The popular inspirational saying, "When you want something the whole universe will conspire together to help you get it?" has inspired and uplifted many in times of doubt and self-subjugation to challenges they encounter in their lives. However, the fundamental base message perpetuated by modern self-help literature rests on the often irrational and illogical notion: 'if you want something to happen, you have to crave it wholly, without distraction, disregarding anything else, casting aside all doubts, or let criticisms get the better of you, and your vision shall materialise'. This is not to say focus is not a desirable virtue to achieve aspirations; aiming high will more likely than not raise your potential lower bound. Nonetheless, the warning resides in the absence of empathy, narrowed vision and emptiness once you get there.
Monomania was identified in nineteenth century psychiatry as having a single pathological preoccupation in an otherwise sound mind. The way self-help advocates this notion of fixation is not only false, but adverse too. Desire often holds connotations with lust, greed and envy. These together represent carnal impulses which may derive from the early Christian church's belief in 'cardinal sins'; translatable today into the millennial 'capital vices'. The impression that accumulation of wealth and capital at the expense of anyone and anything else is somehow a virtuous ideal is inherently flawed.
We are habitually told to 'follow our heart' or 'pursue our dream'. However, these philosophies tend to be adopted from societal convention. In the 'West', these 'dreams' are typically the mere received osmosis of capitalist materialism, void of query or reservation on the principle that what we hear is our inner voice - only if we listen attentively enough.
Reliance upon our hearts as the guiding light in the murky wide world as the ultimate arbiter of truth - grander and more dependable than logic, doubt or reason - leaves us with desires gone sour, dreams not in our best interest, or worse harmful to those around us. One such individual known to possess sincere integrity was Andrew Jackson. True to himself, he followed his heart and gut instincts; and yet orchestrated the 'Trail of Tears' project to resettle Native Americans into reservations. The precedent he set has led to much pain and suffering. In America today, the Native Red Indians have some of the highest alcoholism, unemployment and unsavoury addictions in American society. All this from doggedly pursuing a blinkered vision to its apex.
Furthermore, the belief we cannot mull over doubts, be those our own or others is a significant failing in modern society. The needs of the community and wider society are overlooked, while too much emphasis is made on the wants and entitlements of the individual. People may become so focused on themselves, to the extent that their actions are to the detriment of others around them.
While on occasion, the crowd is not always right, as the dictatorial Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey showed the world in the 1920s. He diligently pursued his dream for a liberal, scientific and secular Turkey. Ataturk transformed the landscape of the archaic Ottoman Islamic doctrine, enhancing the country's modernisation into a state built on objective, conducive and unifying science.
Adopting a deliberate visor to shelter us from our own immoderation should we pass too close to the sun and suffer an Icarian fall may not cost us our lives. Nevertheless, foolhardiness by design has its associated expenses. Whether these materialise as blissful ignorance to the worlds' ills, of which you now contribute toward, or simply a dishonest means of living. Advice, criticism and introspection all merit their place in society. After all, if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. And perhaps, maybe just occasionally, the group may just be right for once.
The didactic obsession certain monomaniac groups holds, such as the Westboro Baptist Church (godhatesfags.com) may well be seen as heroes or successful groups when self-help material is brought to bear. Collectives holding a wholly irrational stance, persevering through rain or shine to their ideals; regardless of criticism and defiant in the face of objection.
Certain corollaries arise with individuals pursuing their life ambitions. It may be assumed those who fall short are unhappy or perhaps fearful; while others refuse to take the risk altogether. The apprehension, warranted or otherwise, self-help and inspirational messages reinforce, lead to individuals taking the message literally. The outcome may serve to reinforce societal inequalities where those who are unfortunate will blame only themselves for their misfortunes, leading to low self-esteem and depression. The other end of the spectrum leaves the narcissist self-inflated and the affluent patting themselves on the back, yet always looking over their shoulder at their next competitor: be it their neighbour with more money, or their colleague with more drive and ambition. A society in which the utter absence of morality and compassion is perverse.
A more equitable and advantageous outcome may be to get to know yourself better, and then you may influence those you meet with your positive outlook, as Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba once said, “If we want to change the world, easier to change ourselves first”.
Once one achieves a state of personal fulfilment, purposes are realised. One can be bold and determined to face failure or new, daunting challenges without the perverse dialogue of instructioned panaceas. Albeit, a questionable idea in a western society where millennials are deemed disinterested in long working hours or making the necessary sacrifices to attain independent achievement. Taken with a pinch of salt, certain young individuals, too hemmed in by parental expectations to seek out their own paths, may appreciate and benefit from the allegories of hope and courage in self-help literature: the little extra nudge to venture forth. However, as far as chances and personal legacies go, perhaps we should all acknowledge one last refrain from Joe Rogan, “If you ever start taking things too seriously, just remember that we are talking monkeys on an organic spaceship flying through the universe”.
Richard Bolton is chief writer at The Manchester Magazine. He is a second-year Politics, Philosophy and Economics student at the University of Manchester