‘Secret’ Attraction

By Ed O'Reilly on 27 June 2007 (Updated 18 August 2007) 17 comments

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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Guest's picture

It makes me feel so good to know that someone else sees what I do. If I read any more tomes (and they are also prevalent in the Christian book niche) about "visualizing mansions", I am going to throw myself out the window. Good thing I live on the first floor, because this seems to be a trend.

Positive, focused and confident is good, materialistic and deluded is not.

Guest's picture
Heidi

I had a chance to read half of "The Secret" at a bookstore. Absolutely a ridiculous book. I still don't understand how people can ever believe - if you think hard enough, you'll get whatever you want - and praise it like god's words?? An example given in the book was about a little boy finally had a chance to go to some theme park and wanted to play all the rides. However, there were so many people and it'd take you at least 1 hour to get on a ride. So this boy, before he went to sleep, he THOUGHT SO HARD about getting on the rides without waiting. The next day, miracle happened! He was given a special pass so he didn't have to line up and get to play everything whenever he wanted!! Isn't it a GREAT example? Just think hard enough and you'll get anything you want!

Guest's picture
Steve

The reason so many people have jumped on the secret bandwagon is because they've never heard the message in the movie before.

If you have oreviously been exposed to the ideas in the movie it is lacking and not filled with actual ideas on how to put the theories it proposes to use.

For many this is the first time they've been exposed to the concepts in the movie and it is naturally appealing so they are overly enthusiastic about an idea many have spoken more eloquently and practically about.

Guest's picture
Shane

I had the same impression from The Secret. Mostly valid, but ego-centric focus on self-definition through thing fetish is not the path to happiness.

Guest's picture
Guest

Wow, Dr. John Gray, huh? You mean the one who paid for his fake doctorate from a fake university?

Yeah, I'm going to run out and shun this book right away.

Guest's picture
Guest

Perhaps you could get your facts straight before you trash someone in your review? Yes, John Gray was divorced after 2 years of marriage, but he then remarried and has remained so for well over 20 years.

I'm not someone who's drank the kool-aid or thinks the Secret is the key to anything, but it does benefit your readers if you complete the truth in your review instead of trashing someone's credibility in the area he's done so much good in. I don't think it matters a hill of beans if he's been divorced given the good that his books have done for people in conflicted marriages.

-One reader's opinion

Andrea Karim's picture

Who HASN'T been exposed to the "think positive" motto at least once in their lives?

The thing that I find really funny about The Secret, especially when it comes to the 'finding love' part, is that I personally usually find love when I'm NOT looking for it. Sit around and long desperately for someone, and you'll probably come across as pathetic and needy.

Go out and make a good life for yourself, enjoy your own company and the company of good friends, and THAT positive energy will attract love (not always, but still). I hope the focus isn't simply on the current LACK of love/money/whatever.

I know I've linked to this before, but I'm going to do it again.

Guest's picture
Former Fundie

Your article sort of makes it sound like the new agers have been taken up with this stuff, well I can tell you that a lot of Christians that ought to know better have fallen into this trap also. It's derisively referred to as the "name it and claim it" philosophy, that sort of makes God out to be a giant vending machine, where you put in your wishes and prayers, and God gives you whatever you want.

I personally don't have a problem with the idea that prayer or "focused intent" works - even some scientific studies have given evidence to that (for those that don't realize it, prayer to a Christian is the same thing as "focused intent" to a new ager, it just different terms for what is essentially the same thing, and it's the reason why people of all faiths/beliefs sometimes get their prayers/wishes answered). What I do have a problem with is that so often these teachings are in a "service to self" vein, rather than "service to others" - or, to put it another way, they promote selfishness, rather than love for others.

Another comment mentioned the boy who THOUGHT SO HARD about getting on the rides without waiting. Of course what he didn't consider was that because he was able to skip the line, someone else (probably several other people) had to wait longer in line. And I think this is exactly why most of us cannot master these techniques - most people, if they could really manipulate the universe through their thoughts, would work it to their own advantage (or possibly that of a small group, such as their own family) without regard to the effect on others. In our reality, things are rarely a win-win proposition. I heard a late-might radio talk show host say that he'd considered asking his listeners to focus on keeping a hurricane from coming ashore. But then he wondered, what if they succeeded, but then the hurricane looped back out into the ocean, gathered additional strength while over the warm waters, and came ashore someplace else, now as a category 4 or 5 instead of of a 1 or 2?

In other words, the problem is not so much that teachings like "the secret" are a bunch of nonsense, as that it ISN'T nonsense but is usually taught in a destructive manner (also you may note that usually someone is making money hand over fist by selling related books, tapes, videos, etc.). The highest calling of humanity is to be of service to one's fellow humans, not to sit around and wish for more money, possessions, etc. (which don't bring lasting happiness anyway). Those who learn the secret of focused intent (a.k.a. "earnest prayer") but misuse it for their own selfish desires may in the end wish they'd never heard of it at all - if not in this life, then perhaps in the next.

Guest's picture
Kat

Besides sounding like a Tony Robbins seminar, I hated the movie because it included that all-encompassing disclaimer: if it doesn't work, you're not trying hard enough. Constantly thinking of someone calling you (for example) just makes it stick out in your mind when/if they call. It's coincidence, but our brains register "hits" more than "misses." And this theory includes a get-out-of-jail-free card even if the coincidence doesn't hit.

