Secret Provides an "Answer" But No Guidance
> 4/11/2007 12:22:05 PM

It's become nearly impossible to ignore the publishing phenomenon known as "The Secret." Written by an Australian television producer Rhonda Byrne, the book, which has dominated sales charts, purports to reveal, for the first time, the secret power of the law of attraction. Presented as a mysterious idea passed down through the ages, Byrne claims that the law of attraction is here being exposed for the first time when it has been around for at least a couple of millennia and has appeared in many self-help books, even as far back as 1910's The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace Wattles.

Aside from The Secret's contrived newness and air of mystery, there isn't a whole lot to talk about. In the grand scheme of self-help books it's remarkable really only for its ability to sell beyond any reasonable expectation. Byrne and her publishers can thank Oprah for that bit of help. However, an interesting Op-Ed piece from the Washington Post flashed across our radar this weekend and illuminated what may in fact be some real negative issues to be born out of this phenomenon.

The writer of this opinion piece, Tim Watkin, gets to the meat of his argument about half-way through. In referring to the idea that by merely thinking about good things, then good things will happen, he writes:

Yet none of the how-the-Secret-changed-my-life stories on "Oprah" mentioned the dark side of the book's pie-in-the-sky pitch. In February, Los Angeles Times editorial writer Karin Klein reported that local therapists were seeing "clients who are headed for real trouble, immersing themselves in a dream world in which good things just come." Klein told me in an e-mail that she had heard from readers who were worried about friends who "suddenly start buying things, certain that the money to pay for them will just show up."

Still worse is the insidious flip side of Byrne's philosophy: If bad things happen to you, it's all your fault. As surely as your thoughts bring health, wealth and love, they are also responsible for any illness, poverty or misery that comes your way.

That isn't just implied, it's spelled out: "The only reason why people do not have what they want is because they are thinking more about what they don't want than what they do want." By this logic, Holocaust victims brought it on themselves, as did those who lost their homes in Hurricane Katrina. Come on, New Orleans, get over it! Think positive!

He goes on to describe how many comedy outlets and critics of the book have sent up this whole ridiculous idea, exposing its many cracks. The tide has even turned to the point that Oprah has backed off some of her previous fawning adoration for the book, instead taking a more measured approach to its promotion on her show.

If it wasn't for its runaway success, the idea that The Secret could be so detrimental probably wouldn't ever have surfaced. The book after all doesn't present any wildly new information, and in fact, there are many aspects of traditional cognitive behavioral therapy in its presentation. The real problem with The Secret, as with other self-help programs or philosophies that claim to have the answer, is that there is no answer. The very idea of a secret passed down through the ages from one successful person to the next sounds more like sequel to The Da Vinci Code than a serious attempt at self-betterment.

The law of attraction has value as a part of any dialogue on personal growth and success, but it is not a singular, monolithic secret that should drive our every moves. And when we shell out our $20 (or $40 for the DVD, if you're too lazy to read), we're not getting anything other than a lot of smoke and mirrors. It's important to remember that at the other end of your purchase are a lot of people getting very wealthy, with all the incentive in the world to continue promoting their idea; and no real interest in helping someone get over their personal struggles. Can The Secret help? Sure, it can help readers think about their lives from a different perspective or with a different lens. But it's not the answer, because there are no answers. And, as Tim Watkin pointed out, when we look to these substitutes for real help, that often means we're not looking in the places where we might actually find guidance.

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