In case that sounds like I am advocating a Necronomicon that you get at Dymocks for $ 39.95, I must reassure you. The self help advocated is not to make the user worse, but better. Vice is to be abhorred and virtue upheld – if only on the point of a pike.
The self-help books that are commonly found in bookshops and libraries come in many forms – but they all have a common theme; the reader must absorb what they have to say and then practice it to become a better person. The betterment can be of many types – richer, calmer, wiser, thinner, happier, or more virtuous are some of the popular ones. Less common, but still useful are the books that will make you a better golfer, fisherman, skier, etc. There are even a few slim volumes that will make you a better stamp collector or photographer of fungi.
Still- they are all ex auctoritate sententia – you read and obey the authority of the author. They point and you follow.
I propose that the best self-help article or book is one that proceeds from the person themselves – they do the work and reap the benefit. Thus even if the reader desiring advancement can only write or say one thing to assist themselves, that one thing comes from a better source than any $ 39.95 paperback.
Of course you often can’t really say anything new to yourself – it has all been said before by someone else – but you can repeat it in your own voice, and that is frequently the only one you hear anyway. In this case you are doing nothing more than you might normally do – talking to yourself – but you can add something fresh; you can listen to yourself.
I’m trying it these next few months. First one I’m doing is Will Rogers’ line about never passing up a chance to shut up. The good effect of this might be negative, as I won’t know what trouble I’ve avoided if I’ve been successful…but maybe that’s the best form of self-help.
We old fools are well served by that folk saying – it has the right ring about it to let young people laugh and lose interest in us. And then we can carry on with our nefarious plans. By the time they realise how dangerous we are it is too late.
Now I don’t want to alarm people – old folks are not demons incarnate, unless you are speaking about Rolf Harris, Bill Cosby, or Hilary Clinton. Most of us are cuddly and lovable and do not make stains on the carpet. But we are dangerous enough in our own right to require a bit of caution. Above all we should not be left unattended near the bookshelf or the computer. Some of us cannot be trusted.
The young have the advantage of us in that they have stamina, health, and sex to look forward to. We have the counter in that we had sex and it was better than the stuff you get nowadays ( including the nice-crispy sex you got before the war ) and that stamina and health are over-rated. Being sick means you get to do a lot more complaining.
We are allowed a great deal more latitude than the young, but they don’t realise that in most cases we do not need it. If people are going to be so indulgent as to forgive us our foibles that is all well and good – but they fail to understand that we don’t care whether we are forgiven or not. We are content to have a good time ( before 8:30 in the evening ) and let it go at that.
Folly, as it happens, is generally a youthful activity. They can love and hate and invest and war and over-eat with little sad consequence – we have learned differently, and know that any deviation from good sense brings bad times. So we are wise in spite of ourselves. It doesn’t preserve us, of course, but it does make us quieter in public places.
It certainly is bitter when it prevents you from crushing your enemies and drinking blood from their skulls. This can take all the fun out of a children’s birthday party.
Being discrete means different things to different people – in one case not mentioning that the hostess’s soufflé has slumped to the side of the plate – in another not screaming ” Die, Infidel! ” and leaping at the SAS trooper with the machine gun. Neither makes for a comfortable social interaction.
You might be tempted to equate discretion with cowardice. This is false. Cowardice never attempts anything – discretion only baulks at the impossible or improvident. Both will serve to keep their practitioner out of trouble, but the former brings disgrace once detected; the latter can sometimes bring honour. The difficulty is in knowing where the boundary line is.
People often try to introduce a moral tone to what might otherwise be a purely operational decision. They ask ” Will what I do make the world a better place? “. ” Will it be fair, and right, and kindly? “. They might as well ask whether it will be covered in unicorn sparkle poo. The question is just a way of masking underlying cowardice.
A wise and brave man asks different questions: ” Will it work? “…” Will the benefit outweigh the cost? “…” Can I sheet the blame home to someone else if it all goes to pieces? “. Answered honestly, these will help you to determine whether to do something or just go to the washroom and crawl out through an open window.
Remember – no-one ever blamed Confucius for the explosion of the HINDENBERG. Confucius was no fool.