Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Independent, 30 December 2012

Eoin Butler needs help

Tom Cruise Magnolia
What is the secret to living a successful, fulfilling life? Well, it depends who you ask. Ask someone who lives a successful, fulfilling live and they tend to toss around boring terms like talent, hard work, good fortune and perseverance. (Yawn!)

Ask someone who earns their living as a self-proclaimed expert on the subject, however, and you’ll get an altogether different, more marketable answer. The answer varies from self-proclaimed expert to self-proclaimed expert. But they inevitably involve (1) a hitherto undisclosed insight, (2) with a catchy title, and a formula that (3) happens to be exactly the right length for one of those crappy paperbacks you rashly purchase at the airport when you’re depressed at how unsuccessful your life is.

As someone perpetually at the airport, and depressed at how unsuccessful their life is, permit me to offer this beginner’s guide…

“There is only one way to get anybody to do anything,” Dale Carnegie wrote in 1936. “That is by making them want to do it.” His book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is probably the best known, certainly the most parodied but, alas, no longer the best-selling title of its kind.

Carnegie admitted to swiping some of his ideas from “Socrates, Jesus and Chesterfield”. (The cigarette company? The football team?) But with a focus on the improvement of oneself, as opposed to the manipulation of others, he had essentially invented the self-help genre as we know it.

The blockbuster self-help philosophy of the Naughties was a hastily assembled stew comprising three distinct ingredients. First, there is a dollop of common sense. (If you are positive and open to new experiences good things are more likely to happen to you.)

Second, is a generous helping of narcissistic self-indulgence. (You should focus exclusively on gratifying your own needs and desires, at the expense of the needs and desires of others around you.)

Finally, there is a truck load of horseshit so transparently bonkers even Tom Cruise would probably shake his head, chuckle quietly and walk away.

The latter is Byrne’s Law of Attraction, whereby if you envisage an unoccupied parking space, tiny frequency waves will radiate outward from your brain to ensure that said space will be vacant upon arrival at your destination.

(For the record, remarks such as “Jesus Christ, that is totally insane” are not considered the done thing in self-help circles. A more appropriate phrasing here would be “Hey, if it works for you, who cares that it’s totally insane?”)

Susan Jeffers, who died last month aged 74, had long mastered the art of the snappy book title. Over the course of her career, they included End The Struggle and Dance With Life, I Can Handle It! and (my personal favourite) I’m Okay, You’re a Brat!

But it is her first book that remains her best known. In it, Jeffers shares such startling insights as the fact that “90% of what we worry about never happens.” I’m guessing one of the fears she overcame in writing the book was ‘What if someone asks me how I possibly arrived at that figure?’

In Unlimited Power, Tony Robbins invites us to examine the careers of such business luminaries as Colonel Sanders (yes, the KFC guy) and ask ourselves what qualities Sanders had that we don’t have. Was it talent, he asks? Apparently not. Intelligence? Nope, not that either.

The difference, Robbins explains, is something called “personal power”, which the bauld Colonel apparently had in spades. Personally, I’d have said it was the white suit, string tie and the finger-lickin’ chicken recipe. But then, that’s just the sort of negative, cynical attitude that will one day see me die penniless in a skip.

Twenty years ago, two motivational speakers compiled 101 of the sort of sickly sweet, inspirational “true life” stories you might nowadays discreetly unfriend your mother for posting to Facebook. That book became a publishing phenomenon.

Today, Canfield and Hansen’s empire of feel good pablum now spans over 100 titles, including Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, Chicken Soup for the African-American Soul and Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul. (The latter of which may, or may not, be a self-help book aimed at automobiles.)

“At almost any time, you can measure how well you are doing in your relationship by one simple test: laughter. How much two people laugh together is the surest single measure of how well things are going.” By that yardstick, author Brian Tracy and I must be involved in one of the great romances of our age.

The guy is a firecracker of vague, muddled and/or incomprehensible gobbledygook masquerading as insight. Who knows, maybe it is my ability to follow coherent lines of thought that has been holding me back all these years.

The Indian-born New Age guru is a spiritual leader for celebrity age. He specialises in repackaging Hindu concepts for the ecumenical, pseudoscience for the educated as well cultivating personal friendships with people too famous to really have friends (Mikhail Gorbachev, Michael Jackson, Richard Branson).

