I finally buckled under the pressure to remain in the loop with Oprah and I rented 'The Secret'.
Now, before you think I’m going to offer a movie review, I’ll simply say that it felt like an hour and a half infomercial: the actors were amateurish and the quick-cut editing reminded me of 'America’s Most Wanted' with 'The Da Vinci Code' as the graphic theme. The panel of “experts” includes Dr. John Gray (of the 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus' fame who, it’s worth noting, was divorced after 2 years of marriage), Jack Canfied (author of the 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' series) and various other “visionaries” and “philosophers”.
But I really wanted to address the big “secret” presented in the movie (and the hugely popular book): that if you visualize what your really want and, to paraphrase Peter Pan, "think good thoughts”, you’ll have all that you desire, and in abundance since, according to one of their “experts”, there’s plenty of everything for everyone.
This concept of positive thinking is not new, obviously. I’ve read 'Think and Grow Rich' several times (as instructed in the book itself) and the message is essentially the same: set goals, write them down, imagine that you are already in possession of that which you want to acquire, etc. The book was written by Napoleon Hill and published in 1937 – long before Oprah had her book club. Still, the book was a huge success and continues to sell, largely, I would speculate, because people want to know how to get more out of their efforts and how to enrich their lives.
Both 'The Secret' and 'Think and Grow Rich' offer, I think, good guidelines for self-improvement: think positive, visualize your goals, use autosuggestion and have faith – either in yourself or in a "higher power".
However, both works (and, in particular, the film) seem to stress the goal of acquiring money and material possessions. They say, for example, to write down how much money you’d like to have and imagine that you are already in possession of that sum. The film illustrates its theme by portraying people buying cars and jewelry, of living “the good life” – all by following the steps that, as both claim, were (until now) privy to a select few of historically rich and powerful.
I was reminded of the New Age fads of the late 80s, right around the time of the stock market crash of 1987, a sobering event that punctuated a decade of big-ness: big money, big possessions and, sadly, big hair (you know who you are!). The New Age trinkets of crystals, rocks and Yuppie muzak promised “healing” and prosperity if used just the right way. Similarly, 'The Secret' supposedly reveals, with metaphysical allusion, the long-coveted way to a life of ease, of material abundance and indulgence, with little mention of the things that money can’t buy . Sure, it says that if you want to find that special someone so you can love and be loved, you have to send out the right vibe; but even this is portrayed in a way that is just one more acquisition based on your persistent longing for something (or someone) to make you feel more complete, to feel happiness. Ultimately, the bottom line is that you need something to make you feel, at all.
'The Secret' comes at a time where personal debt is at an all-time high and the concepts introduced promise that, if you just buy the book (and people are, in record numbers) or watch the movie (which is also available as an online pay-per-view), and follow the advice given, you’ll be on easy street. My criticism is that bliss will not be found with the next big purchase, or a windfall of money, because you thought about it hard enough. Satisfaction will come by believing in yourself and using your talents to find the deeper meaning of who you really are, inside.
I certainly encourage people to find a way to greater happiness, and I do believe that you are who you think you are; that the power of thought can change the course of your own life as well as the course of others, as has been demonstrated throughout history. It seems that what all these self-help books, films, etc. stress is that you are missing some essential component to your being. But I think what they’re really saying is that the missing component is their latest piece of advice, available now at your favorite bookstore or on amazon.com.
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