Why the 'Secret' should remain that way

Many of you will be familiar with one of the iconic books of the modern self-help movement, the 'Secret'. Indeed, to call it a book ignores the DVD and the CD's that bear the same name. It also ignores the movement of disciples that has grown up around it.

Now, as one who judges a movement at least partly by its followers as well as by its ideas, the 'Secret' has given me a sense of disquiet for a while. While many movements down the years start with a grain of truth, it usually gets followed by a huge dollop of propaganda that followers are expected to swallow wholesale.

In the 'Secret's' case, the grain of truth is startlingly simple (as truth usually is). It is this. To quote the Henry Ford maxim, “whether you believe you can, or that you can't, you're usually right”. In other words, your expectations play a big part in your success or failure. Any sports star will tell you that – that's why psychologists make so much money from working with them. The 'Secret' develops ideas around the law of attraction – that we attract what we expect to attract, whether or not we want to attract it.

I believe 'The Secret' gives the self help movement a bit of a bad name, and discourages many from becoming more engaged in helping themselves. For me, there are four main reasons why the 'Secret' should at least be taken with a very large pinch of salt.

Reason one: It takes the 'help' out of 'self-help'

Core to 'The Secret' is the idea that, if you visualise yourself being successful, you will be successful. This is summed up by the mantra employed throughout, “thoughts become things”. What does that mean? Well, to take it to its extreme, if you sit eating a 3-course meal, then lay on the couch visualising yourself fitting a pair of tight-fitting jeans, you will fit those jeans someday soon. You will be putting out a message to the universe that goes something like “me thin, me thin, me thin”. As Ali Baba would say, open sesame, you will be thin. The universe will make it so.

My first objection to the 'Secret' then is that wishing by itself is not enough. You must also take action, a point conveniently skirted over throughout the book, CD's and DVD.

Reason two: It equates money with happiness

The Secret is blatantly western in its orientation, to the extent that it glorifies the accumulation of wealth. Just about every contributor to the story has a number of key things in common.

  • They are rich, or at least well off.

  • Their focus is on creating material wealth.

  • They equate money as the root of happiness

Whatever happened to companionship, spiritual development, making a contribution to society, health, families, and all the other things that generally make life worthwhile? While they do get brief mentions here and there, they are fleeting as that note at the bottom of a cigarette packet warning about the risks of cancer. It is hardly the first thing you notice on that packet. So it is with the Secret.

Reason three: It is patronising

I must admit I noticed it more in the four CD's, but the whole thing landed as a sermon by the rich, for the less rich, about how they got rich. All they did, of course, was to visualise themselves being rich! I just don't buy that story. At one point, an interesting question is posed for the majority of people in our world who are not rich:

What is it that the richest 1% have that you don't that made them that way? (apart from the obvious answer, money!).

Now, the answer they wanted was 'they believe they will make money, so they do'. All lovely, and it may be a good way for the well off to justify their wealth. However, what about all the other answers – use of power, inheritance, having rich parents and going to private school, and the like. All very relevant factors, and all ignored in the Secret.

I may be over-simplifying things to say that the Secret glorifies the rich and insults the rest. Oh, and before I am accused of jealousy, let me say that I have no desire for great wealth. While some money is important, as I said above, a great many other things are too, when it comes to happiness.

My final reason is the least obvious. But it is also deeply dangerous.

Reason four: 'The Secret' is dangerous

If the well off and happy are getting what they visualise, then it is equally true that the badly off and unhappy are also getting what they visualise. The homeless, those losing jobs, and the unhappy are all that way because of the way they think. How convenient, and a great excuse not to help them, and pass by the other side instead. But this isn't just a point about justifying capitalistic greed. If only....

Let's take it to the next stage. The poor and starving in Ethiopia, the dead in Haiti, even the 6 million Jews in World War Two, all brought it upon themselves through the way they thought, and their failure to visualise a good outcome. I say it in those stark terms to highlight the danger behind such thinking – and 'The Secret' lends itself to that thinking.

The Conclusion?

I hope you've drawn it yourself, based on the above. The Secret takes a good idea, and builds a tower of illusion, deception and danger on it. I well understand the needs of many to find a better way. I work with people who seek happiness and a better tomorrow, and that is a laudable aim. If you are one of them, my advice is simple. Find another self help or spiritual book to read. It might not be marketed as well as the 'Secret', but you will be more likely to find something real to use in your life. Talk to me – I could recommend many options.

Mark Eyre

Comments

The Secret

I could not agree more with the above sentiments. Once a Secret is out it is no longer a secret. It just becomes knowledge/information that has not been accessed.
Sadly there are far too many people that have been brought up in the "Nanny" state that think everything should be handed to them on a plate and in many ways this book and CD's etc reinforce that message.
Some other books on a similar vein argue that you not only have to think it you have to feel it.
While there is ample wealth available we still have to put in some effort to acquire it, and that to a great extent involves accepting responsibility for our own actions.

Secret Stoic

I've heard of the Secret but not read or watched it. Like a few of these programmes, it sounds pretty misleading and manipulative and, as you say, focussing on material gain is unlikely to lead to true lasting happiness and fulfillment. Indeed, recent work by the Equality Foundation suggests that happiness rises with income levels only up to around the equivalent of an income of £28,000 p.a. in the UK - beyond that, there is no appreciable gain and even some indications of lower personal satisfaction. But of course, there is that dynamic inbuilt in western scoiety that says, "I'm not happy or happy enough yet...but another £10,000 will put that right..." and another..and another...

I'd recommend a book I found by accident on my very last trip to Borders before they shut down: "A Guide to the Good Life" by William B. Irvine. It is not, as a child of the 70s might confuse it with, a compendium of the works of Richard Briers and Penelope Keith, but rather a modern rewritting of the misunderstood philosophy of the Stoics of ancinet Greece and Rome; it advocates the opposite of The Secret - seeking contentment with what you have; understanding the transience of our place and time in the Universe and by accepting that gaining fulfillment in just Being; and even suggesting the voluntary surrendering of personal wealth and possessions rather than their acquisition to avoid perceived dependency on that which is not needed.

And on that note, I don't think I'll need a copy of "The Secret" - thanks for the post!