By Jonathan 4 Comments

Truth And Authenticity

A few days ago I posted the shortest blog post ever posted on In the Limelight. In that post I stated very simply that this blog is inauthentic. Or more correctly, in the past it has been inauthentic. I promised a forthcoming explanation, and that is what this article is intended to be.

But what might first appear to be a simple task turns out not to be so simple. Because to explain why this blog has been inauthentic, I have to first establish what a lack of authenticity looks like, and to be honest I am having somewhat of a crisis of belief when it comes to what is authentic and what is not.

As you may know, about one month ago I participated in the Landmark Forum. Shortly before I took the forum I detailed how it came to be that I was taking the forum after having dismissed it as not just a scam, but a cult, a year earlier.

After completing it, I followed up with an article in which I did my best to articulate how amazingly beneficial I found the Landmark Forum to be.

Now, perhaps by coincidence, or perhaps my divine design, it happens that during this very same period I began reading several blogs that were intensely critical of some people in the personal development community that I had developed some degree of respect for. One of those blogs even linked to my article in which I exposed what I believe if the truth about Joe Vitale’s Miracles Coaching racket.

This created a bit of a problem for me. One one hand, the writer of this blog, Cosmic Connie, shared my distaste for Joe Vitale. One the other hand, she also had a real dislike for several people who I really respected, and the entire “new age” styled personal development “gurus” in general. I was forced to ask the difficult question: Was my faith in these people misplaced?

Part of the problem was that Cosmic Connie had written a rather scathing attack on Steve Pavlina, author of the blog Personal Development for Smart People and a book by the same name. And to be quite honest, what she wrote made me just a tad disappointed in Steve. I started to form some doubts about Steve’s authenticity, and question my own judgement of his character.

But why should I care about the character of Steve Pavlina, a stranger whom I have never met? Simple. I have admired what Steve has accomplished, and he has been something of an example to me. If I was aspiring to be like Steve, and Steve wasn’t such a good guy, then what did that say about me?

Also, if it was so easy for me to doubt Steve’s authenticity, then it must be insanely easy for people to doubt mine. I began to wonder what people thought of my article singing the praises of Landmark Forum. Did they think there was some benefit to me for promoting it (there isn’t)? Did they just think I had drunk the Kool-Aid?

The real source of this racket

I have written inauthentic bullshit on this blog in the past. Not so much recently, but in it’s earlier days, when I was trying to figure out what The Limelight was all about, I wrote stuff that I did not believe. Not that I didn’t want to believe it, but still, it was false. I was not sharing truth, I was sharing wishes. I wrote articles purely because I thought they would get my traffic, visitors, recognition, and to feed my ego. I was full of it.

So back to Steve. I decided to go back to his site and re-read his articles and fully expected to discover an inherent lack of authenticity that I had missed before.

I didn’t find it. In fact, I found the opposite. I found that Steve consistently came across like he was sharing his genuine belief. He wasn’t afraid to share his ugly side either, or expose his past, in sharp contrast to most other so-called gurus. I found I often disagreed with what he was saying this time around, and questioned his choices on a few occasions. But even so, I never saw any evidence that he was hiding anything. He was not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, nor a wolf in wolf’s clothing, just a flawed human being like the rest of us, who happens to have become very successful by sharing both his flaws and his insights with the world. Nothing wrong with that.

But what about his recent praise of Joe Vitale? Well, I have to remember that I used to like Joe Vitale too.

Naturally, I could be wrong. Steve really may be a world-class asshole. But that world-class asshole gives away an enormous amount of genuinely useful content on his blog. He’s never made a penny off me either, nor has he tried, so I have little to complain about.

Throwing babies out with bathwater

Let me get a few things off my chest. I HATE internet marketing gurus, or really anyone selling useless crap to suckers. That’s why I dislike Joe Vitale. He will attach his name to anything no matter how sucky it is as long as he thinks it will make him money. Joe has no authenticity.

But should everyone who associates with Joe be guilty by association? I think not, not anymore than I should avoid watching any John Travolta movie because he’s a Scientologist, or because he was in that stupid movie Battlefield Earth which seems to exist purely as a love letter to L. Rob Hubbard.

Similarly, just because I think Eckhart Tolle is a bit of a weirdo with an oddly non-existent past? Should I discount the law of attraction, despite having seen clear evidence that it works, just because Joe Vitale and others misrepresent it as a magic trick and exploit it like a pimp does a teenage girl? Should I ignore the many amazing and beautiful lessons in the Bible because some individuals and groups use it as a tool for control and profit, or because some dumb people misinterpret it? Does the fact that Bill Gates is a millionaire mean that you should turn off your computer now in disgust because of the worthless software running on it? Should you discount the value of an automobile because some executives at GM and Toyota have made some bad decisions out of greed?

