FreeThought Fort Wayne

        Be Reasonable

Posts Tagged ‘self esteem’

“SHAM- How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless” by Steve Salerno. A review.

Posted by Andy D. on April 20, 2008

“SHAM- How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless” by Steve Salerno. A review

SHAM is an acronym for the self-help and actualization movement and it is the ultimate self-book for self-help books. This journey in skepticism shines a light on the 8.53 billion dollar (2003) direct revenue industry. Salerno estimates the true economic costs will be in the trillions when you factor in government spending, lawsuits, medical costs, opportunity costs, and growth trends. I fell victim to several of the authors below and I feel better already after reading SHAM. My skepticism skills from studying science versus faith-based reasoning now enlighten other topics and it is easy to see how anecdotal these self-help books really are.

If you have read from Zig Ziglar, Stephen Covey, Rick Warren, Tony Robbins, Suze Orman, Dr. Phil McGraw or other Men are from Mars/Chicken Soup for the Soul types of books, or any help book pushed by Oprah and Larry King, you need to read this book.

The theme of the book distinguishes between two main types of self-help. The first is the victimization movement. This shows up in the 12 step programs. (There are many different types of these groups and books). These surprisingly religious organizations involve a person saying they are powerless and they have to give themselves over to a “higher power.” Alcoholism is no longer a disorder but a full on “disease.” (Yes, there is a physical addiction but this is not cancer.) SHAM states one has a better chance of actually quitting drinking by going “cold turkey” than attending a single AA meeting. Those groups hide their numbers, too. The victimization movement has contributed to many frivolous lawsuits, unfounded rape allegations (think hypnosis fed mental memories), and people not willing to say they are responsible for their actions by blaming anyone else for their circumstances. America bought it up.

The other big theme of the book and the one more in our face today is the empowerment movement in self-help. Think Dr. Phil “Pick Yourself Up by Your Boot Straps” or today’s “The Secret’s” if you really believe it will happen law. This creates a situation where the thesis cannot be falsified. If a person achieves what they desire then the author was correct. If one fails they didn’t believe in it hard enough (like faith healing) and then they buy another self-help book after failing. It is worse if you flip the logic around by saying one cannot be healthy because they didn’t believe in themselves hard enough regardless of any genetic predisposition to their disease.

The victimization and empowerment movements feed off on another. The main results are more people keep buying more self-help books. Ever wonder why Oprah has self-help books all the time? What happened to the ones from a year ago? Didn’t they work? Salerno thinks the empowerment movement has help feed the divorce rate by having couples that are not always in a state of bliss empower and break-up.

A couple of celebrity highlights: Tony Robbins started giving $50 dollar sessions using coal walking to pump people up and overcome their fears. (This is just physics). Dr. Phil was failing as a psychologist and he helped “coach” Oprah in a court case about her statements about her distrust of beef during the Mad Cow disease scare. The two hit it off. Dr. Phil does have a degree in what he does unlike many pseudo-helpers. The main problem with Dr. Phil and others (like the hypocritical Dr. Laura Schlessinger) is their pop-psychiatry. One cannot dish out accurate advice in a ten-minute segment. It is just scary. Real therapy takes time. One has to think about long term and shot term decisions and repercussions. Suze Orman gives good money advice such as stay out of debt, know your credit score, and put people above money and things. She gets into woo-woo with her empowerment money laws for example, “if one is honest they will attract money.” We all know there are people who are not very ethical, who nonetheless make a lot of money.

The best part of the book for me was the chapter entitled “Ya Gotta Want It” about today’s Sportsthink in business. I had a gun-hoe sports-nut manager who loved the sports hero types such as Vince Lombardi, Tommy Lasorda and Tiger Woods quotes. I laughed all the way through this chapter! There is something weird happening when businesses are bringing locker room mentality to the boardroom. Americans like sports and business so why not combine them? The problem with this analogy is in sports; teams are usually playing one team at a time with well-defined rules. In business, there are many simultaneous competitors and the rules can be broken from any direction. The internal danger here is a witch-hunt on an employee who didn’t have the “religious locker room” mentality and the firm could miss new creative opportunities and talent. There is always an undercurrent to this type of thinking and firms have spent much money and time trying to pump up the “sales” team usually with poor results. One doesn’t hear about it because that would mean the manager who hired the motivational speaker or dished out the BS would have to admit to their boss they wasted time and money. There is a great chapter on the unregulated, unlicensed, and ridiculous “life coaches.”

There is a chapter on criminals who now write books and give speeches after finding Jesus. Schools hire them to scare kids straight but what Selerno argues there is a “glory” shown to the past gang banging activities. American loves a good come back story so many schools have wasted resources on this.

Selerno goes into great depth about how our school systems now focus on “self-esteem” rather than achievement and competition. I bet our teachers could comment a lot on this one. This is the scariest topic in the book. The public school classroom is focusing on feelings rather than focusing on academic subjects. It brings up the participations awards and how some schools are paying and passing kids just to show up!!! Some school sports do not have any losers anymore. Teachers have to focus on the bottom of the class in order to get them all to pass standardized tests. Schools administrators will fight holding someone back that needs to be because this might upset the child or their parent’s feelings.

There is a rather long section on health quackery and its relation to self-help. The usual suspects are here such as and therapeutic touch, distance healing, art therapy, feng shui, magnet therapy, detoxification therapy, and faith healing.

Salerno quotes many voices of reason throughout the book such as James Randi, George Carlin, and Stephen Barret of Quackwatch. This book should be required reading for all of us skeptics. It is scary what happens when we leave science for the anecdotal chicken soup way of thinking. Enjoy!

-Andy

PS: I found Steve’s blog SHAMBOOK.  It looks great.

Advertisements

Posted in Skepticism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »