The current message in the Western world is that health, wellness and behavioral psychology (aka spirituality) is the key to happiness in life – organic foods, six pack abs and positive thinking will change the world or so we think. As many of you know I am big advocate for health and fitness and have firsthand seen what it has done for my life and the lives of others. However, do I think that having a six pack and eating organic foods equates to someone being a great individual? No! I am also a proponent of practical and realistic positive thinking. However, do I think that positive thinking and positive intention is going to solve peoples problems in life? No!
My purpose in this blog is to point out how our society and culture is trying to sell us on the big three (health, wellness, behavioral psychology) as the end all be all to happiness and success in life. Almost the entire postmodern new age movement is branded heavily under health, wellness and behavioral psychology, genius marketing I might add. Just Google health and wellness coaches or life coaches and you will find thousands of conflicting programs all telling you a little different way in which to find happiness, fulfillment and enlightenment. So which one is really “the secret?” My answer to that is none of them, let me explain why.
At a time when there is still rampant poverty, oppression and violence in the world I find it trivial that we would put such thinking and standards so high on our list of achievements in the Western world. It is difficult for me to get motivated about the perfect diet or exercise program when I know that millions are starving in the world and would take any food. It is easy to see the irony in the latest spiritual psychology program for happiness aimed at the most fortunate in the world while thousands of people are being killed or taken advantage of by oppressive regimes. For me, this seems misguided and unfortunate at its basis.
With that said, who doesn’t want to look like that toned woman or ripped guy in the motivational posters that we see on a daily basis. Being fit and healthy went from being an admired trait to the pinnacle of society and due to this shift in society we are now looking to health and wellness as a basis for guidance on life and motivation. Then of course under this banner is modern day pop psychology and spirituality that pushes positive thinking and motivation well beyond realism. Who doesn’t want to believe that just thinking positively will change life circumstances or even better to transcend above it all. All it takes is a little meditation, exercise and clean foods, right? I am sorry to say but no amount of positive thinking or yoga can pay the mortgage of an expecting father who just lost his job or help an individual cope with the loss of a loved one or help the family understand why their daughter was diagnosed with a rare disease that leaves her paralyzed.
Throughout this year I have witnessed stories such as the ones described above that are true testaments to the ageless wisdom and principles of biblical faith, perseverance and courage. None of these individuals were ascribing to the latest health and wellness program or spiritual enlightenment guide. No, they fell back on the timeless values, wisdom, and faith that built this country to what it is today. This is a much different thing than what we are seeing the health, wellness and spiritual movement.
I find this entire industry and cultural movement to be the greatest con of them all, play to the emotions and the unattainable which will keep people coming back for more. Thinking through and studying much of this movement I cannot help but think to the history of “snake oil” and how we have traded “snake oil” for unproven psychology and untested supplements. I prefer Wikipedia’s definition of “snake oil” best, snake oil is an expression that originally referred to fraudulent health products or unproven medicine but has come to refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit.
The more things change the more things stay the same, we continue to think that avoiding pain or suffering through positive thinking or wellness is the answer to happiness and that is just not true. All it takes is to look at the great thinkers, poets and leaders of history to know that is not true. A wise mentor of mine once told me, “think how meaningless the world would be if all we had to worry about was a hangnail.”
I believe this new movement and shift in thinking has lead to major entitlement issues and a lack of empathy for others in the world. In a society of affluence the lines between good and evil become blurred, society starts to view them as one in the same. This is the basis of new age pantheism thinking and it is why we as Americans worry about such trivial things as organic foods while millions of people are starving in the world. Affluence numbs the senses to empathy and the self becomes central to the world and true evil goes uncontested because it becomes a burden to self to stand up against, thus, it easier to concede that good and evil are one in the same.
We should start pushing back on these life coaches, self proclaimed experts and guru’s that claim to have all the answers, lets question the unproven psychological methods and demand data and results across a broad spectrum before we waste our hard earned money and more importantly our thinking on this “snake oil.” The reason I take such a bold position on this industry and cultural movement is because I truly believe that all the wisdom we need to know is all around us and free.