Time Magazine is less infatuated with the man, stating that Chopra’s teachings “create false hope in genuinely ill people and dissuade them from seeking medical care and guidance”. Bah! In the immortal words of Nigel Tufnel, that’s just nitpicking, init?

Oprah regards Eckhart Tolle as a prophet. She was turned on to his work by Meg Ryan, so you know that, intellectually, we’re in some pretty rarefied air here. The German-born purveyor of spiritual enlightenment is an advocate of living one’s life in the moment.

Which is just as well, because he tends to leave several lifetimes’ worth of pauses between each syllable when he appears on her show. His book is equally slow moving. I’ve read the first 40 pages and, so far, I haven’t the faintest idea what he’s talking about.

Among smokers, Alan Carr has long been regarded as the man who holds the keys to the non-smoking kingdom. His famous promise was that if you finished this book, you were guaranteed to quit smoking for good.

As someone who did successfully kick the habit, but failed abjectly to make it through 400+ pages of Alan Carr’s lumpen, repetitive prose, I would say that he was right up to a point.

If you have the willpower to finish the book then you no doubt have sufficient willpower to pack in smoking. (In much the same way that, if you can knock out a machine gun nest of bloodthirsty Chechen mercenaries, you can probably subdue a detachment of Girl Guides.) One does not, however, necessarily derive from the other.

It is in his real world credentials that M. Scott Peck differs most from every other author in this genre. That late author was a Harvard graduate, a World War 2 veteran, a practicing psychiatrist and the director of a mental health clinic.

Which is to say, M. Scott Peck actually had some real world credentials. His most famous book advocates the patient application of discipline and hard work, rather than any particular quick fix, as the key to dealing with life’s most taxing problems.

The Road Less Travelled remains the one self-help book likely to be read by people who don’t normally read self-help books. Which is as close, on this page, as you’ll find to an endorsement.

January 1st, 2013.

2 Responses to “Eoin Butler needs help”

  1. Bonio Says:

    Nice article, must check some of those out.

  2. Paul Duane Says:

    Here’s one that a friend recommended as actually containing useful, helpful advice: “If You See The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him” by Sheldon Kopp. Sample text:
    1. This is it!
    2. There are no hidden meanings.
    3. You can’t get there from here, and besides there is no place else to go.
    4. We are all already dying, and we will be dead for a long time.
    5. Nothing lasts.
    6. There is no way of getting all you want.
    7. You can’t have anything until you let go of it.
    8. You only get to keep what you give away.
    9. There is no particular reason why you lost out on some things.
    10. The world is not necessarily just, being good often does not pay off and there is no compensation for misfortune.
    11. You have a responsibility to do your best nonetheless.
    12. It is a random universe to which we bring meaning.
    13. You don’t really control anything.
    14. You can’t make anyone love you.
    15. No one is any stronger or weaker than anyone else.
    16. Everyone is, in their own way vulnerable.
    17. There are no great people.
    18. If you have a hero, look again; You have diminished yourself in some way.
    19. Everyone lies, cheats & pretends.
    20. All evil is potential vitality in need of transformation.
    21. All of you is worth something, if you will only own it.
    22. Progress is an illusion.
    23. Evil can be displaced but never eradicated, as all solutions breed new problems.
    24. Yet it is necessary to keep struggling toward solution.
    25. Childhood is a nightmare.
    26. But it is very hard to be an on-your-own, take-care-of-yourself-cause there-is-no-one-else-to-do-it-for-you grown up.
    27. Each of us is ultimately alone.
    28. The most important things, each person must do for themselves.
    29. Love is not enough, but it sure helps.
    30. We have only ourselves, and one another. That may not be much, but that’s all there is.
    31. How strange, that so often, it all seems worth it.
    32. We must live with the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power and partial knowledge.
    33. All important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.
    34. Yet we are responsible for everything we do.
    35.No excuses will be accepted.
    36. You can run, but you can’t hide.
    37. It is most important to run out of scapegoats.
    38. We must learn the power of living with our helplessness.
    39. The only victory lies in surrender to oneself.
    40. All of the significant battles are waged within yourself.
    41. You are free to do whatever you like. You need only face the consequences.
    42. What do you know……..for sure……….. anyway?
    43. Learn to forgive yourself, again and again and again and again.

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