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:
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.