Today I heard from someone I'll call Pat, who recently discovered my blog. For several years Pat worked for an Internet marketing guru, and at first found the work fun and creative. Then as time went by, to Pat's dismay, the guru became more and more involved in the world of New-Wage/selfish-help stuff. Pat, a self-described skeptic and atheist who believes that "most self-help stuff is crap," found several of the guru's schemes to be morally objectionable. The fact that the guy was bilking people out of lots of money was what really got Pat's goat.
At first the guru's New-Wage leanings didn't pose too much of a problem, however, because there was still enough non-objectionable work for Pat to do. But as Pat's boss became increasingly more woo-ish, and then latched onto The Secret in a huge way, things became much less tolerable. Pat ultimately left the guru's employ with sanity and ethics intact, having learned some eye-opening lessons about the private worlds of selfish-help luminaries.
There were two paragraphs in Pat's email that particularly stuck out for me, and Pat has graciously given me permission to share them:
I think that the majority of the people that buy into these types of people and their products would be absolutely gobsmacked if they realized what these guys are like behind closed doors. Up on the stage, in the books, in the audios, in the videos, these guys are charming, upbeat, positive role model type people that you can look up to. But get them off stage and with the people that work for them, and they are completely different. [My ex-boss] holds the honor of being the absolute WORST boss I have ever had... One of his favorite pastimes appeared to be seeing how many times he could make an employee cry with his raving and name-calling in a week, and for someone that was able to command thousands of dollars for just one weekend of the yippety yap, he paid us all circus peanuts (which is one step down from real peanuts, which at least have some nutritional value).
In my experience, the others are no different than my former boss. As I read your blog, I keep coming across names of people I came into contact with while I was working with this guy, and I am torn between laughing in recognition and wanting to facepalm. Oh, the stories I could tell. Not only are these guys almost always complete doucherockets when they aren't in front of the trusting masses, the vast majority of them will readily admit (and laugh about) the fact that the crap they are pushing is indeed crap. Even these guys don't buy their own sales pitches.
And oh, the stories many of us could tell. I believe I could write a whole book on what I have experienced firsthand, and have heard from others (Pat being far from the only one), regarding the sometimes disturbing difference between many New-Wage hustledorks' public personas and their private raging, passive-aggressive, greedy, arrogant, narcissistic, occasionally borderline-sociopathic, or sometimes predatory selves.
Not everyone in the self-help industry fits these descriptions, of course. I believe there are some genuinely good folks in the business. And it could be argued that even the mostly horrid ones have at least a few good qualities and have produced work that has helped some people in some way. Moreover, I'm only hearing Pat's side of the story. Even given these qualifiers, however, there seems to be a distinct pattern of lamentable personality traits among New-Wage stars and superstars. In other words, Pat's ex-boss doesn't seem at all atypical.
Many people already know this stuff. Others might be aware of it but simply choose not to dwell on it because, perhaps, they find some value in the gurus' works. Separate the message from the messenger, in other words. Still others might ask why it even matters, because after all, most people in the public eye have their private quirks and foibles, and of course, even New-Wage gurus are only human. In other words... Yawn.
Well, stifle that yawn, if you can, while I attempt to answer the question of why it matters. (Come on, humor me.) I know we've discussed this matter on this blog before, but I think it's worth repeating, at the very least for the benefit of new readers, or people who might not have considered these matters previously.
Maybe it's not such a big deal to have a shiny happy public presence and yet be a butthead or a bitch or a cad in private life, if, say, you are a celebutante or a rock star or even, in some cases, a politician (that is, if you're a politician who sticks to serving your constituents and are not on some moralistic high horse yourself). Depending upon the degree of fame, the disparity between public image and private reality might be tabloid-worthy, but that's about the extent of it.
It's different with self-help leaders, particularly those who claim some sort of spiritual authority. In my opinion, they should be held to a higher standard because, unlike most other celebs, they are making their fortunes by instructing others in how to live their lives. Equally if not more important, unlike most celebrities (with the exception of those who cross over into the self-help world themselves, such as Suzanne Somers), selfish-help/New-Wage/McSpirituality gurus aggressively and disingenuously use their own ostensibly perfect lives as marketing tools. They are continually promoting themselves as being happy, healthy, wealthy, self-actualized, self-realized, fully awakened human beings who have everything they could possibly want, including amazing relationships. Occasionally, to make themselves seem likable and accessible, they will mention that they're only human and are still a "work in progress" or some such disclaimer. But the dominant message is that their astounding achievements (and, of course, their enviable possessions) prove that they are a cut above ordinary humans, and that they can sell you the secrets to make you a magnificent human specimen as well.
Most important of all, when other celebs, most notably Hollywood types, show off how successful they are, their main purpose is fairly innocuous: to draw attention to themselves. They aren't trying to manipulate people into forking over thousands of dollars for a weekend workshop in order to try to create a life just like theirs. By contrast, as noted above, all too many hustledorks use their carefully crafted public images as their primary marketing tool, their goal being to convince as many people as possible that anyone can have an exemplary life like theirs, if they are only willing to "invest" a few thousand bucks, or a few hundred thousand, in the right products and workshops and retreats.
And all too many people buy into the message, spending thousands of dollars they don't have, and not really seeing any genuine improvements in their lives. Some of them even end up dead, as we've seen this past month.
And meanwhile, the hustledorks hustle on.
I've written some variation of this message so many times, on this blog and on discussions on other blogs and forums, that I can practically write it in my sleep. In fact, I am pretty sure that I was mostly asleep while writing this. And I'm far from the only one who has snarked, sniped, and griped about the duplicity of New-Wage snake-oil pushers, whose real lives are full of ugly realities that differ radically from the pretty veneers they construct.
The take-away lesson, in case it isn't painfully obvious, is this: Don't believe the lies. Or, if you prefer something less incendiary, don't believe the marketing. Don't believe the gurus when they talk about how consistently glorious their lives are, and how self-realized and "awakened" they themselves are. (Wasn't it James Arthur Ray who, not long ago, wrote, "I don't have bad days"? And how many other successful New-Wage leaders have we heard making some variation of that claim?)
For that matter, even when the hucksters occasionally share their problems in the form of "confessions" about setbacks or disappointments, or tales of friends or associates who have supposedly betrayed them, you should take all of that with a few grains of salt as well. When hearing a sob story, if it sounds kind of one-sided or overly dramatic, always assume that the guru telling it is (1) selectively sharing details in order to preserve his/her image as a bearer of deep wisdom (while perhaps gaining cred as a martyred hero); or (2) so genuinely clueless, despite his/her "advanced" state of personal growth and spiritual development, that s/he honestly cannot see the true cause of the problem in question. More than likely both factors are at play.
Most of all, never, never assume that selfish-help hustlers literally believe in all of the stuff they are peddling. Privately, as my correspondent "Pat" said, "The vast majority of them will readily admit (and laugh about) the fact that the crap they are pushing is indeed crap. Even these guys don't buy their own sales pitches."
And Pat, as well as many other people whose stories I've seen and heard over the years, would know.
PS ~ I linked to this in my James Ray "Sweatgate" post but it's worth linking to again. This is from my friend Duff McDuffee, who says that, contrary to the hustlers' promises, you CAN'T have it all, but that this is actually good news.
PPS ~ As vanity and envy are two major factors that fuel the selfish-help industry, providing the very foundation of most hucksters' marketing plans, I think it's worth your while to read Steve Salerno's four-part series on the topic on SHAMblog. Here's Part 1, here's Part 2, here's Part 3, and here's Part 4.
Labels: Hustledorks and New-Wage masters