Em­brac­ing shame with my pal Ni­amh

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - BRENDAN O’CONNOR -

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

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