I think the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO!

But what about more subtle cases? Does the fact that John Chow shills affiliate products like they are going out of style mean that John Chow has nothing of Value to offer? I’d argue the answer is again, no. John makes no secret of his love of money, and only a fool would be bind to John’s game. It doesn’t mean I wanna play it, but I don’t see John as being a terribly inauthentic person either.

The nature of authenticity

So what is, in my view, the nature of authenticity? It’s actually quite obvious once you think about it, and it is easiest to understand what it is, but looking at what it is not.

Authenticity is not honesty.

They are different things. The most dishonest person in the world can be authentic, so long as they do not pretend to be an honest person. There’s an internet marketer out there that calls himself The Rich Jerk. He’s authentic. He makes no secret of the fact that he is willing to rip people off by selling them junk. He’s a dishonest SOB and he wears it like a badge.

Compare him to Joe Vitale.

My reputation is at stake

I value my integrity. I never want anyone to question whether I am doing something just for money, or because I truly believe in it. Having my integrity questioned hurts my heart a bit, because I am proud to be an honest, good person.

And that’s why I struggle so much with the writings of Cosmic Connie. While she brings up some very good points as any good journalist does, I have difficulty with her generalized approach to judgement of the personal development community. Perhaps key is her terming of it: The New-Wage movement (Paraphrased). The implication is that because someone makes money from something, that that something is no longer legitimately valuable. This is simply not the case, and I do not think the entire personal growth movement should be villainized just because money has been made in the process, anymore than a Doctor should be faulted for being paid to fix a broken leg, or a teacher for being paid to teach.

Just as there are bad doctors and lousy teachers, there are bad eggs preaching personal development. But there are also a lot of good ones. I think the Joe Vitale’s and Sylvia Browne’s are the minority. I believe most people who choose personal development as a career path are genuine in their desires to help people.

The personal responsibility factor

I hate smoking. I hate tobacco companies. But I think the idea of smokers suing tobacco companies for compensation because they willfully and knowingly chose to use a deadly product is ludicrous.

I hate gurus selling bullshit too. But it’s hard to imagine that too many of the consumers of said bullshit don’t know on some level that they are being duped, and choose to allow themselves to be duped, choose to ignore those little alarm bells that go off when you know something’s not right, and buy it anyway. Clearly it is providing some level of value to them, and satisfying a need because the purchases are made by people who are in possession of free will.

Why am I writing this?

Because I want to be authentic with you. I have been linked to by websites critical of personal development as an industry because of article on Joe Vitale. I wanted to make it clear that while I fully agree with what these people had to say about Joe, and also about various other topics such as the internet marketing racket, I also disagree with them on other points. I do not believe that it is inherently bad to charge people money for personal development, as long as the product is actually good.

That’s why I have followed in the footsteps of many before me in recommending The Landmark Forum on my blog, and to my friends and family, without any opportunity for compensation. It’s good, and I believe in it.

And that’s the only reason I will ever offer anything, a product, or a service, or otherwise, to anyone. Because it’s good, and I believe in it.


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  • Thanks for clarifying things, Jonathan. I truly enjoy this level of discussion. People who don’t agree on everything can still find much common ground.

    I think the main difference between your attitude and mine lies in the degree of trust (or distrust, if you will), of the personal growth industry and the people in it. And I’m not saying that my p.o.v. is any more valid than yours. I do think there are lots of genuinely good people in the industry, but I also think that many who start out with the best of intentions all too often let money and ego get in the way of those fine intentions at some point.

    We may have to agree to disagree about whether the baddies are in the majority or minority. I have no hard figures, of course, and I realize that when we’re talking about the motives of others we are skating on thin ice anyway. I recognize my own arrogance in proclaiming to know what is truly in the heart or mind of another human being, even though my opinions are always based upon the public writings and utterances of the people I write about (as well as, in some cases, personal knowledge). I do, however, realize that most of our observations of others’ motives are colored by our own experiences and perceptions; someone I may perceive as basically sincere or even altruistic could appear disgustingly mercenary to you, or vice-versa.

    Some would argue that there are more objective ways of determining someone’s motives; as Burned By Fire (aka Vitale Watch) wrote in a recent comment to my blog (quoting none other than Jesus H. Christ), “By their fruits shall you know them.” But even then, perception and personal taste often play a part in determining if the “fruit” is good or bad.

