New York: TarcherPerigee, 2018. 287 pp., paper, $11.99.
Finally someone arises to call out the hucksters and frauds who promise to make you rich, make you wise, make you whole, and make you over. Albert Amao, PhD, is just that man. He is a sociologist, author, and national lecturer for the Theosophical Society in America. His recent book casts a shadow over false saviors while examining some of the most effective elements of self-help practice from traditional esoteric thought.
Hucksters in self-improvement are nothing new, Amao complains, but they continue to pop out of nowhere with promises to take away our pain, worries, and confusion, announcing themselves as New Age messiahs. Typically they disguise themselves as authors, workshop leaders, teachers, or life coaches who offer self-help to misguided souls.
Amao’s book suggests how many teachers and healers in the so-called self-improvement arena will simply dumb down ancient insights and attempt to repackage them in a diluted form for mass marketing.
Amao debunks many of these attempts, outlining what has worked and not worked in the history of self-help. He distinguishes modern self-help culture from earlier mystical and occult movements and shows how we got to the current interest in the power of positive thinking.
Real growth, understanding, and transformation, Amao argues, come only from deep within you. The Indian sage J. Krishnamurti famously said that truth is a pathless land that everyone must negotiate personally. That is the hero’s journey of self-discovery.
Amao’s earlier work, Healing without Medicine, published by Quest Books in 2014, offered a similar message. Real healing comes from within you. Spiritual unfolding is uncomfortable, like peeling away layers of skin, but only you can do it. The answers are all inside you. The truth is there too. And you will find your true inner self along the way.
As Amao sees it, you won’t typically hear any of that from the snake-oil sales agents who offer to make your transformation easy, bring you instantly to self-realization, and grant you enlightenment in a few easy lessons.
Yet this popular self-help culture has become a pervasive social system worldwide and a staggering $12 billion industry in the United States alone. There are more than 300,000 self-help books available on Amazon.
The hidden harm Amao sees in this market is the blind faith people often place in seminars, books, and tapes. Self-help gurus tell them that redemption comes by empowering themselves with a new life script, as provided in the books, CDs, DVDs, and workshops they sell. Discouraged customers blame themselves when the material doesn’t deliver promised benefits. Thus the effects can be detrimental, and the self-help program can do much more harm than good.
Amao believes that a pattern of powerlessness plagues many people. From early childhood, they have been disempowered and indoctrinated with false ideas about their true nature by parents, mass media, and conventional wisdom. Over time, these acquired ideas of disempowerment become part of a personal belief system, and they subconsciously create a wrong self-image. Moreover, Amao says, some religious organizations create a sense of guilt in people.
Amao counters that quantum physics and metaphysics demonstrate how humans are creators of their own reality and destiny. As William James wrote, “Man alone, of all the creatures on Earth, can change his own pattern. Man alone is architect of his own destiny.”
People are responsible for creating their own reality with their thoughts and beliefs, Amao argues, and they are the only ones who can take back their power and correct whatever isn’t working for them. With that in mind, Amao’s book offers a deeper perspective on the culture of self-help and self-improvement. It empowers individuals to rely on their own inner voices for authentic self-empowerment and self-reliance.
In Defense of Self-Help is well worth exploring for anyone serious about self-empowerment and would be a welcome addition to professional libraries as well.
Von Braschler is a Life Member of the Theosophical Society and author of several books on consciousness, including two forthcoming works on conscious thought forms.