The Secret

I’ve always grimaced every time I’ve see Rhonda Byrne’s tedious mockumentary The Secret on DVD shelves, but it hadn’t bothered me enough to actually post about. This has changed, with an email I recently received from an acquaintance calling for positive, inspirational stories about life in South Africa. Their motivation?

Living in South Africa has been very challenging. We are constantly faced with negativity about violent crime, poverty, politics, unemployment and the other negative things in our country. People seem to be living in constant fear and the only news spreading is bad news.

Everybody has the power within themselves to change this! Instead of focusing on the bad things, let’s focus on all the good things in our beautiful country. After reading and watching the movie “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne, we are not surprised at the state of South Africa. If most people focus on negative things, then the law of attraction will give us what we focus on. We want to challenge everyone to start focusing on positive things instead!

For those of you who’ve never heard of it, The Secret is a documentary-style explanation by Rhonda Byrne, covering the book by Rhonda Byrne, on a concept she stole from the New Thought movement that sprang up around the turn of the last century. They in turn stole it from the Theosophists, who stole it from the Hindus, who probably stole it from someone else, making it possibly the worst kept ‘secret’ in history. The basis of this philosophy is the Law of Attraction – that people’s thoughts and feelings attract real events into their lives, and have real effects on the universe around them. It’s sympathetic magic for the new age.

In The Secret, we are told in a series of interviews and dramatic reenactments that there are three steps to achieving all your wishes and goals in life. These are:

  1. Ask
  2. Believe
  3. Receive

Of course, there are hints within the movie, and more explicit statements have been made in later interviews, that there is actually a step 2a: Get off your lazy arse and work for it. This system is what we lay people have been referring to for centuries as ‘Common Sense’.

Would you be surprised if I told you they try to explain this theory with a) quantum mechanics and b) E=MC2? No, I thought you wouldn’t be – the metaphysical movement have exactly two tools in their arsenal, and I’ll be damned if they don’t try to use them for every single task at hand. The fact that using QM to explain their theories is the argumentative equivalent of trying to drill a hole in a wall with a drill-bit made out of jello, is hardly going to stop them from trying.

You should also not be surprise at the cherry-picking, rah-rah denialism displayed by proponents of the theory – what we like to call ‘hypocrisy’, but which the experts insist on referring to as ‘faith’. They all applaud the ‘secret’ for its positive power, but do everything they can to play down the nastier side of the Law of Attraction. The inevitable consequence of a theory that claims positive thoughts attract positive effects is that negative thoughts attract negative effects . We are also all responsible for everything that happens to us in life. All. Everything. The logical extension of this sort of argument is that all victims were asking for it, and on some level deserve what they get, because it’s only a function of the negative vibes they were so obviously putting out into the universe. So if you Secreteers out there truly believe in the Law of Attraction, allow me to pose a challenge to you: find your closest local rape shelter, find the youngest victim there, and tell her that everything that happened to her is her fault, because of her toxic thinking, but if she only thinks positively from now on, it will never happen again.

So what do I think of the suggestion that we can improve the state of South Africa by holding the online equivalent of a campfire sing-a-long? Even those who follow the Law of Attraction must admit to the proviso that there has to be some sort of action involved on your part before the universe can give you what you’re looking for. If all you do is sit on a couch saying over and over “I will get a million dollars!” then you’ll still be sitting on that couch when the repo men come to take it away. Therefore sending in positive stories is no more than talking about helping, no better than sitting on that couch telling yourself “I will make the country a better place!” and then tuning in to your favourite soapie, satisfied that you have made a difference already.

So on that note, I would counter that there is a lot you can do to make South Africa a better place: get involved with an organization like Habitat for Humanity, Childline or the Treatment Action Campaign. Volunteer at a local shelter. Get on your local council, or if that’s too much, at least get on the PTA or school board at your kids’ school. Train as a volunteer fire fighter. Start a neighbourhood watch. Pick a worthy organization that does good work and donate some money to them. All of these things are far more likely to have a real effect than telling your positive stories to each other and then congratulating yourselves on a job well done.

