Wanna Know a Secret?
“Don’t want no mediocre, I don’t want no mediocre no…”
That is a phrase I heard for the first time recently. Shortly after hearing those words, I did some googling and discovered that they were lyrics to an excessively vulgar, belligerent, and demeaning tune from the hip-hop/rap artist, T.I..
The ironic part of this event was in the setting of what was going on while the song was playing loudly in the background. This song was the motivational audio to a video of someone giving life advice about how to be a better person, become successful, and how to get what one wants out of life, because, well, life owes it to us and we deserve it.
To fully understand the irony, we would need to look up the lyrics and read them for everyone. They will not be posted on here due to this being a family-friendly website. [Disclaimer: don’t look it up or listen to it if you have sensitive eyes, ears, or reasonable morals.]
This kind of logic follows a similar, if not the very same, vein of another popular ideology: The Secret.
What is The Secret? Rhonda Byrne, a talk-show producer, discovered what the secret was a few years ago, and now, thanks to the book, DVD, and the convenience of being able to stream it on Netflix, we can all know what that secret is, too!
An article from Christianity Today explained The Secret as,
…simply ‘the law of attraction.’ Think about wealth, and you will become wealthy. Think about that new car, and it will come. Think about getting a good parking spot, and one will open up. Think about your ideal weight (really, dwell on that number, write it on your scale), and you will attract that reality to yourself… ‘Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency,’ the book assures us. ‘As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency. Everything sent out returns to the source. And that source is you.’ (Lawrenz, 2007)
That sounds really nice. The problem, though, is that it’s emotional pornography.
To understand what emotional porn is, we first need to explain what traditional porn is, or rather, what it does to the brain. When we engage in coital behavior, our brains release chemicals—dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin, endorphins, and serotonin—which literally “bind” our brain to whomever, or whatever, we’re involved with.
When coital behavior takes place in a functional relationship appropriately as it was originally designed to, it’s wonderful and dandy and those chemicals and hormones are released the way they’re supposed to be, forming a mutual bond to the other person, resulting in long-term desire and longing for that other person. However, with the erotic stimuli that one finds with pornographic paraphernalia, the chemical and hormonal release is disproportionate, thus forming the “high,” leading to addition to the pornographic experience itself (Gilkerson, 2014).
Emotional porn has a similar effect on the brain, just without the sexually explicit element. Emotional porn happens with books, movies, belief systems, and sometimes dysfunctional relationships. For something to qualify as emotional porn, it has to be geared toward eliciting a falsely-based emotional response. Essentially, we get the feeling of security, belonging, happiness, intimacy, wholeness, etc., without ever actually having any of it.
The pornography addict may feel fulfilled and have some fictional sense of intimacy, but it’s temporary and only lasts until the chemical and hormonal high subsides. Then the cycle starts all over again, but with a caveat of the “satisfaction bar” set higher than the previous experiences, similar to how drug users build up a tolerance to the substance and require a more potent dose for the subsequent uses to achieve the same high.
In both cases, any amount of critical thinking will unveil what it really is: a work of fiction. The experiences are fake, hollow, a façade, vacant of any real density. It’s the brain chemical equivalent of empty calories; it feels good for a minute, but ultimately of no value and is more detrimental to the person than it is beneficial.
Ideologies like The Secret are emotional porn. The feel-good “inspirational” pictures and videos on social media that, once thought about, don’t actually make sense with reality and are discovered to be self-centered or morally incorrect, are emotional porn. Again, for something to qualify as emotional porn, it needs to be geared toward eliciting a falsely-based emotional response.
There is another element in The Secret, though, that isn’t necessarily in those feel-good social media posts. The Secret also contains a hefty amount of entitlement. For argument sake, entitlement is defined in this post as the belief that one has the unmerited right to something, is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment, or is “too good” or “above” something of which they are not. It is an inaccurate inflation of self and an incorrect view of reality.
In his book, The Entitlement Cure, Dr. John Townsend elaborates on just how debilitating entitlement is to a person. He says,
“One of the most limiting ideas of entitlement thinking is that the end goal of life is happiness: ‘I Just want to be happy, that’s all.’ Entitlement says that the highest good is to be a happy person—but in fact, that is one of the worst endgame goals we can have. People who have happiness as their goal get locked into the pain/pleasure motivation cycle. They never do what causes them pain, but always do what brings them pleasure. This puts us on the same thinking level as a child, who has difficulty seeing past his or her fear of pain and love of pleasure. There is nothing wrong with happiness. But in a healthy life, happiness comes as a by-product of doing what you love, having purpose, and giving back…Happiness is a by-product to enjoy, not a dream to seize.” (Townsend, 2015, p. 66)
In an interview with CBN, Dr. Henry Cloud talked about The Secret. He called it a “huge cultural phenomenon and is classic, new-age philosophy.” The Secret is about getting what one wants in life. It looks beyond a logical and practical plan to reach one’s goals because the universe is allegedly governed by the “law of attraction,” “law of vibration,” etc. Yes, the universe does have real spiritual realities that govern it. However, The Secret says we are God; we’re all our own God, ruling our lives with ultimate authority and attracting back to us whatever thoughts and vibrations we put into the universe. Well, we’re not, nor does the universe work like that. Dr. Cloud insisted that this is all evidence that we are searching for something more than ourselves and long to be connected to Someone greater (CBN, n.d.).
