Over the past 30 years there has been a whole industry developed around personal development / inspirational literature and all the add-ons that come with it. Some of this material is average, some excellent but most, I think, is well intentioned.
Occasionally a writer in this space will get my attention based on their honesty and willingness to expose their own vulnerabilities whilst not making large and silly promises like, “reverse the aging process”, or “break free from fear and you’ll soar like an eagle”, or my favourite, “attract a bevy of wildly sexy and appreciative lovers”.
Ok to be fair I put that last one in to get your attention...
Harriet Lerner is an honest and witty writer that was introduced to me by my wife. Lerner makes the observation in her book, “The Dance Of Fear”, that when she reads self-help guides like, “Bliss is available to anyone at any time, no matter how difficult life may be”, she is prone to entertaining mean spirited thoughts, such as hoping that the author of such “guides” is dealt some unfathomable loss that will serve as a test case of his or her bliss theory.
Lerner is by no means a cynic or a negative writer though (In fact the complete opposite). She simply believes that it is “deeply arrogant and deeply dishonest to tell people that they can transform their own reality, no matter how dreadful their circumstances, with the acquisition of a few new skills and a brighter attitude”.
Dr Julian Short, in his book, “An Intelligent Life”, reflects similar sentiments making the broader observation that when things do wrong in life, and they do, whether that be relationship breakdown, a difficult financial situation, or the loss of a loved one, whilst we will feel pain, loss and sadness at these times, our best chance to feel “less worse” is by trying our hardest to act with kindness and dignity. He acknowledges that this is difficult in times of high emotional stress but paradoxically this is the very time when we will benefit most (emotionally) from acting with kindness and dignity. It won’t change the situation or solve the problem but it will make us feel “less worse”.
Lerner also makes a similar conclusion in “The Dance Of Fear”. She says, “We cannot stop bad things from happening…..and there are no quick fixes…….but each of us can move in the direction of experiencing less fear and more calmness and that this is a worthwhile and entirely possible venture Whether this is through meditation, therapy, friendship, creative or sporting pursuits, yoga, gardening, authentic conversation, reading or listening, we can become more whole and centered, lessening fears grip.”
So next time the wheels are falling off, and they will, remember to try and act with kindness and dignity. It won’t fix things but it might make you feel “less worse”.
STUART FREEMAN – MANAGING DIRECTOR AT KENNEDY REID