But if it makes you feel better, you can donate your time or money while thinking positive thoughts.

For futher reading on The Secret and the Law of Attraction, Skeptic Magazine gave a fairly thorough review.


27 Responses to “The Secret”

  1. The Secret is the latest and by far the worst example of a HIGHLY profitable trend where self-help gurus with fabricated new age titles and little relevant education, credentials or legitimate expertise brainwash us into believing that they know what is best for us, our marriages and our families.

    Often their only contribution to society is introducing some exotic sounding, new age philosophy. However, they often cleverly form an incestuous group of like-minded “experts” who cross-promote each other by swearing their success is due to following the beliefs of another member of their “cult!” All the while, they ply the airwaves jockeying for an ever-larger audience by appearing in the national media to garner third-party endorsements.

    The Self-Help Movement has become the Self-Destruct Movement by diminishing or destroying our critical thinking skills to choose and evolve on our own. We have given up the freedom to build healthy lives, marriages and families based on our unique history and life experience. Instead many victims, blinded to the value of their own life experiences, are attracted to the latest secret in self-help, in an attempt to find out what they should think, feel and how they should act… this is the definition of a cult.

    The solution is a return to our (common) senses! The best way out of this learned “self-helplessness” is to go cold turkey. Stop following ALL self-help gurus now. Begin, instead, to reclaim your natural, God-given ability to think for yourself. The common sense that was once readily available to all of us is still there free of charge and waiting to be applied to just about any challenge we might face in life… all you have to do is use it.

    Please, let’s all work together to stop the flock of “sheepeople” who blindly move from one UNPROVEN concept to the next, looking for the answers to life’s challenges that you already possess and that is the OBVIOUS!

  2. Well that’s the first I’d heard of “the secret” but I have heard similar nonsense before. However, I must confess I did try spending ten minutes thinking of Liv Tyler draping herself over me… I’ve since switched to thinking of a cold shower. Want to take a wild guess which of those thoughts I’m more likely to get?


  3. every time i see the secret, or a facebook ad for it, a whole bunch of arbitrary theories for saving the universe and acquiring a helicopter pop into my head, but i haven’t until now been able to justify to myself the expenditure of a couple of bucks to rent it,

    and now i know that my unwillingness to be suckered in by a catchy title is justified. thank you! (i was wondering what that email was about, but was too embarrassed to ask)

  4. Con-Tester Says:

    *Sigh* The real secret is that Rhonda Byrne’s inferiority complex is much, much bigger than mine…

    The underlying issue, of course, is the gullibility and easy credulity that so many people seem to possess in great and copious gobs, and which is so readily exploited for the sake of a few bucks by assorted charlatans and moral poltroons safely barricaded behind a screen of good intentions. Equally, it is baffling that so many people actually seem drawn to the nearest easy, glib and/or facile answers. It seems that a self-styled self-help guru who earnestly means to rid his followers of such gullibility would present something of an inherent paradox. Mind you, L. Ron Hubbard among others demonstrated in no uncertain terms how such would come out, and there is thus good reason to suspect that the term “self-help guru” is either oxymoronic or that the “self” actually refers to the “guru”.

  5. Common sense is great, as long it is actually common sense. I don’t find your article full of so much common sense as rejection and judgement of “them”. “They” certainly are far from perfect just like “us” but they have every right to explore life and search for previously unsuspected possibilities “outside” the common sense box. I also had many issues with “The Secret” and at the same time I thnk it serves an important role in our experience. Common sense today is vastly expanded from where it was 500 years ago and beyond. It has expanded because groups of people were willing to push the boundairies of the existing common sense “box”. Yes, they go too far. Yes, they make many “silly” assumptions. Yes, they lose sight of common sense. And yet they occasionally turn up nuggest of pure gold like penicillin out of a moldy dish, or electric lights, or proving that the earth is round and people don’t actually fall off the edge as “common sense” once dictated, or revolutions, or blowing the whistle on corporate and governmental misdeeds, and on and on. Much of our common sense today was WAY out of the common sense box when it first appeared.