Ed O'Reilly's picture

I'm also reminded of that scene in "Forrest Gump", when he's criss-crossing the country on foot. He attracts quite a following who are doing it because I guess they think there's some kind of Zen state they'll attain by following him, or maybe they just want to be included in the non-event of simply running.

When he just stops, they all wonder, "What are we supposed to do now?

Likewise, without owning and following the ideas in 'The Secret', how could anyone make a better life for themselves? At least, that's the suggestion.

Sometimes, I think, you just do what you do and the rest falls into place. I'm not negating other people's beliefs in the metaphysical claims of 'The Secret'; I'm just saying that it feels like a cleverly-marketed 'snake-oil' packaging of (relatively) common sense: postive perpetuates positive, and vice versa.

One other thing to think about, as far as the implications: if a person is responsible for "attracting" all these creature comforts through their own thoughts, wouldn't the converse be true: that any calamity, disease, personal tragedy, etc. would be the result of negative thinking and not simply the way life goes, sometimes?

 

Guest's picture

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Guest's picture
Guest

I think his concepts are polarizing, and do a good job of getting the sexes to not talk to each other "because we're so different".

And his degree is a sham. He got his degree in 1997, a full year after CPU was denied approval to the Council for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education (Council). Sure, the appeal process hadn't finished, but I trust this guy like I'd trust a bag of rocks to give me marriage advice.

Much like most of the people who teach this "thinking" garbage.

Ed O'Reilly's picture

Since this post was about "The Secret" and how my opinion was that it mainly encouraged materialistic gluttony based on metaphysical/quasi-mystical ideas, I'm going to only address your comment briefly:

I am aware that John Grey has remarried. He has also made a fortune giving out relationship advice. But measuring how much "good" he's done by his book sales or appearance in media doesn't, to me, seem like any sort of reliable barometer of success with other couples.

I felt that his inclusion in the film affirmed what I'd said at the conclusion of this article: it seems that there are some who have a talent for tapping into the zeitgeist of people who feel like there's just something missing, something wrong, can't put their finger on it... but wait! Someone just wrote a whole book about it, clearly instructing you on how to "fix" it. And now they have a DVD about the stuff in the book. And now they're going on TV to talk about why you need to buy the book and DVD to be truly happy.

Well, as happy as you can be until you start to feel empty again and a new book comes out.

Guest's picture
Generic Guest

Well put, Ed. Besides, no one is "trashing" anyone else by pointing out things like that.

Guest's picture
Ross Cornwell

Dear Ed,

If you will send me your mailing address, I would like to send you a complimentary copy of a new edition of Napoleon Hill's classic "Think and Grow Rich." It is "Think and GRow Rich!" (subtitled) "The Original Version, Restored and Revised."

I am the editor/annotator of this new edition, the first ever to have endnotes (more than 50 pages of them), an index, and an appendix with a wealth of attention about Napoleon Hill and his work.

In doing my reseach on the book I was surprised to learn just how altruistic Napoleon Hill and his book really are. There is a deep "spiritual" dimension to the book that people who have never read it would never suspect. It is a book about how, yes, to be successful in life, but Hill always stresses how real success comes only through rendering useful service to others. The Golden Rule was very important to Hill, and it permeates all of his thinking and writing.

If you will read some of the testimonials in the book (visit http://tgr-restored-revised.com/testimonials.htm) and will study the endnotes after you receive it, I believe you will come to the same conclusion I did: This is a rich, multidimensional work that does indeed teach the practical steps to attaining success -- in every aspect of life that means anything. It's a book that can change people's lives -- and help change the world. TGR is the wellspring from which "The Secret" and all other positive attitude movements flow.

Thanks for your time and attention. I hope to hear from you.

With all best wishes,

Ross Cornwell

Guest's picture
Beck

I just wanted to call attention to a great line in Ed's post, "Satisfaction will come by believing in yourself and using your talents to find the deeper meaning of who you really are, inside."
There are so many things I like about this quote that I am going to pop it into my journal and use it to write my New Year's mission statement. Like all great wisdom, its not new- but well put and a good reminder of a truth we instinctively know.

While I am here, I will say that I have enjoyed the video of the Secret. Messages like "gratitude" and "focusing on positive solutions instead of negative situations" can enrich anyone's life. Undoubtedly authors will sell more books and movies if they promise money, health and love using these tools. Is that exploitation or is it a way to sneak a spiritual message into the hands of a materialistic audience?

I have heard a few other attacks on the materialistic nature of the Secret. It annoys me to hear pundits with several cars, and an estate in Maui telling a single mom renting a 1 bedroom apartment and taking the bus to work to be less materialistic. People who want to pay the heat bill and send their kids to college are not greedy and materialistic- they are tired and don't know where else to turn. Maybe the Secret is selling false hope, but any hope is better than none for some people.

Perhaps the most valuable advice on both sides of the argument is to be less judgmental. Take what is useful for you and leave what is useful for others. (but then how would we start great discussions like this one?)

PS- If I don't respond to replies- sorry. I am not a regular blogger- just passing through.

Ed O'Reilly's picture

I'm glad you liked my article, and I enjoyed your insightful supplementary contribution; it seems like you know what you want and are making plans to achieve them, starting with a foward-thinking attitude towards challenges.

Happy New Year!