Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sham: Book Review

Steve Salerno takes a stand against the genre of Self Help and Self Actualization Movement, which he says appropriately stands for 'Sham.' Sham includes chapters critiquing self help gurus (like Anthony Robinson), life coaches, motivational speakers who use sportspeak, alternative medicine, to exploring self-help's alleged harmful influences in society.

Sham starts strong. Salerno's points out lack of scientific study as to efficacy of self help approaches, lack of credentials on the part of many self help writers and life coaches. He points out the limitation of enhancing workers' employees' work quality by using sports imagery as it doesn't necessarily translate smoothly into business environment.

However, it's later in the book that I found I disagreed with several of Salerno's claims, particularly when he discuses supposed real life applications of self help. For example, Salerno includes a statistic that 25% of US children live in broken homes. He goes on to say that Americans are finding these households are not positive for kids, as statistics show crime, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy "leave scant room for dissent." (page 162) What? How was this connection made? And how does self help play a role in encouraging divorce or discouraging people from marrying one another?

Salerno also takes a shot at the US educational system, arguing that it discourages males from being males. Discussing the "feminization of America," Salerno writes that it's since the "advent of 'sensitivity', 'self esteem' and 'getting in touch with your feelings' -- that America has seen so many boys and young men acting out in horrific ways." While Salerno continues to ask whether it's "fair to draw a straight line of psychological causation that connects the two?" and answers "no" he adds that "the coincidence is hard to ignore." (pg 240) I fail to see how these two have a causal connection nor was I able to find any evidence shared by Salerno that they are.

Do I have a problem with kids being brought up with radical notions like cooperation or compromise? No. Do I think that teaching young boys that it's OK to show feelings other than anger is a hindrance to developing healthy mental minds? Absolutely not. Nor do I think boys throughout the US are no longer playing cops and robbers or violent video games like Salerno seems to assert.
It's too bad because parts of Sham opened my eyes with insightful observations. Salerno's assessment of self help as focusing on victimization (people are essentially powerless, others are to blame for one's problems) vs. empowerment (people may achieve whatever they want) was interesting. However, Salerno's claims later in the book, particularly in regards to so-called real life applications of self help in relation to sociology detract immensely from Sham's strength and credibility.


antiSWer said...

Great critique of the book. Anything that's telling us to connect with our feelings less (and saying that's the manly way to be) is just dead wrong.

Correlation does not equal causation!

Anatolia said...

YES. If there's anything that has been ingrained in me through psychology classes, it's that last line!

Anonymous said...

I'll have to see if our library has that book. Great critique...and so true about correlation and causation not being the same. I didn't realize that only single parents had problems with teens getting pregnant, getting into trouble or getting involved in drugs. :-)