Self-help books, hope and young people

Reflections

The Rev’d Andrew Schmidt reflects on self-help books: “They are the social equivalent of the photo-shopped celebrities that cannot be attained, but still people pay for the privilege of the dream. Just buy the book, follow the trademarked 7-step path to a more fulfilled life, eat this diet to a healthier heart chakra. I could go on”

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There is a game called, ‘Don’t get me started’, where one person is given a topic and they have to go on a rant about it. If I was given the topic ‘self-help books’ I can assure you that an impressive rant would ensue.

I feel that self-help books tend to sell the idea that you can be free from the messiness of life. It is as though there is an agreed vision of a proper life, a worthy life, a life that has everything together. They are the social equivalent of the photo-shopped celebrities that cannot be attained, but still people pay for the privilege of the dream. Just buy the book, follow the trademarked 7-step path to a more fulfilled life, eat this diet to a healthier heart chakra. I could go on.

I was therefore a little suspicious about listening to Brené Brown. She is an American writer who writes books like Rising Strong and Daring Greatly; there was a lot to overcome, but her work was recommended to me by people whose opinion I value, so I found some talks of hers and listened to a few.

One of the things she speaks about is the power of hope, but for Brené Brown, it is not correctly understood as a feeling, but rather a combination of three factors, a goal, the ability to create a pathway and agency.

Each of these things can and should be taught, or at the very least modelled for young people, and for those of us who are older, lived into.

For me, one of the most hope inspiring things I have seen in recent times has been the number of young people who have been involved in climate action gatherings, in public protests, and in political demonstrations.

They clearly have a belief in their own agency I did not have at their age. At their age I believed the story that there is not much one person can do. Now I am trying to live a more hopeful life, by Brené Brown’s definition, by believing that my actions have the capacity to make an impact.

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