When people borrow or steal the ideas of others and later claim these same great ideas came miraculously to them, direct from The Universe, it makes you wonder why The Universe sent the great idea to the wrong person in the first place. Is this merely the case of misaligned universal antennae or something of a more sinister nature?
It has occurred to me more than once in recent months that we haven't seen much media coverage lately about Rhonda Byrne, the famous (or infamous, depending upon your point of view) producer of the world's most successful New-Wage moviemercial, The Secret. In the months after the DVD's release in March 2006, Rhonda seemed to be everywhere, sporting her signature miniskirts, her yards of bling and that costume-jewel tilak* on her forehead, smiling big for the camera, and gushing giddily about how the Universe had helped her every step of the way in the creation and marketing of The Secret. Once the inevitable backlash began, however, she all but disappeared.
In the more than three years since the original DVD was spewed across the Internet, there has been a nonstop effluvium of product from Secret stars and wannabes, all claiming to reveal "the missing Secret," or tell you everything that The Secret left out, or give you the key to really making The Secret work, or take you beyond The Secret. One of the most eminently ludicrous offerings came from Secret star Bob Proctor, who recently released a product claiming to teach the eleven "forgotten" laws that The Secret left out. (In the process of promoting his product, he totally dissed The Secret, even as he wrote, "But perhaps what I'm most famous now at this point is for my appearance in The Secret.")
Significantly, however, the long-awaited "official" sequel to The Secret has yet to be released. And Rhonda Byrne herself has, for the most part, become as elusive as Waldo.
In fact, for the past year and a half or so, virtually the only mentions of her in the news media have been pieces here and there about certain Secret-related lawsuits, most notably involving Drew Heriot, the original director and co-creator of The Secret, and Dan Hollings, Rhonda's original Web marketing strategist. Drew claims – credibly, in my opinion – to be a co-creator and therefore to have co-ownership of The Secret; you can find the details here. Dan seems merely to be trying to collect all of the money that Rhonda originally promised him, although she has claimed, among other things, that The Secret didn't make enough money to pay him. You can find those details here.
If you read Drew's and Dan's stories (and I realize you may have already done so, but I linked to them for the benefit of those who haven't), you will see a remarkable difference between their respective versions of how The Secret was created, and the "official" version as told on The Secret web site. The official fairy tale...er...account is right here. Although the Universe, and proper usage of the Law of Attraction, are given their due credit, and there is some mention of a "team," the clear implication is that Rhonda was always the main brains and creative force behind The Secret.
Some folks beg to differ.
I first wrote about the Secret legal woes here in December of 2007. (Not to pat myself on the back too much, but I was one of the very first to publicly write about the legal difficulties brewing in Secretville, and I still think that the accompanying pic was one of my finer Photoshopping efforts (and is certainly more artful than today's crude effort)). A little over a year ago the word was finally out officially about the pending lawsuits, and I blogged about it then as well, although a piece in the New York Times was what really grabbed public attention. (A few months later I blogged about the topic yet again, with another Photoshop offering that continued on the same theme as the December work.)
In the months since the story officially broke there have been numerous articles, pieces of commentary, and blog discussions about how Rhonda Byrne "attracted" all of this trouble to herself. That theme has been done to death by now, but people keep returning to it because it is so rich in irony. And last week in the Huffington Post, self-help gurus Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks wrote a thoughtful piece about what we can learn from The Secret lawsuits.
Now, setting aside the facts that (1) Gay and Kathlyn have their own New-Wage cottage industry, and don't hesitate to plug their new book in the HuffPost article; and (2) They claim to be admirers of two of my favorite snark targets, imaginary-friends-industry leaders Esther and Jerry Hicks, I think they make some valid points in their article. Some might speculate that they are suffering from sour grapes or envy because they were interviewed for The Secret but didn't make the cut, but I don't really see it that way. If their account is accurate, it appears that they didn't make it into The Secret because they displayed a little too much integrity. Or at the very least, they tried to inject a little too much reality into that whole Magic Universe Genie meme:
The interview went fine, but it was clear that Rhonda wanted to focus the interview only on the positive side of the Law of Attraction. There were two key points we wanted to make sure got into the movie, but when we tried to bring them up Rhonda steered us away from them.
Here are the key points about the Law of Attraction that didn't make it into the movie: Key point #1 is that unless you combine the Law of Attraction with impeccable integrity, you can attract a peck of troubles along with anything positive that comes your way...