The “law of attraction” and “law of vibration” declare that what one thinks will attract like things back to the original source—the thinker—since thoughts are magnetic, in a state of motion, and on certain metaphysical frequencies. Example: if someone thinks hard enough about becoming a millionaire, focuses all of their thoughts on becoming a millionaire day and night, hangs assorted pictures of money around the house in easy-to-see places, even goes so far as to put a picture of money on a “vision board” or “dream board,” to ensure that it’s constantly in the forefront of their mind, then eventually they will become millionaires. All because those are the vibrations and thoughts they’re sending out into the universe and, since like thoughts attract like physical things, eventually it will come because the universe is governed by the law of attraction and law of vibration.
If everything that happens in the universe really is attracted by thoughts and vibrations, does this also mean that car accidents, pancreatitis, broken bones, congenital defects, bankruptcy, flat tires, mental disorders, waking up late for work, untimely death of friends, or spilling coffee on oneself is the fault of our thoughts, too? Does it mean that we were subconsciously—or consciously—thinking about all of those things and therefore brought them into reality? Can the universe differentiate between our conscious, subconscious, intentional, and unintentional thoughts and vibrations?
Better question: can people send their thoughts and mental vibrations towards others and alter those realities too? This happens on social media all the time. “I’m sending positive thoughts to you;” “You’re in my thoughts;” “I could really use some positive energy and positive thoughts right now…,” to name a few.
People who subscribe to this kind of ideology will usually freak out or shut down when they perceive that they’re becoming involved in something negative. It doesn’t actually have to be something negative or bad, they just have to perceive that it is. They’ll say things like, “Hey, keep your negative energy away from me,” “I don’t want to talk about [destructive behavior], so I’m not inviting you or your negative energy into my life,” “I won’t let your negative thoughts into my space and affect my reality. Keep that away from me and keep it to yourself.”
There are several things wrong with this kind of thinking. To start with, each person does not have their own reality; there is just reality, life, and everyone is part of it. An individual cannot make up rules for their own “universe” just because it feels better than what reality actually is.
“So,” subscribers of this ideology might say, “if our thoughts and vibrations are powerless, then what about ‘the power of an idea’? Ideas can change reality. Just look at the light bulb! That came from an idea. Apple was all started from an idea.” Well, for an idea to change physical reality, it has to have action from the person thinking the thoughts to follow it. The light bulb or MacBook didn’t come into existence because Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs just sat and thought really hard about it materializing in front of them. They had to go and do the physical work. In his book, Integrity, Dr. Cloud elaborates on this process of doing the work, which he calls Ready, Aim, Fire. One has to prepare, perform in due diligence, assess the risks, refrain from impulsive behavior, take time to learn about the field, focus on the goal and how to achieve it, and then pull the trigger once all of the research is done and variables are accounted for (Cloud, 2006, p. 147). Success in life comes from doing the leg work and making smart decisions, not from simply thinking certain thoughts with good intentions for oneself.
The Secret and other such philosophies promise that one can get everything they want out of life, have “it all,” if they just think hard enough and send out the right vibrations. Did somebody say, “This sounds like emotional porn?”
Thanks to this new-age ideology, the cultural understanding of practicality and mediocrity have also been eroded into something new entirely.
According to Merriam-Webster, practical is defined as, 1) relating to what is real rather than to what is possible or imagined, 2) likely to succeed and reasonable to do or use, and 3) appropriate or suited for actual use. Mediocre is defined as of moderate or low quality, value, ability, or performance (Merriam-Webster, n.d.).
However, culturally speaking, mediocre and practical are generally synonymous, especially in the groups of those who have adopted The Secret and similar ideologies as their primary blueprint for life.
It’s quite the paradoxical cycle: “Everyone can be practical if they choose to be, and if everyone can do it then it must be easy. If it’s easy, then everyone can have it. If everyone can have it, then it makes mine less valuable—resulting in that person’s status of possession as being more level with everyone else’s. So, if everyone can have it then it has to be mediocre since everyone’s default setting is to go with easy and mediocre. Therefore, if it is practical it must be mediocre, and I deserve better than that because I’m special.”
But the paradox continues still: The Secret, entitlement, and similar ideologies all indicate that it should be easy and that one deserves to have it—success, money, whatever one wants out of life—come to them…just not to everyone else.
