Book 19 of 52: "Sham – How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless" by Steve Salerno

Last week, I was reading about the invisible poor in America.  This week, I’m reading about how the “self-help” movement has done terrible things to America.  C’mon, when does America get a break here?  And when do I get something upbeat to read?

Maybe I can find a way to help myself…
When Salerno addresses “self-help”, he’s referring to more than just those guidance books in the local Barnes & Noble.  The Self-Help movement includes everything from faith healers to get-rich-quick seminars to motivational speakers to Dr. Phil.  All of these different sources of information are full of advice on what you should or should not do in order to make every single problem in your life magically disappear.

We all know that they’re mostly full of crap.

But the origins and underpinnings of the Self-Help movement go deeper, Salerno insists.  He says that the origins of this corrupting influence rest with two philosophies, created back in the thirties and forties:

Victimization, where nothing is your fault.  Everything is a condition, a disease, out of your hands.  All bad things, that is.

Empowerment says that you can accomplish anything good that you set your mind to.  You can go out and conquer the world!

Of course, the real trouble comes when these two beliefs start mixing together.  “With our help, you can accomplish anything – and if you fail, it’s because you’re a victim of other forces conspiring against you!” claims the Self-Help movement, and you eagerly nod along as you hand over your credit card.

While I agree with most of what Salerno says, I don’t always agree with some of his conclusions.  Salerno tends to stray across the morality line a couple times, insinuating that moral beliefs should negatively reflect on a person’s skills or abilities.  While lack of morality might damage a person’s holistic image, an embezzler is not necessarily worse than his or her coworkers at an assigned task.

Overall, it’s a good – not great – read.  I would compare it to Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Bright-Sided”, calling them similar both in terms of the targets that they pick, and my overall feelings towards the books.

Time to read: 4 hours.  I read this one right before it was due back to the library, so I was under a deadline!

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