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.