For me, motivation comes from life’s unsung heroes and regular everyday people during the ordinary moments in life. It is seen in gut wrenching tragedy and abysmal failures. The raw and real moments of humanity is when we get a glimpse into the extraordinary. It is these people and moments that keep me grounded in a society that claims to have “the secret” to everything. So this blog is a salute to the unsung heroes in my life and your life.
Perseverance: A Family Comes Together to Overcome Tragedy
I recently had the privilege of being with a family that had a tragic accident happen to them two years ago. Their nine-month old daughter was a happy and healthy baby one day and then the next day she was paralyzed from the neck down with a rare virus that attacked her spinal chord. What I found in spending time with this family was true and authentic perseverance, character and love that I hear spoken about so cheaply in our society. The entire family has dropped so many of the superficial goals and accomplishments that are considered the crown achievements of our secular culture in order to care for this child. This helpless child has to be monitored 24 hours a day and to take her anywhere requires multiple machines and specialized equipment. There is no time for organic cooking, spin classes and catching up on the latest fad pop psychology article. The bond that was created around this tragedy was like nothing I have seen before, its not something that can be fabricated by some leadership program. No, it was created from selflessness, this tragedy required everyone in the family to put aside their own needs and wants in order to care for the one who couldn’t do anything for herself.
Faith: The Faith of One Binds a Community
This year I was able to watch from a distance as a woman I knew from my local community lost her brother and mother in the span of a week. What entailed from there was some of the most profound courage I have ever witnessed, in this moment of despair and confusion it was strength and love that preserved and not bitterness and confusion. This woman rose above it all and stood strong in her faith and that act of faith and courage rallied an entire community around her. We were all amazed at her composure and strength when all had crumbled around her. It is a testament that it only takes one individual to inspire many but its not in a forced way through a program but in the raw moments of life. When all was left there was no explanation in pop psychology or motivational quotes, in such moments only that deep raw faith and community support can heal such a wound.
Courage: Looking Beyond Justice to Provide For Family
A few months ago I sat down with a great man from my church as he explained his story from going to being considered for professor tenureship to being let go from his teaching position. As he told me the story I became more and more angry, he stood in integrity on an issue that ultimately cost him his job. A true act of injustice at a time when this man had another child on the way. But what I saw from him was not anger but empathy and the dire need to not fight but provide for his family All pride was set aside and any work was now good work in order to put food on the table of his family. He chose to rise above the circumstances in humility and do what was necessary to provide for his family. There was no meditation or new behavioral psychology program that he was adhering to, it was timeliness courage, humility and integrity. He did what needed to be done and not what “felt” good in the moment.
Getting Back to the Basics
This is life and it is real and it is these type of tragedies and failures that snap us out of our selfish stupors and show us what life is really about. It is these tragedies that bring families together even when there are the greatest conflicts between people. It is at that moment of a gut wrenching tragedy or abysmal failure that we truly learn who we are and what we are made of. It is these tragedies and failures that teach us character, integrity and love. It is in these tragedies that allow us to see there are aspects of life that go well beyond human reason and intellect. It is in these moments that the human “secret” is crumbled under the weight of the divine.
Some of the best people I have ever met can not even do a push-up and eat terribly and I would not consider them positive thinkers. But these individuals are selfless and real, they are the doers, they are the providers, they are the caretakers of our families and communities. Yet they are not put up onto posters with motivational quotes or publishing the latest positive thinking article in the trendy spiritual magazine. No, these people don’t require an audience, a fan club or special Facebook page. These people put their heads down and do what needs to be done and then go about their business. They are the unsung heroes of society and I have the utmost respect for every single one of them. So the next time you see that toned girl or ripped guy post a selfie with a motivational statement telling you how positive thinking will solve all your problems, STOP, and think about that person you know in your life that when all hell broke loose they put their head down and did what they had to do without special recognition or an audience. That my friends is motivation and that is real life!