Thursday, March 11, 2010

Self Help Wanted

For each withdrawal we make in our belief in institutions there is an equal deposit made in our own individual faith. This used to be called the self-help industry but it's really become the self-help economy.

This is something of an extended family business. My uncle Stephen planted pre-wikipedic primers, field guides to buying homes, life scripts for difficult conversations, and road maps in the fertile beds of personal finance. My cousin extended the license to food and agriculture. He is a rally cry and cultural beacon who many eaters consider before they fill their grocery carts. Back to Cousin Michael later in this post.

Self-help is the battering ram between real estate and eating well. As my cousin described this in a discussion a few years back people get really worked up about food because it represents the last stand they can take on local control of a global resource.

Flash forward to page one of the self-helper instruction guide: golden rule for guru-teacher-authors -- convince all disciples that their shortcomings are common foibles and that their strengths are not just extraordinary but unique to the worlds they wish to dwell in or even build from scratch. The chapter concludes with the coaching lesson factory of dreams made real by our American-bred Wizard of Oz.

This is the assumption that the student/apprentice holds the keys to all the cards -- not their life coaches or foremans inside dream factories. The break they're going to catch is the one they give themselves. Self-helpers make their own beds, their own luck, and their own way through this clubby, rigged minefield of petty checks and gaping imbalances. That's my experience anyway with my virtual students in particular. They are trying to reorder their priorities and remake their worlds by pursuing online programs that augment their careers and hiring credentials.

However, it's one thing to put this on our credit cards. It's quite another to experience immersion in a foreign subject in virtual isolation. Every outside distraction and prior commitment that outlives the program compounds the doubts of falling behind the pace that the other students are keeping up with. Virtual struggling is in many ways a lot more challenging than classroom struggling. That's what I was responding to on an email to a follow-up pep talk / phone call:

It's hard working in virtual silence with no visible support. That part is for real. The part about not keeping up and imagining that everyone else is moving flawlessly along? That's not reality at all!

Freeing online students from their isolation chambers is only half the battle. Then they have to reconnect with the passion that motivated them to accept the self-help challenge of online education. It can be liberating and scary to make good on that Wizard of Oz assumption. Being the captain of one's own ship infers that we know where we're sailing to. This is clearly not the case for most of us. But those willing to ask the question are owed something by their gurus: the trade-offs between realizing their dreams and some sacrifices they'll meet along the way.

Without the benefits to risks discussion we're back to the same inflated pap that serves as public debate in today's cable news calendar. More services -- great taste! Fewer taxes -- less filling!! That brings me back to Michael. In my limited estimation he was ambushed last week on NPR for this very reason.

All Things Considered turned into the Daily Show for one fleeting sequence when he was lampooned as the Pope of high cuisine as ATC staffers confessed some sardonic food sins. Chef Boyardee was the bait as Michael decried the moral and dietary perils of the modern slaughterhouse in the Upton Sinclair tradition.But if it was as simple as exposing the sinister backstories of Archer Daniels, Cargill, etal. we'd be out of the feed yard woods.

But convict the Meat Industry for its hate crimes against cows, pigs, and chickens and our McMansion pantries are still clamoring for cans of non-perishable pasta-sized sirloin implants. That's the caloric reality. The I-have-a-food-dream speech is rather spartan and bland:

Not too much.
Mostly plants.

Michael's advice has not fallen on deaf pallets. But this edict is about as appetizing as washing down to weight loss pills with a meal-replacement shake topped off with a sprinkling of wheat germ in a psyllium powder reduction. You can't waffle toast a muffin breakfast sandwich big enough to accommodate the stretch it takes in a public pursuit of pleasure and joy within this formula.

That's why April Fools came early to All Things Considered. That's why good dreams don't come cheap and the best way to avoid sticker shock is to start out price conscious. That's a lesson for online learners and gurus of all methods and teachings.

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