughts are as positive as thoughts can be. They do everything possible to win. One team wins. One loses. Why? Did one not believe strongly enough? Was one not positive enough? Or is it just possible that there is more to what happens to us than wishing something is so?