  6. Con-Tester Says:

    Joyce: The telling difference, however, is that a truly open-minded approach requires that we test our assumptions against reality and reject them if reality happens consistently to refute them. Pushers of The Secret (and many other varieties of untenable bunkum) simply state, “Reality is thus!” without any tests or evidence to support their contentions. The nature of things is decidedly not illuminated by the fiat of self-styled “experts” (as normally derived from wishful thinking) because this is just closed-mindedness masquerading as enlightenment: it is an underhanded way of trying to stifle any further inquiry by declaring the matter effectively closed. So it is supremely ironic that these are usually the very same people who accuse orthodox science of closed-mindedness. Even if – as unlikely as that eventuality probably is – it does turn out later that there is some mystical force that allows people’s whims to influence the course of reality, this fact will not validate the precepts of The Secret because the latter is not founded on anything beyond touchy-feely smarminess. If at least they put forward a testable hypothesis of how this could possibly work (instead of merely stringing together “sciency” sounding words, phrases and concepts to dupe ignoramuses), there’d be something worth pursuing. Also, bear in mind that the methods of science are based on common sense, but that this cannot be taken to mean that its findings will also accord with common sense.

    As far as The Secret is concerned, Mr Incredible decried such things as endeavours towards “celebrating mediocrity” and that’s just about as perfect a description as one will find of what it actually is. The cited phrase also happens to one of my all time favourites.

  7. Con-Tester Says:

    moonflake: My prior comment (should be the 6th one, I think) is not showing!?

  8. Con-Tester Says:

    moonflake: ¿Que pasa? Two prior comments (should be the 6th and 7th ones, I think) are still not showing.

  9. Joyce: “they” are not thinking outside the box. There’s thinking outside of the box, which brings us electric lights and penicillin and round earths. And then there’s what “they” are doing, which is not so much thinking outside of the box as tearing up the box, jumping up and down on it, claiming it’s trying to eat you and then shoving a spoon in your ear. What they are thinking is so far outside the box, it’s in the next room, having a little tea party with other thoughts like ‘the moon is made of green cheese’ and ‘beetroot and garlic can cure aids’.

    Remember, they laughed at the Wright Brothers, but they also laughed at the Marx Brothers. Being ridiculed doesn’t automatically mean you’re a genius who’s eventually going to show the world the way forward. Sometimes it just means you’re in line for an amusing fall and an accompanying funny noise, possibly with custard pie involvement.

  10. residentRsole Says:

    While I often laugh at woo-woo, I get very angry at the philosophy of “The secret”. I read The Gulag Archipelago, The Grapes of Wrath and watched that TV series about the most evil men in history. You point out these horrors to new-age yuppies and they insist that it is entirely the victim’s fault because their negativity created that horrible reality. Oh, I suppose that last year when six year girl was killed and raped by her father while she bled to death, it was because she was not managing her reality properly. The smugness and self-satisfaction of my yuppie friends just pisses me off. Even more infuriating is they just seem to have all the luck, further reinforcing their belief in their magical ability to manipulate their reality. Grrrr ! Perhaps I should take them to the roulette table.

    Reminds me of what some economists say about those wildly successful speculators: they’re statistical outliers and nothing else. Screw fundamental analysis – give me the dart board instead.

  11. Joyce: I agree with Moonflake and would like to add that “They” are also laughing all the way to the bank – not only at how easy it is to make money spreading woo-woo, but at how gullible some people are. “They” also have no qualms about taking advantage of vulnerable people, which pisses me off greatly!

    It’s bad enough that there are Holocaust denialists out there, but now the nonsense sprouted in The Secret suggests that all six million jews “asked for it” because of their negative thoughts! What a load of B.S.

    What “They” are doing is not some harmless out of the box thinking, a lot of the nonsense “They” peddle is dangerous.
    A visit to will make it clearer for you.

