Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Myth of Self Improvement

One of our core beliefs, at least in the United States, is that people can substantially improve their lives through their own efforts. The fact of self improvement is considered self-evident. The drive to improve oneself has both spawned and been strengthened by self-help books, seminars, articles, and personal coaches. The self-improvement "myth", and you'll soon see why I call it a myth raises some troubling sociological and psychological questions.

Surely, factors beyond raw desire and perserverence determine how far you can go in life, or how "good" you can be. But I bet most people have never really paused to consider the many factors that shape a person's life. Here is a list:

1. Socialization - what you learn from friends, family, school, church, the mass media
2. Decision making - relative degrees of irrationality
3. Cultural environment - norms, beliefs
4. Intelligence - reasoning, memory, abstract thinking, planning, creativity
5. Economy - jobs, inflation, markets, credit
6. Peer groups - some are helpful, some are not!
7. Physical health - mental and physical
8. Personality traits (stress tolerance, depression, sociability, probably some others)
9. Government - competence, honesty, types of laws and policies
10. The natural environment - climate, soil, weather, water
11. Blind chance - stuff happens
12. Formal education - technical training, university courses of study, more

(Please let me know if you think I left anything out!)

The idea that people can and do get ahead on their own may come more from psyhcology than from sociological processes. Don't you like to feel that good things that happen are due to your own efforts: You got the hot girl to go to thr prom with you. You closed your first big real estate deal.

Whatever it is, we all like to feel that we did it. But maybe the girl was worried about having a prom date and decided that you would do. Maybe a dozen other people with similar talent and drive are not doing quite as well in real estate. Maybe the laws of probablity just happened to work in your favor this time.

Next time I'll say more about how the myth of self improvement works for society and how social factors shape our lives. If you were wondering how much the individual does do or could do, I'll also have some things to say on that subject. Come back Saturday afternoon!


Post a Comment

<< Home

Find Blogs in the Blog Directory