An Important Criticism
There are some people in this world who don’t like personal development. They don’t get it; it just doesn’t make sense to them why someone would actually want to make personal changes the way self-help junkies (like me!) do. Really, this is okay with me. I know that everyone is different and that’s what makes the world go ‘round, so I can take the criticism and even the dismissive scoffing and the like. I also know that people are masters of projecting their own emotions onto others and that strong emotional reactions usually reveal more about ourselves than those around us.
There is one common criticism of personal development, though, that I would like to examine, and that is:
“All this ‘inner-work’ stuff is just so self-centered, so selfish!”
Let me be clear from the start. To me, nothing could be further from the truth. I like to think about this in a couple different ways. First, there’s a hidden assertion in this type of criticism that doing good for others is inherently better than doing good for oneself. For people like me who have struggled with self-worth, this can be a rather dangerous paradigm because we can easily twist it into thoughts like “other people are better than I am” or “I am not worthy of the type of success others have”, etc. When really, you and I are just as deserving of growth and development as anyone else. Beyond that, there’s also a false dichotomy here. It’s not a “me” or “them” situation, but rather an “us” situation because we’re all part of the same society, the same world, and the same human race. So an improvement to “me” is also an improvement to “us.”
Looking Even Closer
But to be in service to others is such an awesome thing, I do want to acknowledge where SOME people are coming from when they issue this criticism of personal development. I can imagine that some people assume personal development is about making oneself powerful enough to serve their own egoic nature by getting money and cars and the whole rock-star lifestyle, or to develop the self toward any other outcome that would satisfy only the ego.
To this, I submit the following: Although there is nothing at all wrong with growth and development for one’s own benefit, but the effects of this growth and development often reverberate through our relationships and interactions with others and cause the greatest impacts for people other than ourselves. Take for instance a very self-unaware manager who belittles people and runs a very oppressive office. If this manager were to engage in personal development and learn to become more aware of his behavior and how it affects others, how many lives do you think could be improved?
This is really what we’re after. Making the world better by aspiring to bringing out our best in each interaction. It’s about you, me, Uncle Bob, Jim down the street, and the server at the restaurant. It’s about your spouse, your kids, your parents, and all your loved ones. We seek to bring out the greatness within us in part because we know it will serve others better, and the power of our example in the world can be life-changing for someone else. And that is worth standing up to some criticism about.