by the Night Writer
Note: if you’re looking for the Monday Anorex[st]ic Inaneymous, scroll down to the next post.
About this time last year, an emerging star and influential blogger in the Self Development field announced that his personal journey had brought him to such heights of self-awareness and emotional and spiritual development that it was unnatural for him to be constrained within the bounds of traditional marriage. He was therefore eager to explore polyamory, with his wife’s full support and his own confidence that it would have a positive affect on his two young children. Not surprisingly, he was divorced (or in the process of divorcing) before the year was out. Now, this month, he has just announced how excited he is about the transcendent growth opportunities he’s discovering in the world of sexual bondage and domination. Boy, I bet you just can’t wait for next December’s Christmas letter, eh?
No, I’m not going to name this yutz and send any traffic his way should you have any morbid curiosity in watching a family and career go through the wringer, or in reading comments from people who think that his critics are unevolved, unenlightened dumb people. I bring it up because this is the time of year when folks like to make resolutions and set objectives for the coming year. The desire to improve one’s self, or to overcome a debilitating habit, is natural and laudable; especially if one is able to summon the will-power and self-discipline to reach that objective.
Sometimes that might be something personal and prosaic such as losing weight or getting in shape. Other times we set more ambitious objectives to not just change our habits but to renew our minds and think in healthier, less self-destructive ways. Often in doing so we find ourselves wanting to emulate some successful person, whether they’ve got a new diet, a new book or a new-found reason for celebrity. While the “Be Like Mike” Nike campaign was a branding breakthrough in 1992, it tapped into a much-older human tendency to naturally want to mimic the fashions, behavior and over-all “cool” of those we admire. “If I could only be like him (or her)” is an underlying theme of a lot of advertising.
That’s because it sells a lot of soap — or books for that matter, especially in the self-help or personal development areas where we’re especially eager to find some here-to-fore secret, but nevertheless easy, way to be better than we are. Or, as one person I admire says, “Different isn’t always better, but better is always different.”
The problem with picking a guide for your personal development journey is finding someone “authentic” whose character and charisma transcends the hype of Hollywood celebrities or the perfectly groomed PR profiles of captains of industry. But how do we know we’re following a leader and not a billboard? As with the case cited above, what if the moral compass of the person we’re following gets so distorted by the magnetic pull of his or her own ego and lusts that we both lose sight of true north? (One thing that will happen is we’ll likely be told that true north is only outdated thinking that no “smart” person believes exists anymore, anyway.)
Given the potential for abuse, I might question a person’s ultimate motives for setting out on such a quest or series of quests, and what standard he or she is going to use to measure progress. I want to ask, “Is this all for your own benefit or for the benefit of others?”
Well, duh, it is called “personal development” after all, and one pretty much takes it as a matter of faith that if I am happy then those around me will be happy, too. I mean, that’s what the commercials always seem to promise, right? Speaking of faith, perhaps another question to ask about motives is, “Are you doing it in the hopes of evolving yourself into a better, even god-like, human — or have you considered simply becoming more like God?”
As humans, we will naturally find ourselves influenced by someone’s teaching or example; in fact, it’s virtually impossible not to be unless you’re one of the minuscule percentage who is truly an original thinker. If we’re Christians, however, our examples would ideally help us be more “Christian” — the term that was first used by those in Antioch to describe that weird new sect of people who were “Christ-like”. Whether secular or religious, however, what standards do we use in determining who is a good leader or example, or evaluate our own ability to lead or be an example to others? Following a religious leader is not necessarily any better or safer than following some new age guru. Recent and ancient history are rife with disastrous examples. Mindlessly following anyone because of a few signs and wonders (or best-selling books and appearances on Oprah) is dangerous. While the popular stereotype of Christians as superstitious idiots is all around us, I believe that a true Christian walk engages and stimulates us intellectually as well as spiritually. After all, Romans 12:2 tell us to renew our minds, not chuck them overboard.
I believe there is a proven model that improves not just our own lives and enables us to improve the lives of others, with built-in fail-safes that will keep us from ending up dead in some jungle or blowing ourselves up in a market. What is it? Check back on Tuesday for Part 2.