Thursday, February 4, 2010

The lies we believe...

While we're on the topic...

I was listening to a story on NPR this morning about James Arthur Ray, the motivational speaker now charged with manslaughter for the deaths of three of his ... followers. Is that too strong a word? Perhaps retreat participants? These people and the others at the "Spiritual Warrior" event had paid $9k for the honor of having this man starve them for three days and then stick them in a sweat lodge: three dead and 18 hospitalized. That's at least 21 people. Add it up and that's at least $189k--for a *weekend* of "you can do it," "overcome your physical weaknesses," "come on, you wimp, deal with the heat and starvation and you'll be a stronger person for it."

A lawyer for one of the survivors said his client was particularly upset because Lee is claiming it was an accident no one could have foreseen. The lawyer said something along the lines of (and sounded upset while speaking), "Lee had a message of personal responsibility--for accepting the blame for your mistakes. And now here he is blaming the sweat lodge manufacturers!"

I have nothing but respect for the people who died and sympathy for the family members. Where my frustration over this story lies is in what it says about our society--that we feel the need to pay someone upwards of $9k so they can motivate us.

While listening to this story, I thought about a woman I know (or used to) who is a motivational speaker. She's a good woman, a good wife, a good mother. But when her first book came out, I was, frankly, more than a little put off by how she exaggerated her qualifications. I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say I knew that what others would interpret from her bio wasn't what the bio was really saying. It was like hearing, "Four out of five dentists prefer sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum," and you think, "Oh. They just endorsed Trident." When really, they just prefer you not go for Bubblicious.

Last week, I heard about a study that claims most people who work in advertising don't watch commercials, which implies that most advertisers don't believe in their product. That is, if I really truly had faith in Latest Product That Will Change Your Life and put my heart and soul into the campaign to get others to buy it, cuddle it, use it, love it, then I would want to know what other products out there are worth considering, because surely everyone else feels as strongly about their endorsement as I feel about mine.

Here's the thing: I think you're a great person. I really do. I think you deserve to be loved and to be treated well. I think you should allow yourself the same forgiveness you grant others. I think you should stop putting yourself down. I think you should take care of yourself. I think most motivational speakers and authors really do say the right things--but I also think that for some of them, the "need" to make $189k in one long weekend starts to outweigh the need to take personal responsibility for their life and, more importantly here, for yours.

After a hellish 3-year relationship in college, I came home with one great realization: We're incredibly good at fooling ourselves. And if we can do that to ourselves, why is it a surprise when others can do it to us?

"Know Thyself." Begin there.


Brigid Kemmerer said...

This is one of my favorite posts yet.

Holly Franz said...