It’s really important to remember that, just because you are heavily involved and invested in this project of improving your life and getting happier and healthier, that doesn’t mean you’re living in denial about the difficult or unfair things in the world.
If you follow my work, you know that I write and talk a LOT about the things we can do to make our lives better.
Whereas a lot of people spend a lot of energy fuming about the things that are wrong with the world— often on an institutional or societal level— I tend not to put my focus there.
That’s not because I believe the world is problem-free.
I don’t believe the world is even fundamentally fair.
I absolutely believe that there are issues of power, inequality, and privilege that result in a LOT of people having to contend with an appallingly unfair playing field.
I am not naive’ or in denial about ANY of that.
There are ABSOLUTELY things that I would prefer be different about society, the economy, and the world— and I have an overwhelming amount of respect and admiration for those who have dedicated their personal and professional lives to changing things in the big picture.
The reason I don’t write so much about social justice or injustice ISN’T because I believe it’s futile to do so (though I will say, writing about social justice with nuance and perspective seems to be one of the most difficult tasks in modern media).
The reason I don’t really write and talk about social justice and injustice is because it’s not really what I’m trained and qualified to write and talk about.
What I AM trained and qualified to talk about is how people can create change in their individual lives. How people can take greater control over their own thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
To broaden the content that I publicly put out there would be me veering way out of my lane— and as someone who cares about my audience and my reputation, that kind of thing really matters.
For example: we’re in the middle of a public health crisis, and many people seem to have very divergent opinions on what governments and other institutions can and should do in response to that crisis.
I have my own opinions and impressions on that subject— but am I an authority on epidemiology, infectious disease, or economics? I am very much NOT not.
Thus, it would be unreasonable for me to go on my page and pretend to my 55,000 social media followers that I had anything other than half-baked impressions and opinions on the subject.
You might have noticed, however— not all self-help figures seem to share my reluctance to stick to what we know when making public statements.
In the last two months, we’ve seen, over and over again, self-help figures from Dr. Phil McGraw, to Dr. Oz, to Dr. Drew, to even my personal favorite (said with a great deal of sarcasm) James Arthur Ray, using their heavily-traffcked public platforms to make public pronouncements about the public health situation…many of which seem to diverge from the opinions and recommendations of the most visible public health authorities and officials in our culture.
Why is this important to point this out? Am I saying that no one who has a public platform SHOULD be out there challenging the “official” narrative surrounding the public health situation? Am I saying that people shouldn’t think for themselves, and instead swallow everything the government feeds us, hook, line, and sinker?
I’m not saying that at all.
What I AM saying is, it’s very important, when you’re following popular self-help personalities, to keep track of their areas of expertise…and to have a feeling for when they’re veering out of their lanes for the sake of attracting clicks.
I’m writing about this specifically because I know— I don’t think, I KNOW— that my audience is smart.
I know self-help seekers are generally smart, and optimistic, and hungry for knowledge and new perspectives.
I also know that the self-help paradigm is such that we tend to get kind of attached to those figures to whom we gravitate…and we can sometimes lose perspective on when they might be talking out of school.
Back when I was overwhelmingly depressed as a teenager and young adult, one of the things that literally saved my life was cramming my head full of good stuff whenever I could. I devoured self help books, articles, and programs— anything and everything that I thought could give me some perspective on why I felt the way I did, and how I might change it.
Saturating your brain with good, constructive, proactive content is something I highly recommend— but in this environment where everyone is writing and publishing things with the goal of attracting as many clicks and eyeballs as possible…we have to be smart and selective about who we let into our heads.
Not every “expert” out there will be straightforward about their limitations or blind spots.
If an “expert” seems allergic to saying “I don’t know” or “That’s not really my field”…pay attention.
There are lots of people out there, in the self-help field and elsewhere, who have a lot of interesting, helpful things to say…but it’s still up to us to be mindful and intelligent about the content we consume and the personalities we embrace.
I do my best to do right by my audience, and I’m profoundly grateful for those who follow my work.
But I’m not different from anybody else in the field. I have my blind spots, and I have my limitations.
Take what I say with as many grains of salt as you would when reading anybody else.
But if you’re reading this…you probably know that already and you’re probably doing that already.
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