It is impressively self-centered, regardless of the arguments its followers make to the contrary. They often defend with, “I want to have the Lamborghini so I can help people by Ubering with it,” “I want to have lots of material possessions so I can better help people in some vague, unquantified way,” “Once I have ‘it all,’ I’ll be so good at helping others because I’ll have greater means to do so,” “I just want to help every single person to the best of my ability in every way, and I’ll be the best when I have more money, a nicer car, bigger house, and find happiness.”
The problem is that means and material possessions do not change who a person inherently is; they only magnify one’s internal demeanor. If someone is a binge spender making $30k per year, then they will still be a binge spender making $90k per year. If someone is arrogant, self-centered, and unwilling to help others, then they will still be arrogant, self-centered, and unwilling to help others after their means are enhanced. If someone doesn’t give their friends short-notice rides when they need them while driving a Nissan Sentra, then they most likely won’t give short notice rides to friends when they have a Lamborghini, either. If someone doesn’t radically donate their money, if any at all, to the needy making $30k per year, then they probably won’t donate money when they make $90k per year. Apart from a character-based catalyst happening to cause an internal change in the person, they will live life with exactly the same character and behavior once “success” finds them, if it ever does.
Outside factors—success, means, material possessions—do not change one’s internal and inherent qualities. One’s inherent qualities are only changed from the inside with help from a greater structure and support system that are both found outside of oneself, e.g., divine prodding from God with the support system of close, spiritually mature, and God-centered people.
Recap: The Secret and other such ideologies are self-centered and morally insidious. We cannot alter our, or anyone else’s, reality based on our thoughts, vibrations, or the intentions we send into the universe. Our thoughts are powerless in and of themselves; physical action has to follow for them to get any traction. Means, wealth, success, and material possessions do not change who a person is on the inside; they just magnify what is already there. We share reality with everyone, we don’t get our own mini-universe with a set of rules specifically crafted by us and for us.
Where does this leave us if we really are powerless to control our universe and those around us with thoughts? When our internal brain wiring is looked at on a deeper level, it’s easy to see that we’re all designed to be codependent. We see the negative side of it every day, people who are dysfunctional and codependent with others, trapped in a cycle of bad choices and less-than-desirable behavior. But what if codependency were designed to be different? What if it wasn’t a question of if we are codependent or not, but a question of who we are codependent with? We humans are designed to be in community with other humans; life is not meant to be lived in solitude or a vacuum. On a different level, though, what if we were codependent on God (Martin, 2012, p. 7-9)?
We already discovered how self-centered, incoherent, and broken these new-age ideologies are. And we discovered how we cannot change our inherent qualities on our own. Sure, we might be able to change our behavior for a short period of time, but that will only last until we forget, become inconvenienced, or when we don’t think it is beneficial for us anymore. To change our character we must look to a flawless system outside of our own feeble abilities that is greater than ourselves since we are literally incapable of making genuine, permanent change on our own. We just don’t have it in us to do so. It’s not how we’re wired.
Ideologies like The Secret are further evidence that we’re all looking to fill a God-shaped hole in our lives, that we’re looking for something bigger than ourselves. The question now turns to, what are we aligning ourselves with? Will we continue to pretend that we are our own self-centered God controlling our realities with our thoughts and vibrations? Or will we alter our behavior and look to the only God for answers and success, and then be changed from the inside out for the betterment of everyone?
Even if the God structure of this article is removed, it doesn’t change the fact that ideologies like The Secret are entirely self-serving, selfish, morally and ethically repulsive, and primarily centered around solving middle-class concerns, i.e., houses, cars, wealth, etc. (Lawrenz, 2007).
The Secret and life the way God intended it to be are mutually exclusive. Both cannot be correct. The values of living out a God-centered life are completely opposite of what The Secret ideologies value. There is no way around it, it’s an “either/or situation.” To pretend that both can coexist and both be correct is naive, foolish, and further evidence that our character is warped and desperately needs to be changed.
Emotional porn and entitlement are like destructive lovers, exacerbating each other’s worst qualities and disrupting everyone around them in their wake. The Secret and other such ideologies are the marriage of these two destructive lovers.
Christian Broadcasting Network. (n.d.). Dr. Henry Cloud: What the Bible Says About The Secret | CBN.com. Retrieved from http://www1.cbn.com/700club/dr-henry-cloud-what-bible-says-about-secret
Cloud, H. (2006). Integrity: The courage to meet the demands of reality. New York, NY: Collins.
Gilkerson, L. (2014, February 3). Brain Chemicals and Porn Addiction: How Porn Harms Us. Retrieved from http://www.covenanteyes.com/2014/02/03/brain-chemicals-and-porn-addiction/
Lawrenz, M. (2007, June 18). The Secret Exposed | Christianity Today. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/june/20.71.html
Martin, K. (2012). God and psychobabble (pp. 7-9). Shippensburg, PA.
Merriam-Webser. (n.d.). Practical | Definition of Practical by Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/practical
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Mediocre | Definition of Mediocre by Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mediocre
Townsend, J. S. (2015). The Entitlement Cure: Finding success in doing hard things the right way (1st ed.). Zondervan.