    I agree with you to a point that money may not be the only motivator for New-Wage gurus, but, as you noted, it is certainly way up there on the priority list. For all practical purposes it is *the* number one motivator for many of them; at least that’s how it looks to me. And yes, the gurus do have to work hard and relentlessly, even if (or especially if) a large part of their shtick is to market “effortless” success. Even as branding is part of the nature of the beast, as you accurately pointed out (and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with branding; my point was that it just makes it more difficult to separate the message from the messenger), another part of the formula for success in the industry is unrelenting effort. And it takes a pretty strong — in many cases overbearing — ego to do this kind of work. Sometimes, I imagine, the ego and the heart get in the way of each other.

    This doesn’t mean that a given guru doesn’t have genuine passion for his or her work, or some aspects of it anyway. But even the most passionately sincere gurus too often get caught up in the greed cycle. Again, that’s how it looks to me.

    As for Landmark, I’m glad you’re having a good experience. While I don’t think $500 is an extravagant amount, especially when compared to much pricier events, I also know how diligently most LGATs work to upsell, and to encourage participants to “recruit” others. An LGAT is not a cult in the sense that you have to cut your hair, wear a robe, and change your name to something unpronounceable, but many LGAT enthusiasts (not just Landmark grads, but others as well) do tend to exhibit cult-like behavior, particularly in their conversational patterns. However, it sounds as if you’ve read the caveats and won’t be as likely to be “assimilated.” :-)

    I will say this: I agree with you about the nut jobs such as the one on the YouTube vid you cited. OTOH, they’re not the ones who are being wholeheartedly embraced by Oprah et al., and they don’t have the enormous platform and influence that the gurus do. But still… that guy is majorly creepy.

    • Jonathan says:

      Hi Connie,

      I don’t have a lot of time to write a long reply, and to be honest the mood is not striking me to do so today.

      Essentially, I believe we are in agreement about money being a major motivator. The only argument I make beyond that is that money is the major motivator for EVERY successful person. It is both part of our nature as humans, and a requirement of the construct of our society.

      And though I agree wholeheartedly that such a system can be abused, I don’t for a second view the system as being bad. It’s a heck of a lot superior to the alternatives.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful post, Jonathan, and for the mention of my blog. Believe it or not, I struggle with many of the same questions you do, and even now I am not willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But I’ve found that so very often there *is* no baby, just a rubber doll (or a Wish Dolly, if you will :-)). Or sometimes… nothing but bubbles and more bubbles.

    As you may or may not know (depending upon how much of my blog you have read), I am not merely a snarky outsider looking in at a world I know little about. I’ve been deeply involved in “New-Wage”/new-age/self-help culture and have firsthand knowledge of most of the things I write about, as well as many of the people. I’ve even done LGATs very similar to Landmark Forum so I know that world too. I’ve been a true believer, a vehement skeptic, and everything in between. I remain somewhere in between: an agnostic leaning towards belief, and a person who’s still interested in the self-help industry (and aware it has value) but cynical about the motives of most of its participants. My blog more or less reflects where I am now on the belief spectrum, but it’s not all superficial snarking about folks in the industry; there are some more “thoughtful” posts too, links to which can be found here (if you have a great deal of time to waste)…

    My neologism “New Wage” (a term which I did in fact coin) refers to my view that money is the chief motivator for many if not most of the metaphysical-new-agey “gurus” I snark about. It doesn’t mean that I think money is evil or that people should not charge for their goods or services. That’s a common misconception about critics of the industry — an understandable misconception to be sure, but a misconception nonetheless.

    It seems to me that one of the main points you make in this blog post is that it is possible to separate the message from the messenger. And very often that’s true. But one of the points I’ve discussed on my own blog (most notably during the “Wink Wednesday” posts back in April of this year) is that New-Wage gurus often make it difficult to do this because they are selling themselves as much as, if not more than, their messages. They couch whatever truth they are providing in their own branding, slap a thick layer of copyrights on it, and sell it for big bucks. Does that mean it has no value or that it is evil or bad? Not necessarily. But in many cases it is overpriced and not nearly as original or revolutionary as the sellers claim. Add to this the fact that most people seem to have a need for someone to look up to… and it’s very easy for fans and followers to become, for all practical purposes, cult members.

    As for Steve Pavlina, he’s one I love to poke fun at, but this doesn’t mean I think he’s evil, though of course some would argue with me on that point. He’s obviously very full of himself but that doesn’t mean I totally dislike him. After all, I’m pretty full of myself too. Despite the distasteful (IMO) people Steve kisses up to — he’s a New-Wage social climber for sure — he’s definitely his own man, for better or worse.

