I have always had a problem with Oprah Winfrey (I bet that got your attention). Although our living icon and holy priestess of pseudo-wisdom has had her uses (her book club has highlighted many genuinely deserving books), I’m quite glad she is off the air because she was the chief peddler of the kind of fairy-tale pop-psychology that I’ve never been fond of.
The low point was probably her endorsement of the book ‘the secret’ which proposed the idea that the universe would give you what you want if you just had positive vibes and wished really, really hard for what you wanted.
It is the kind of theory that would make my eleven year old brother collapse with laughter at its’ sheer ridiculousness (not to mention the obvious moral issues that arise from that theory, but that’s a story for another time)
Now granted there is an understandable point to all this quasi-mystical talk- the language of self-empowerment can help many people reach their goals and become more rounded and responsible human beings.
In this context, it seems churlish to pick holes in this discourse, but I’m going to get my flak jacket and helmet on and hit the frontlines for this battle.
One of my pet hates is the expression ‘listen to your heart’- surely one of the most vacuous and meaningless statements anyone can utter.
What does it really mean? Apparently there is some little voice inside that is somehow always right and if you just tune into it you will make the right decision.
It turns out that the heart is a very chatty organ. I guess it’s a variation on the ‘listen to your inner voice’ line (although it does give me no small amount of amusement to imagine a stampede of ‘true voices’ all vying for attention and legitimacy).
I don’t see how it makes sense even in a very metaphorical way. It seems to me to be a gateway to bad decision-making (and eventually makes one justify decisions using hindsight but assuming the decisions were inevitably correct because the heart has spoken).
I’ve also got significant problems with ‘stay true to yourself’ which I think is also of limited utility. For starters, ‘being yourself’ is not inherently good if your character flaws are significant enough to require big changes- there is no inherent moral worth in being yourself.
If you need to change or perhaps reach a greater level of maturity, being yourself is more of a hindrance than a help. And if you think about it, that statement presupposes a sort of unified and unchanging you that is easy to locate and decipher. People are a lot more complex than that.
And another addition to my ‘wisdom from drunken Yoda’ files is the expression ‘There is a reason for everything.’ Now that might be comforting, but it is a mess of logic.
Whatever philosophy you have on the world- Christian, mystical, atheist etc- none would comfortably be compatible with the idea that there is a reason for everything. It also presents a host of moral complications in a world full of atrocities and evil.
At the end of the day (to use a football cliché) such expressions not only create logical and moral issues, but they reduce the complexity of life and character to a few bland phrases that actually have little to do with reality.