I was recently talking to someone who had been listening to a motivational speaker. Notice I wasn’t the one listening to the motivational speaker. Motivational speaker is another term for charlatan – written with all due respect. These people are mostly modern day snake oil salesmen who promote twisted truths to hopeful customers/suckers like “You need to manifest it. Believe and it will come true.” That’s not how life works. You can’t will something into existence without doing your due diligence. Even then, manifesting and working doesn’t mean you’re going to get what you want. How many people “manifest” becoming a millionaire only to find themselves compromising their values and/or taking foolish risks in their pursuits? How many people “manifest” this goal, but end up doing it at the expense of family or even their own personal happiness? I can’t help but wonder how many people have followed the advice of motivational speakers only to end up miserable, bankrupt, and/or alone.
Even worse, a lot of motivational speakers will add something like “The universe will bless you” like they’re somehow enlightened for saying “the universe” instead of God. What’s stupid is the universe is a non-living thing. It’s no different than the wooden idols uneducated people thousands of years ago prayed to out of ignorance. Yet somehow the word “universe” is more acceptable than “God” to a lot of people in the self help world – a term that itself sounds selfish: “I’m into self help because I don’t care about others or what others have to say. I’m all about me.” Motivational speakers typically inspire people to be more selfish as they encourage listeners to focus on what makes them happy and not what’s best for the community. But realistically, who cares about you? Who cares about me or anyone else? We’re all just a bunch of beings that will all eventually die and soon be forgotten. Does Einstein care that he’s in textbooks? It’s hard to care if you’re dead and cease to exist.
It’s been said, “The best book is one with which we agree.” That means the best speakers teach what we already believe in an attractive package. As a Christian, I grew up loving a good sermon that inspired me to be better – it’s what I already believed. A motivational speaker who isn’t a Christian, however, is telling you a bunch of fluff. If there isn’t a reward or repercussion for how we live this life, is there any real point to it all? You work, you die, and then you’re forgotten. Any message about people needing to live their dreams or finding their purpose without a connection to God are just empty messages that inspire workaholics to be bigger workaholics. And yes, you’re right; I’d never make it as a motivational speaker: “Your life is meaningless… unless God is real, and then there’s hope our lives will lead to a better eternity, but even then the best we can hope for is simply finding enjoyment in our day to day until it’s over.” This message clearly doesn’t sound as nice as “You can do whatever you want because I’m appealing to your selfish side.” But I digress…
So back to my original point about this person who was listening to a motivational speaker (you’re welcome for the bonus realistic/depressing lesson I just did). This person told me the speaker talked about people needing to find their “authentic self.” After a few sentences I had to interrupt and ask, “Do you know what the authentic self idea is? Packaged hokum designed to make misguided people think they sound ‘deep.’” The person I was talking with was very surprised and asked, “Aren’t therapists supposed to buy into this?” I started laughing, “I didn’t say I was a good therapist.” I then asked, “Is our authentic self what we want to think of ourselves as or is it how we act in our daily life?” This person was surprised by my question. And you’ll notice I didn’t tell them what to think, but I presented it as a question with two juxtaposed options, so they could see how silly the idea of the so-called authentic self was. Who you are is simply who you are seen in your actions, especially when you’re with your family. Life isn’t complicated. Good people do good things (aka act in love) with the odd mistake. Bad people do bad things (aka act in selfishness) with the odd thing that’s good being done. If you want to know who your authentic self is ask whoever lives with you. Who you are is seen when you’re at home, especially when you’re tired and your social filters fade. It’s also seen when you face conflict or when life falls apart and you’re struggling.
Your actions reflect your heart. If your actions suck, guess what that means about your heart? It doesn’t matter if you’re tired or going through a rough time, if you’re not nice, you’re not a nice person. Your actions tell others who you are. Most people want to think they’re good, but how we want to see ourselves is only good if it inspires us to have better actions. You might be shy, but if you’re not friendly and greet people, you’re rude. You might be nice to your friends, but how do you treat strangers, your family, or your enemies? It’s easy to be nice to people who are nice to you, but how do you deal with your emotions and difficult people? This is obviously an idea I came up with on my own: “If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that,” (Mat 5:47, NLT)… or maybe not. I might have stolen it… so my authentic self is clearly not perfect.
Christian Tip: James (known as the brother of Jesus, James the Less or James the Just), wrote, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (Jam 2:18b) As a Christian, I really need to be working on my “authentic self” because my faith needs to be demonstrated by how I act. (I hope calling motivational speakers charlatans doesn’t count as being bad; I see it as more of a fact.) Fun note, according to the Roman writer Josephus, James died being stoned by the Pharisees. Throwing stones at someone until they die from blunt trauma… I’m guessing that’s not the “good deeds” James taught. The Pharisees really could’ve used some Christian teaching.
The good news is even if our authentic self sucks, there is hope for us to be better. We can be better. We should be aiming to be better. I am definitely better today than I was five years ago (or I’m blind). If you read my lessons, you are someone who is trying to be better because you are being given ideas for improving. That’s amazing. Good for you. Even if you disagree with me (maybe you love motivational speakers… my apologies), that’s great. You’re still trying to grow. You don’t have to agree with everything I teach, but at least you’re trying to learn and grow just like I am by writing these lessons. The only real difference between us is it takes me a lot longer to write these lessons than for you to read them… you win.
This week may you work on how you act because that demonstrates who you are.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)