You’re Poor, Now Whose Fault is That?

by | July 23, 2009
filed under Pop Culture

Some of you may know that I’m being set free from my career planning class a week early on the condition that I continue to do research and goal-setting independently. But there’s still lots to talk about from the program that I was doing, as well as the larger world of career planning and job searching.

Today I want to look at another disturbing aspect of career planning – the dissemination the ideas of those whom fellow blogger Dudley Lynch terms “think-yourself-happy-happy-happy gurus.”

In week one of my career class, we were subjected to two videos coming out of this area including The Success Principles by Chicken Soup for the Soul author Jack Canfield. I’m going to focus on Canfield for this post.

jackLet’s go through the goals he outlines in this short movie version of the principles from his book of the same name:

1. Take 100% responsibility for life and its results

Canfield argues that life operates on the following equation:

Expectations + Response = Outcome

He argues that positive expectations/responses to situations change your outcome. Canfield also posits the popular “law of attraction” idea seen in other self-help programs such as The Secret. Basically the idea is that if people believe it hard enough, they’ll see it. Canfield encourages people to “drop out of the ain’t it awful club” and visualize their goals.

2. Decide What You Want

Apparently we need to “create a breakthrough goal” in order to “succeed.” The metaphor Canfield uses is likening success to a lock: “if you know the combination, the lock has to open.” We are meant to write down our goals and carry them in our wallets, each day doing 5 things to bring us closer to that goal.

He also exhorts people to try to spend time with the people who are one level up from them in society, not spend time with people who will drag them down.

3. Unleash the Power of Goal Setting

Canfield uses the example of a woman who goes over to her friend’s house and sees her friend’s brand new kitchen and then wants a new kitchen for herself. Could he have picked a slightly less stereotypically sexist example?

According to Canfield we can all “finally do what we’re passionate about” and “take our lives to the next level” by setting measurable goals.

4. Ask for Feedback

This was probably my favourite part. Canfield says that in a marriage, every day you should get up and ask your spouse, on a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfied are they in the marriage? Then, “anything less than 5 gets a follow-up.” Seriously? Every day? Okay…

So what do we get out of all of this?

First, Canfield and similar self-help/motivational writers define success as having more money, better jobs, and more leisure time. Canfield argues his program can help everyone “double their income and their time off in 3 years or less.”  We should be conscious of how this definition is not an objective truth but a debatable perspective constructed from a Eurocentric and androcentric standpoint.

Second, the “think-yourself-happy-happy-happy gurus” like Canfield promote a worldview that legitimates blaming those who are poor, downtrodden, and discriminated against for their situation. This is partly related to the definition of success that they have constructed.

In “The Hubris of ‘The Secret'” cancer survivor Valerie Reiss writes movingly about the lack of compassion promoted by the idea that we make our own happiness.:

“When I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, I was afraid to tell my New-Agey friends and acquaintances. Mainly, I was afraid they would say, “Why did you do that to yourself?” Not out of cruelty, but from a genuine desire to help me see how I had “created my own reality,” a central tenet of New Age thinking.”

Canfield actually says in the movie that “only 10% of Americans have written measurable goals for their lives, and 10% of Americans own 90% of the country’s wealth. And guess what? It’s the same 10%!” So if you’re not in the top 10%, it’s because you haven’t been setting goals and thinking positively, just in case you were wondering!

(You can visit this site for a concise analysis of the gender income gap in Canada and comparison to other countries by the Conference Board of Canada. And this article from the Star Phoenix outlines the results of a recent study showing a 63% income gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men working off-reserve, as well as a 44% gap for women. Income gaps are another huge topic so I’ll leave it at that for now.)

Canfield seems to believe we live in world where goal-setting and positive attitudes lead to “success.” Stop whining, he argues, because this is the system and you’re going to have to buy into it. He actually encourages us by saying “Don’t think, just do.” This also seems to be one of the primary ideological messages in the career planning program generally.

So after the movie we were asked to say what we thought. I put up my hand and said, “I’m not saying that attitude isn’t important or that we shouldn’t set goals and think positively but I felt the video was a good example of white man’s knowledge being used to legitimate classism and ignore sexism and racism.”

Dead silence.

“Um,” I continue, “I just don’t think we really live in a meritocracy. I mean if what he’s saying is true, I guess women just aren’t as good at goal-setting as men, and visible minorities must not be thinking positively enough.”

Career counsellor: “Well you’re entitled to your opinion.”

Other classmate, looking somewhat surprised: “No, that was good.”

Me: “And that kind of attitude that blames people for being poor. I mean it’s caused so much pain in our history. It just made me really angry…Sorry…”

Career counsellor: “Well I would argue with you about that, but that’s your opinion.”

Yes, yes it is.

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