Helping yourself without self-help

Help yourself!

I went to the local library the other day, just browsing through some of the old masters (Kerouac, Hemingway, Steinbeck et al.), when I came across a whole section of this beaten-down little building devoted to ‘self-help’. Looking through the titles of this wall-full of deriding literature, How to Get Skinny, How to Get Superskinny, How to Make Friends (I mean come on) and a whole shelf dedicated to Paul McKenna turning me into a Smarter, Thinner, Instantly-Confident ultra-human, I couldn’t believe how people actually buy into this nonsense. No doubt the surge in celebrity culture has something to do with it. An overweight woman flicks through her copy of Heat magazine and sees pictures of Beyonce and other perfect plastic cronies, then empties Waterstone’s of all their Get Skinny Quick books, comes to the conclusion it’s all far too hard and then returns to the fridge for comfort.

I suppose my major problem with self-help is the fact that I believe no person on earth has any right or authority to tell you what you should be. What gives our old friend Mr. McKenna the jurisdiction to tell us how to live? Who gave him this ridiculous power to influence the self-hating masses? As far as I’m concerned all he does is make money out of the modern person’s insecurity. He feeds off the underlying misery imposed on us by Vogue and Hello!.

Why becoming ‘better’ people is so important to us anyway remains a mystery that I’ll never understand. Frankly, if you want to make personal changes and have to buy a book in order to implement them, then you clearly haven’t got the heart and motivation for real change anyway. Condescending words on a page aren’t going to really make any difference to you, you can’t rely on phoney ‘doctors’ who studied Psychology for three months at the University of Hawaii to make you a more credible human. In all honesty, there’s very little that will change who you really are – of course, you can change your behaviour a bit and you can change how you treat other people, you know, all that extroverted socialising stuff, but it’s nigh-on impossible to change what’s in here (I’m pointing at my chest).

Now I don’t mean to preach at you, heaven knows the world doesn’t need another personality-preacher, but what advice I will give you is this: if you want to really realign your feelings, if you want some real inspiration to get out of Comfortville and into a more fulfilling life, then the only piece of literature you’ll need on that tortured bookshelf is Fight Club.

Even if you haven’t read the novel or seen the film, you’re likely to have at least heard about it. Truth be told I have never come across more eye-opening material. It really puts this whole Life business into perspective. Those familiar with it will be acquainted with its brutal honesty and radical sense of self. If one really takes on board what the ideology of the story is putting across, then those nicely cushioned walls that the discerning self-helper has built around them will be well and truly shattered. That was the case for me. Ever since I first watched that soul-dead Narrator sitting next to the exotically cool Tyler Durden, my views of myself and the world were turned upside-down. This bare-knuckled reality is where it’s at. Of course, I’m not saying I took it as far as forming an underground neo-Communist movement and violently dismantled all corners of consumerism, but the way I looked at my life altered and change has been happening slowly ever since.

It’s a wake-up call, a hard-hitting uppercut into the sudden realisation that there’s more to life than Losing Weight and A Brand New iPhone When There’s Nothing Wrong With Your Old One. The way I see it, Fight Club appeals to the most primal and natural of human instincts, so its message can’t be ignored.

I’m not going to write down the story’s ideas for you, because that would incite laziness on your part and that’s a particular antithesis of the Fight Club mentality. Read it and watch it, and take what you will from it. But please don’t be fooled into thinking that, every time you pick up a personality guide, you are more than a money-making vehicle for Dr. Honey Flower the ‘happiness guru’. Because ultimately, how credible can advice be when it comes from a person who doesn’t even know you. Self-help books are written based on the theory that every single human being is an overweight, unhappy, middle-aged melting pot of stress and emptiness. Is that really who you are?

Now put down the endless reams of McKenna nonsense. Haven’t you got anything better to do?

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