Unless you've been living under a rock for the last year, you know about the self-help phenomenon called The Secret. Perhaps you even bought the DVD or book or had (multiple) friends tell you about it, or even buy it for you as a gift. The Secret is not without its critics, of course. And the real question in my mind is, if it's so widely watched/read and if so many people are attempting to put its principles into practice, why haven't we noticed the positive effects on large swaths of society (at least American society where it's been marketed the most)? There are countless answers to this question, including, "it takes time," "the effects are mostly internal," and "it doesn't work." I have a different take on it. There are roughly three groups of people with regard to The Secret:
- Those who already live it and see its tenets as natural and obvious
- Those who could benefit quite a bit, but whose strong critical thinking skills get in the way of efficacy
- Those who could benefit the most, but are not capable of practically employing it for a variety of reasons, including aptitude and discipline
Suppose you could convince yourself that your students are the smartest children in the school; or, if that seems unrealistic, that they have the greatest potential of any class in the school. (After all, who can say for certain how much potential anyone has?) What do you imagine would happen? What would you do differently if you acted as if your students were capable of great achievements? And if you acted differently, what are the chances that many of your students would begin to act as if they were great achievers? ... There is... considerable evidence to indicate that people can become what others think they are. In fact, if you reflect on how anyone becomes anything, you are likely to conclude that becoming is almost always a product of expectations -- one's own or someone else's. We are talking here about the concept of the "self-fulfilling prophecy."Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Belief/faith is an autocatalytic cycle, but it can be delicate; once shaken it unravels quickly. Where once you were crediting all your successes to The Secret, now you see that it was all just bunk. That bicycle you wanted for Christmas didn't show up, so it has to not work, right? On the other hand, you could have gone out the day after and bought yourself one on sale if you failed to drop enough hints to your loved prior. Of course, now that you are a non-believer, you are in a different sort of self-fulfilling prophecy, one where you are looking for evidence to the contrary at every turn. Guess what you're gonna find? Examples of self-fulfilling prophecies can be found everywhere in social life, including the value of stocks, mutual trust between friends, and the safety of urban neighborhoods. When faith-based systems are stressed past a certain point, stock markets crash, friends become enemies, and neighborhoods turn. For the computer geek, try to think back to the first time you really "got" recursion and could actually code a recursive routine that did something useful. If you were like me, you had to go through the thought process a number of times, get to the base case, and unwind the loop before you convinced yourself that it works. There may have even been an "aha" moment where prior you couldn't write a recursive routine and afterwards you could write anything. For the less geeky, I liken the role of faith to the first time you were able to ride a bike without training wheels. You don't need to invoke God or quantum physics to ride a bike or do recursion, but you do have to get out of your own way and choose to be a little out of control -- just for a moment -- for the virtuous cycle to achieve catalytic closure and become self-sustaining. Three Types of Secret Admirers I started this post by dividing the world into three types of people relative to their stance on The Secret. I'll end in similar fashion by suggesting that there are three kinds of people who find success with The Secret (or any of the numerous similar self-help philosophies):
- Those with unshakable faith in themselves
- Those with unshakable faith in the world, i.e. that things will just somehow "work out for the best"
- Those with both 1 and 2