    As a professional writer and editor I can say that one thing I do like about Steve is that he is so clearly in love with writing, and he writes his own content — and a lot of it. I may not agree with most of it but I will give him an A-plus for effort, anyway. You say you have obtained a lot of useful information from his content, and I’m sure that others have as well, so he is providing value. As you also pointed out, Steve is honest (to a fault, maybe). While I make fun of some of his confessional content, I will give him props for not hiding his kinky doings and pecadilloes the way most of the randy gurus do. (Oh, the things I *could* write about, but won’t…)

    That said, I’m still going to snark about what I find snarkworthy, because, well, that’s what I do. Don’t let it discourage you from your own path. Do keep your eyes open, though, and feel free to visit my blog any time you want. It can even be a guilty pleasure for you. I’m really enjoying your blog as well; I find your honesty about your own doubts and developing ideas to be very refreshing.

    • Jonathan says:

      Connie, you’ve just won the award for the most thoughtful comment ever posted on my blog. Sorry, there’s no prize ;-)

      I hope I was clear in my article that I very much enjoy your blog, because I do. I have actually read many of yours posts, and I am consistently impressed by the quality of your writing, and the passion with which you write. I can only aspire to that level. So I hope we are clear that I am not against you, I just don’t totally agree with you.

      Let’s consider the idea that money is the primary motivator for new agers/personal development types, because I really don’t think it is.

      Money is the primary motivator for a lot of people. Gas station attendants, waiters, garbage men, and retail sales people for instance. None of these people grew up with a dream of doing what they do, nor did they choose to do it because of passion, but rather out of necessity, and a NEED for money.

      The same cannot be said for lawyers, doctors, personal development gurus/coaches/writers, movie stars, or even stock brokers. Money may indeed be very high up on the list of motivations, but the primary motivator would have to be something greater, and I think by setting aside cynicism, it has to be a true belief and passion for what they do. Yes, I truly believe that even Joe Vitale believes in what he does, and had a passion for it long before the money started flowing in. Because let’s face it, it is not exactly easy to become a movie star, a successful lawyer, or transform yourself into a personal brand for all things enlightened. It’s hard work, you have to like the work.

      As for branding, it’s the nature of the beast. Branding is critically important in any industry, but when you are selling mostly information, you have to be the brand. Can it be obnoxious? Sure, but is that in itself disingenuous in any way? I don’t think so, it just is. Does it mean they should be a heck of a lot more careful with their brands and what they attach themselves to? Yes, I sure as heck do.

      I am not a sucker. I posted a pretty negative view of Eckhart Tolle’s book here several years ago because even though I thought the overall message was good, it was hopelessly wrapped up in pure and utter bullshit.

      And I am in total agreement about the overpriced “miracle on a box” type products, and I am very against them. That’s why I ranted against Joe Vitale and his disgusting rip off he calls Miracles Coaching.

      On the other hand, not all product that seem overpriced actually are. I know it sounds like I am stuck on the Landmark Forum, but honestly, the $500 dollar price tag for that is cheap considering what you get, and contrary to all of the hysteria on the internet written by people who never took the forum, or by “journalists” trying to sell magazines, there’s nothing weird or cult like about Landmark, and it baffles me why people manage to draw the most outrageous conclusion when the simple on makes much more sense. What I mean is, Lululemon pays for all of its employees to attend the Landmark Forum. They don’t require them to do, but they offer it to them as a gift, as one of their employee benefits, must like a dental plan or stock options. Is Lululemon doing this because they want a bunch of brainwashed nutters for employees, or because they know that the Forum can help their employees become stronger, more effective people, and by extension, better employees? Seems obvious it’s the latter, and yet most people, in their undying cynicism, would determine it’s the former, and that truly is nutty.

      But I’ll also say that I am well aware of how many truly off the wall bonkers people are involved in this sort of thing. I have met too many of them to deny it. But I firmly believe that those people exist in spite of the industry, not because of it. Yes they are looking for someone to look up to, but they always will be because they aren’t able to see that their real strength comes from within, no matter how many people tell them so. Do I respect Sylvia Browne for charging a thousand bucks to spout bullshit to someone over the phone for twenty minutes? No. Do I respect Joe Vitale for charging whatever a person’s credit card can bear for his scam Miracle’s Coaching? Absolutely, categorically, no. Do I respect someone charging $10,000 dollars for a retreat somewhere? No. In every case no. Especially because I happen to actually believe that real psychic ability does exist, good life coaches do exist, and wonderful retreats do exist, all all of them are available for far more reasonable prices. In fact, I have personal knowledge or contact with all three. And yet people are willing to give their money to Sylvia and Joe et al, without exercising any degree of critical thought whatsoever. Therefore I find it difficult to respect the consumers any more than the peddlers.

      BTW. I simply must know who minor snarget is. My curiosity is raging. Could you email me and tell me?