  12. I agree with Moonflake et al.

    First let me say common sense (sic) is not a phrase I like much. Sense is far from common and, in my experience, not always well defined. Nevertheless, my objection noted, I’ll continue to use the phrase.

    Yes, it is common sense that thinking positively and forming a plan of action can get you places in life. However, it does not logically follow that thinking positively will always get you what you want, and it certainly doesn’t follow that terrible things happen because someone is pessimistic. This is exactly where “the secret” fails as a rational philosophy, and let me say this failure must be taken into account; we cannot judge something sound based only on the bits we like. The fact remains that merely thinking something will not make it so, and singing about a few of your favourite things will not make murderers, thieves, natural disasters etc. go away.

    Therefore, given that the above is true, why suggest “the secret” is any kind of common sense much less link it to things achieved through rational inquiry? After all it wasn’t “thinking outside of the box” that made Fleming et al. decide to investigate the antibacterial activity of a mould, rather it was directed, rational, scientific thought.


    PS in case you are wondering I did get the cold shower but, and alas, Liv Tyler has yet to materialise…

  13. gift: you have fairly accurately summed up the way i feel about the whole thing, except the liv tyler bit. sense is far from common. someone said that common sense told us that the world was flat, but i believe that it is more conventional wisdom. and we all know that is far from infallible

    we should take note of step 2a. yes, positive thinking will keep you motivated to do something when you feel like giving up. however, actions speak louder than words and thoughts are just really quiet words


  14. … really quiet words, said in a foreign language… with pretty pictures drawn in invisible ink…

    yeah, it all comes back to the oft-forgotten religious philosophy that “god helps those who help themselves”.
    i absolutely adore con-tester’s definition of self 🙂

  15. Con-Tester Says:

    moonflake, here’s another secret: Two prior comments (should be the 6th and 7th ones, I think) are still not showing.

  16. SockPuppet Says:

    Actually, it’s me, Con-Tester, and I’m just curious to know why my comments keep vanishing. Resubmitting them prompts an irate “You’ve already said that!” from WordPress.

  17. Actually, it’s me, Con-Tester, and I’m just curious to know why my comments keep vanishing. Resubmitting them prompts an irate “You’ve already said that!” from WordPress.

  18. Con-Tester: I think i got them all. You are obviously not passing the Turing Test. I’m sure geek.neo will sympathise 😉

  19. Con-Tester Says:

    moonflake: Thanks! 🙂 I think you got too many of them, actually. If you think it fitting, you’re welcome to remove anything that smacks of a gripe about absentee comments. After all, I wouldn’t wish to offend WordPress, despite its apparent opinion that my intelligence is artificial… 😉

    I’ve experienced this problem with other WordPress blogs too, but usually only when hyperlink tags are included in the comment body, and thus I remain puzzled by this oddity. Maybe I need to make an attitude adjustment, so I’ll sing “All Right Now” as I click the “Submit Comment” button. Here goes.

  20. Con-Tester Says:

    Nope, that didn’t work except insofar as it earned me an assortment of sardonic looks. So much for The Secret.

  21. i think i failed the turing test too :{ not for this post, though, i think … meh

    but, moonflake, how do we know that you are real and not just a bot that trwals the net and paraphrases anti loon web sites?

  22. dontdatethatdude Says:

    I have never read such a well written review of how I feel about “the Secret”, the next time somebody suggests it I will send them here to read this! Thank you for posting it!

  23. Con-Tester Says:

    A test: missing comments, x 2. Wibble.

  24. Very interesting take on “The Secert” I hadnt thought about it in that way, The Secert make you feel good for the 2 hours after you heard it but wht aobut the twom month after that?

  25. Con-Tester: weirdness continues. Hopefully Akismet will take note of me marking you as not spam and learn, like it’s supposed to. Until then, I guess i’ll just keep checking the spam filters 😦

  26. Con-Tester Says:

    Several comments in “The Galileo Gambit” aren’t showing. 😦

    Am I, according to WordPress, machina non grata?

  27. I keep have people telling me to watch the secret. I am glad i came across this blog.

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