Organized religion is a simple man’s way to understand philosophy. Many of the big questions are explained for the average consumer who doesn’t want to do a deeper dive into the meaning of life beyond his individual experience.
So it’s weird for me to read management books from people who steal ideas from organized religion and get away with it. Some writers openly plagiarize Gandhi, Jesus, and Buddha — and apply historical lessons in business environments — and don’t get called out for being content thieves.
Worst are the writers who go Buddha-lite or Jesus-lite and try to teach me something that’s been taught to human beings for thousands of years. I feel like screaming, “Hey, you didn’t discover that a desire for happiness equals suffering! Please cite the big books, bud.”
(I’m looking at you, you asshole servant leaders. Don’t think I don’t know you’re stealing from Jesus.)
I just wrapped up The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson. It’s a quick read, tremendously entertaining, and gives credit where credit is due to the Buddha. That’s because giving a fuck, especially the right kinds of fucks, is very Buddhist.
If you’re a sales bro who doesn’t have time for eastern thinking, Manson delivers Buddhism 101 to you with a lot of swear words.
* The nature of consciousness requires us to suffer
* The more you resist, the more you suffer
* Get out of your head
* Make conscious decisions about how and where you’re going to suffer
* Then go into the real world and be of service to somebody
He also believes that marketing drives many of us to invent problems because we lack perspective and forget that happiness is found in solving problems and serving others.
Those are good messages to anybody creating a start-up or even chasing a sales quota. Success isn’t measured by material objects or youth or beauty; it’s measured by your compassion for others and your utility to your community. Care about more important things and alleviate some of your existential unhappiness.
I don’t hate the thesis. What bothers me about this book is that, in teaching Buddhist principles, it lacks compassion for people who are so far down the rabbit hole that they can’t flip a switch without more serious intervention. The individual with an anxiety disorder that’s legit and not just fake? The person with $100,000 in debt who can’t dig herself out of a hole? The man with alcoholism? This book isn’t for people who are functional but broken because it lacks compassion for their severe disorders.
So that’s one reason not to read it. And this book had me asking the same question I ask whenever I read a book about becoming a better version of myself or hacking my way into a more fulfilling future: can self-help books ever change a life? Or do they just perpetuate a cycle of learned helplessness and create a dependency on others — authors, experts, thought leaders — to show us the way out of our own heads?
Thankfully, Mason tells us that he’s not a guru. He’s just someone who gives a fuck about his audience and wants to try to show us a better path forward. And I like how he knows that only you can save yourself. You could do worse than to read a book that wants to help you be more like the Buddha.
But, yet, he’s still writing a self-help book. And whether you’re Tony Robbins or Elizabeth Gilbert, I’m not sure books ever provoke change. We make our own changes when we’re ready. A book might be a suitable catalyst for rebooting your life, but probably not.
And, furthermore, change happens through the physical manifestation of introverted decision-making made real. We have to think it, then decide to do it, and then go into the real world and live our new lives. That new life is the outcome of an exhaustingly extroverted commitment to the concept of change. Nobody tells you this, but you must surrounding yourself with like-minded people who have also made a commitment to change to be successful.
That’s why your cousin finds Jesus — or a crazy yoga instructor — and never comes back. He can’t come back. His path has been radically altered. You’re no longer part of his journey.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life is a good place to start for a lot of reasons — lessons in Buddhism, an opportunity to think about a new life in the new year — but it’s just the beginning. Giving a fuck about the right things is a challenge of a lifetime.
But, once you put down the book, I hope you find a real-world support system to be the change you want to see in the world.