Friday, March 23, 2007

We’re being invaded - Botswana Guardian

No, I’m not talking about Zimbabweans, I think we’re under threat from something much more dangerous than illegal aliens, health charlatans and international consultants telling us we’re doing everything wrong.

We’re being invaded by nonsense.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve encountered several ludicrous ideas. The Scientologists will probably say this is because of alien ghosts in my brain but I blame something much more harmful: the internet.

Several times in the last few weeks I’ve received emails announcing the release of a DVD called The Secret. This DVD, which you’ll not be surprised to learn costs money, tells us that our thoughts can “create reality”. Just thinking that you’ll become a millionaire will make you a millionaire. If you just think that your marriage is going to be wonderful then it will be wonderful. Just thinking that it will rain, will, yes, you guessed it, make it rain. The trouble is it’s not all positive, there’s a negative side as well. We become ill apparently because we think bad thoughts. Presumably we get robbed, raped and murdered because we made it happen with our bad thoughts?

Apart from the cruelty of the message that The Secret delivers, there is of course, the utter nonsense that it comprises. Did we have a drought because we made it happen by being negative? Did the tsunami kill all those people because they weren’t thinking happy thoughts? Did tens of millions of people die during the Second World War because they hadn’t bought a DVD from a bunch of New Agers? Can you make HIV leave your body just by thinking?

Of course not.

I’m a big believer in positive thought but I do recognise it’s limitations. Positive thought alone doesn’t do anything. It’s what results from positive thought that matters. We’ve all known people who have managed to survive illness and adversity and whose positive outlook has made them a great role model but their outlook was just helpful, it didn’t itself cure anything. There is almost always a third factor behind such obvious associations.

Someone who retains a positive outlook when faced with illness is surely the one who is also more likely to improve their diet, cut down on the booze and start exercising? Surely it’s those things that help them live longer, recover more quickly and become healthier?

We get the same thing from all the other purveyors of the “thought makes reality” message. Whether it’s The Journey talking about cell memory, churches telling the congregation that prayer alone will make us rich or the Scientologists saying that we just need to clear out all those pesky aliens from our minds, it’s all the same.

As Oscar Wilde said, the truth is never pure and rarely simple. Our health and wealth are, in fact, heavily influenced by things beyond our control. Of course we can modify our destiny hugely by taking personal responsibility for it. We can work harder, learn something new every day, and listen to genuine, qualified experts when they give us health advice but we can’t avoid the fact that much of what happens in life is beyond the control of positive thinking.

At a more profound level my objection is that so much of this is simply untrue. Cells don’t have memory any more than rocks do. Wealth comes from good fortune for a few lottery winners and the grandchildren of millionaires but mostly it comes from hard work, imagination and talent. As for Scientology aliens in my brain, well, I think they gave up and went home years ago.