...Key point #2: Using the Law of Attraction is a quick way to trigger your Upper Limit Problem, an issue I describe in detail in my new book, The Big Leap. The Upper Limit Problem is the tendency to sabotage yourself when you experience a rapid upsurge in success. If you haven't built a solid foundation of integrity under you, a rapid upturn in your fortunes can bring forth old self-esteem issues that cause you to bring yourself back down to your more familiar lower level of success...
...After the interviews, we didn't hear anything from Rhonda for a while. I began to grow more and more concerned that The Secret was not going to give "air-time" to concepts such as integrity, honesty and the keeping of agreements. Then, we heard that Esther and Jerry Hicks, two people of high integrity whom I admire very much, decided to pull out of the project. At that point Kathlyn and I lost interest in the project and began a two-year process of trying to get our footage back...
Kathyln and Gay did get their footage back and plan to make it available soon.
I think the Hendrickses really nailed it when writing about the significance of The Secret lawsuits:
On the surface, it looks like a movie business squabble, but there's a lot more to it. If it were just one movie-type trying to squeeze money out of another, it would be easy to understand. We generally don't expect much in the way of integrity from people in the movie business. A Hollywood wag once said something along the lines of "You can take all the integrity in Hollywood, put it in a gnat's eye, and still have room left over for an agent's heart."
However, most of us have higher standards for those who speak on behalf of God or purport to teach us the laws of the universe. What grips our attention about The Secret lawsuits is the same thing that compels many of us to read stories about preachers who get busted for sexual shenanigans or priests who molest children. Such events remind us of the dangers of hypocrisy and the ever-present possibility of having life turn ironical on us. When a massively successful movie about the Law of Attraction ends up attracting equally massive lawsuits, it blows the lid off the irony-meter, bringing to mind Lily Tomlin's observation that "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."
One point on which I don't entirely agree with the Hendrickses is their observation that New Age scandals usually involve sex rather than money. While that arguably may be true of the stories that most frequently become public, in my experience and observation there are just as many financial shenanigans as sexual ones in the New-Wage industry. Maybe more. But the icky sexual stuff is certainly there, and not all of it does become public. (I'm sitting on a couple of potentially explosive secrets about some New-Wage gurus whom you'd never suspect of illicit and even criminal sexual dalliances...but I can't blog about that yet.)
So let's get back to The Secret lawsuits. As Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks write, "'The Secret' scandal is different, and not only because it's about a huge amount of money. At a deeper level it is about the interface of integrity and the power of manifestation, a subject that has truly life-changing consequences."
And that, of course, is what has all of the tongues wagging about how the Law of Attraction has bitten Rhonda in the butt.
So...where IS Rhonda right now?
As it happens, the question in the title of today's post is not rhetorical, and I can tell you where Rhonda has been for at least part of this week: in court. The aforementioned Drew Heriot's case against her went to a jury trial, much to the surprise of some insiders who were expecting an out-of-court settlement. That trial is now in full swing in Chicago, Illinois, USA.
So why aren't we hearing anything about it? Word has it that there seem to be no press or media at all covering the trial. If that's so, you have to wonder why. Are the media simply bored with The Secret? Or have there been concerted attempts to keep this part of the story out of the public eye? I have no idea, but you can bet that if I were in Chicago, I would be at that courthouse live-blogging nonstop. Or at least Tweeting.
Drew Heriot may have a tough hurdle to clear, especially in light of the fact that Rhonda and gang have the big bucks for top-flight attorneys. But I'm rooting for him. And I will be rooting for Dan Hollings, too, when and if his case goes to trial.
"In the meantime," say Kathlyn and Gay Henricks at the conclusion of their HuffPost article (which I'll link to again here), "let's all use the legal dramas around The Secret as a good lesson on using the Law of Attraction in the context of a focus on impeccable integrity."
For further reading...
The complete text of the complaints against Rhonda Byrne et al. are available on Amazon:
And here is another lawsuit against a Secret "star," Marie Diamond. Sometimes Diamonds are not a girl's best friend, apparently...
FOLLOW-UP: Although it's difficult to find much information at all about the outcome of this trial (I was informed privately), Drew Heriot did not prevail in this matter. There may, however, be an appeal. It remains to be seen how Dan Hollings' suit against Rhonda will go.
YET ANOTHER FOLLOW-UP, MONTHS LATER: Word has it that Rhonda & gang settled with Dan Hollings for an undisclosed amount, with a boatload of conditions, also undisclosed. Dan seems to be going on about the business of Internet marketing, and I'm following him on Twitter. Maybe you should too.