By Lavinia Plonka
The other day, a friend confessed he was struggling with a book he’s writing. “I have all the ideas, but I can’t seem to get it down on paper,” he complained.
“What’s it about?” I was excited. This man is a funny, talented teacher. He’s had lots of great ideas in the past, including a book on creativity, but has never managed to actually publish a book.
“Kindness,” he said.
I almost choked. Kindness? Now we need tutorials on kindness? What’s next? How to get out of bed? How to brush my teeth? Which gave me pause. Maybe he’s writing a children’s book.
Mistaking my grunting for enthusiasm, Hal continued. “I’m calling it Ten Steps to A Kinder You.” So much for the kid’s book idea. Any time there’s a book with steps, it’s either about addiction, or it’s by a Wayne Dyer wannabe hoping to get on the NY Times Bestseller list, or at least get a few people into his coaching practice.
Out of the literally hundreds, here is a small sampling of “step” books:
Five Steps to Romantic Love
Six Steps to a Seven Figure Income (clever use of TWO numbers!)
Six Steps to an Emotionally Intelligent Teenager (I wonder if the author actually had children)
Seven Steps to Awakening
Seven Steps to Night Time Dryness (A must have)
Seven Steps to Inner Power (Woo hoo!)
Eight Steps to Happiness (Happiness or Inner Power, hmm, decisions, decisions)
Eight Steps to Seven Figures (Different author, maybe he should read Six Steps)
Nine Steps to Living Well Forever (He must have done a focus group to get that title.)
Ten Steps to Repair American Democracy (Who’s reading that?)
And of course: Ten Steps to Writing a New York Times Bestseller. (I’m not kidding.)
For laughs, I compiled a list of “step” books I’d like to read:
Six Steps to Reversing Aging
Ten Steps to A Sugar Free Lifestyle
Eight Steps toward World Domination
Twelve Steps to Marital Bliss
Five Steps to Geriatric Sexual Ecstasy
Then I did a search. Surprise! Deepak Chopra has written the book on Reversing Aging. Of course it’s Ten Steps, not Six. Only thing is, he’s not looking any younger. OK, no books on Sugar Free, but a dozen websites that promote Six, Seven and Ten Step approaches. To my amazement there are several websites promoting World Domination. Some are satire. But Dangeroustactics.com (Get more leads and sales with your website!) actually offers World Domination in Five Steps. And marital bliss, well the bad news is that there are twenty four steps. I got exhausted just looking at the table of contents. Fortunately, again, there are a dozen websites offering bliss in only five to seven steps. But no books or websites on sexual ecstasy for seniors. I think I may have found a niche market.
We all want a foolproof formula to realize our dreams; whether that dream is to lose weight, or to become master of the universe. That’s why we love programs that involve steps: a clean, linear approach to a goal. And certainly books like Ten Steps to Improving Your SAT Scores can help someone’s course of study. But concepts like Awakening, Enlightenment and Kindness must, by their very nature defy our obsession with linear progress. Perhaps Hal’s struggle reflects the fact that self-realization of any kind is the result of myriad elements coming together in a moment of metanoia, a sudden embodiment of understanding that can’t come from a book.
Who buys books on how to be kind? The workplace bully? “Gosh, I’ve been awfully mean lately. Maybe I need to get a book on kindness.” Or imagine this same bully going to his desk and finding a book on kindness offered as a gift from his co-workers. Probably no one would sign the card. Imagine if Marie Antoinette had had access to a book on kindness. Or Karl Rove. I suppose the closest humans came to a kindness tutorial before the modern age was the Chivalry Code. But of course, that Code was rendered invalid in the face of infidels.
There are so many books available to teach us kindness. Even the Dalai Lama weighs in with a book on the benefits of kindness. Do we really not know how to be kind? And will unkind people really want to read a book in order to learn? Or are these books really appealing to some hidden guilt we carry?
While some of the books certainly spring from sincere motivations, (I’m sure the Dalai Lama doesn’t need another best seller), it seems that some people want to cash in on our insecurities. An author desperate to find a publisher for his book, Kindness in America, shot himself in the arm while hitchhiking and said he was shot by a stranger, hoping to garner some ironic sympathy. He should have shot himself in the foot, and has yet to find a publisher. He did however manage to get himself arrested.
Interestingly, new research is indicating we are born kind. We learn to be selfish, greedy, and mean. A series of experiments with infants aged three months to three years has shown that babies overwhelmingly prefer the good guy to the bad guy. And infants want to help others even when there is no hint of reward. (However even these researchers skip two year olds.) In experiments with chimps, the results are the same. We have a kindness instinct.
So we don’t have to learn to be kind. We have to remember that we are kind. When I am possessed by an irresistible urge to demean, I can be pretty sure that I am not wholly myself. It’s an opportunity to literally re-member myself, get myself together and be the authentic human I was born to be. Each time I have the desire to criticize my husband for his forgetfulness, I can re-member that I forgot myself.
I sincerely hope my colleague decides to finish his book on creativity. Oh, look at that! Deepak Chopra has a book called Nine Steps to Creative Response!
Lavinia is not working on a book called Ten Steps to Geriatric Sexual Ecstasy. She does however teach and write books and programs using The Feldenkrais Method of Movement Education. Laviniaplonka.com.