The Search for a Practical Guide
IF YOU are looking for advice, there is plenty available. The self-help business is one of the world’s fastest-growing enterprises. In places as diverse as Britain, Latin America, Japan, and the United States, books on self-improvement are best sellers. Videos, seminars, and TV programs dealing with self-help are also gaining in popularity. Their appeal lies in the notion that you can tackle your problems yourself, without having to consult a psychologist, a marriage counselor, or a minister. What fields do these guides cover?
Personal fulfillment, satisfaction in love, and the raising of children are among the most popular themes. Coping with depression, grief, and the effects of a divorce are other common subjects. Also in big demand is advice on combating overeating, smoking, and heavy drinking. Is the counsel practical? Sometimes it is, but often it is not. Thus, it is wise to consider the Bible’s caution: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.”—Proverbs 14:15.
Self-improvement guides are very different from instruction manuals that teach skills like photography, accounting, or language. Such manuals can be effective and inexpensive alternatives to taking a special course. Self-help books—whether on business, marriage, parenting, or mental health—are different. They usually recommend a way of life or advocate certain philosophies. So it is wise to ask: ‘Who is offering the advice? What is the source of his information?’
Experts may not always base their opinions on carefully collected evidence. Some may provide the advice that sells best, knowing that there is a great deal of money to be made by telling people what they want to hear. Why, in one country alone, the self-help industry brings in over eight billion dollars each year!
How Practical Are Self-Help Guides?
When you turn to self-help guides, you expect to find practical advice. Sometimes, though, what you find is superficial or abstract in nature. Typically, such guides tell you: ‘If you just think positively, you are bound to succeed. Whatever you want, be it money, health, or a satisfying relationship, you will have it if you think positively.’ Is that sort of advice practical? Will it help you to face the realities and disappointments of life?
Take, for example, books about relationships and marriage, which are among the most popular. Do they help people to build happy, stable families? Not always. According to one reviewer, the author of self-help books on love that were an instant success in Latin America “coaches readers on how to create healthy relationships and build self-esteem.” The author claims that staying in a relationship that doesn’t work is a type of betrayal of oneself. The underlying message is that the important thing is to do what makes one feel good rather than recognize one’s problems and try to solve them.
Granted, self-help guides may contain some good advice. Yet, they can also give harmful advice. An expert may give helpful suggestions on one subject while his advice on a different subject may actually make things worse. It would be impossible to sort through the many, and often contradictory, opinions offered by these guides. Whose advice can you trust? Ask yourself: ‘Is the advice carefully researched, or is it the arbitrary opinion of the author? To what extent has the pursuit of riches or prominence influenced the author’s integrity?’
One guide that has stood the test of time is the Bible. It offers practical advice on many of the subjects self-help guides deal with and more. It has moved millions to act on the counsel: “Be made new in the force actuating your mind . . . Put on the new personality.” (Ephesians 4:23, 24) The Bible provides wise insight into what causes our problems and teaches us how to cope with them. Most important, it provides powerful and practical motivation for doing what is right. The next article will explain how this is so.