Embracing shame with my pal Niamh
MY colleague Niamh Horan has been turning me on to some vaguely spiritual Ted Talks. I know, I know. That’s not what you expected to hear is it? But in between arguing, Niamh and I share a taste for self-improvement, or healing your inner child, or whatever the current phrase is. My interest is probably a little mercenary in that, as some of you will know, I have long been nursing the notion that I should write a self-help book. It’s not that I’m any good at helping myself, but I think I could be good at telling other people, specifically Americans, how to help themselves. I have toyed with the notion for years, even going so far as coming up with titles now and then. One system of self-healing and self-actualisation was ENBY which stands for Expect Nothing; Be Yourself. I became convinced one evening in a drunken conversation that this was the key to a happy life. I didn’t get beyond the title, but then again, there isn’t much more to it. If you get the right title, that’s half the battle.
The great thing about selfhelp books is that they are one of those products that aren’t required to do what they say on the tin. Self-help
‘Vulnerability is courage. And if you don’t have shame you are a psycho’
books are like carbs, the ultimate consumer product in that the more you consume the more you want, which goes against all the rules of economics and consumer behaviour and has more in common with addiction.
Indeed, there are people out there who have somehow got away with writing several books on how you can heal your life. Call me crazy, but if you write a book telling people how to heal their lives, then you shouldn’t need to write another one if the first one was any good. But not only will people buy multiple books about that promise to fix them, they will actually buy ones written by the same person — the person who failed to heal them with previous books. If the blurb for these books was to be honest, it should read: “Self-help guru Brendan O’connor failed to heal your life with his last book, How To Heal Your Life, but this time he swears he has got it right and he asks you to give him another chance as he rewarms some of the stuff from the previous book, in another botched attempt to heal your life.”
Most consumers of self-help books will never complain, because, let’s face it, they are the kind of people who blame themselves for the book’s failure. “That last book was really good and it should have worked, but I didn’t do the steps properly and I didn’t believe enough in myself. I did not help myself. So I’ll try another book by the same guy, and this time I’ll try and do it better,” they say in their selfdefeating way.
Indeed, the title of the genre is a dead giveaway – ‘Self-help’. They might as well put on the cover of the book: “It’s up to you to make this work, sucker.”
I am conscious that if I intend to write a self-help book some day I should probably read more of them, but most of them seem pretty boring and repetitive. So I thought the Ted Talks thing might be a good halfway house in keeping me informed about the current trends in self-help bull in neat 20-minute bites.
Niamh recommended this woman called Brene Brown who talks about shame and vulnerability. I liked the sound of it, first because the same woman was recommended to me by someone else, so clearly the universe was telling me something. I also liked the sound of Brene because despite the fact that some of you might think I have no shame, I am actually full of shame, and vulnerability.
And the good news is that shame and vulnerability are good things. I listened to Brene’s Ted Talks and it turns out that vulnerability is actually courage. And if you don’t have shame you are basically a psychopath. But the really important lesson I leant from Brene is this: the way to get gazillions of people to watch your Ted Talks, and to presumably buy your book, is not by telling them they need to change, it’s by telling them that the things they think are bad about themselves are actually good.
My latest idea for a book is Relax. It’s Good To Be An Arsehole, followed up by Stop Beating Yourself Up: Pettiness and Jealousy Are Signs Of A Noble Mind. I feel this series could run and run. Now I just need to write them.
But then, as you know, laziness is a sign of a beautiful mind.
Self-help books are like carbs, the more you consume, the more you find yourself wanting