Last night on "Downton Abbey," what was clear was the huge cultural difference between Brits and Americans in the early 20th century. The English accepted life as it was and saw that it was good. The Americans, ranging from Cora's mother to the new helper in the kitchen, sought to improve on life.
No surprise, the self help movement caught on with a passion in America, as NEW YORK Magazine chronicles. The assumption was that anyone could improve what was, ranging from too big a nose to a Jersey City, New Jersey accent. As a Baby Boomer, I started feeling the pressure in high school. By time I made it into corporate life, it was institutionalized into formal performance reviews. Because self help was certainly a religion in America it was risky to badmouth it or even roll one's eyes.
However, some forms were and are particularly tedious. Take those who perfected themselves through Jesus. The answering message on their smartphone mandates that we have a great day in Jesus. If they corner us in an elevator they usually share some platitude about the compassion Jesus would demonstrate toward that sorry smelly creature who just got off. Let them into our lives even a wee bit and there's an invitation to learn more about Jesus at a service this Sunday.
The least offensive kinds have been the mindfulness groups which are now spread out throughout every metro area. The members admit they remain works in progress and that's why they need to continue with meditation practices about three times a week. Few are smug, which is the saving grace of the cushion crowd. I have tried out three of the groups and have been sticking with two. Do they help my self? Beats me if I really know.
Then there are those we can tolerate on a good day but not a bad. They had it rougher than most and preach the gospel of enlightenment based on the theory that bottoming out is the first step to whatever. Among them are those in the sundry 12 step programs and on disability. On what was a bad day for me, a relative cornered me with his truth which was 11 years ago and we haven't been in contact since.
Every nation has its cultural quirks. America's could be worse than self help, which is probably the enlightened way of framing this conviction that one has located the truth.