The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Self-esteem salvo at self-help books

Mumbai,Oct. 4: At last, the answer to the million-dollar question: Who Moved My Cheese'

It is: I Moved Your Cheese.

The man who makes the confession pointing a bold finger at himself is Darrel Bristow Bovey. He is spearheading a movement against the tyranny, he says, of one of the most powerful thought-systems of our times and the backbone of publishing firms: self-help books. A columnist in South Africa, he has written the book, I Moved Your Cheese, to inform mankind that since he suspects the “cheese” in Who Moved My Cheese' is a metaphor for change, it could be substituted by “keys”. The question “Who moved my keys'” he says, would be as effective in a domestic situation, if the same member who lost the keys asks it forcefully and without guilt.

But in his book Bovey sticks to the controversial piece of original cheese and calls it Justine. He is not doing too badly either. For, if I Moved Your Cheese hasn’t done as well as the seminal Who Moved My Cheese', the No. 1 best-seller for aeons by the revered Spencer Johnson, its figures are not too unimpressive. After making a cracking debut abroad, its Indian edition has hit the stands now. Rather, they are flying off them.

But how does Bovey counter self-help' More important, why'

Dedicating his book to Jack Daniel, Bovey says: “Self-help books are damaging to the self-esteem. Self-help books are like diets or the gym contract some b****** relative gave you for your birthday: they promise to help you, but really they mock you.

“They build up your expectations, and then they leave you feeling low and craven and flinching at loud noises and sudden movements.” Because they always ask the reader, even as they pretend to be quick and easy, to make some superhuman effort.

“The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, say, may seem to have achieved the astonishing feat of condensing several millennia of accumulated cultural learning into seven convenient bite-sized chunks, like so many KFC nuggets of deep fried wisdom, but you are still expected to memorise the laws.” He doesn’t have too many good things to say about Deepak Chopra or Oprah Winfrey either.

But given contemporary society’s need for dieting, fitness and sex, he knows self-help is essential, he says. So he promises self-help that does not require any effort. It is for people lying on the sofa. He advocates Osmatix, patented by him, with which the pages of his book have been treated.

Osmatix is the revolutionary new formula that allows wisdom to pass directly from the page into the atmosphere where it can be inhaled from a reclining position.

Even better, he narrates the fable of the “Inner Ostrich Egg”, because he says in our times the real mantra for success, which we should chant with him, is “Anything Can Be Faked”.

Many moons and moons of moons ago, he says, the boy Xam went on an adventure with other boys to search the desert elephant. They all had ostrich eggs with them in which they carried water. Xam lost the water, but kept clutching the ostrich egg and pretended there was water in it when the others finished their share. They attributed it to his superhuman powers and made him the leader.

The lesson: “Inside us all there is the secret truth of ourselves — truth that is hollow, like an eggshell that has spilt its water. We just need to embrace that hollowness and give people the opportunity to persuade themselves that there is something there.

“The truth is: you don’t actually have to accomplish anything. All you need is to know how to fake it.”

Bovey is not alone. There is Chris Gudgeon’s You’re Not As Good As You Think You Are, which also takes off from — yes — Who Moved My Cheese' It is a de-motivational book, which reassures that “You always get a second chance to make a bad impression” and “A journey of a single step starts with a thousand excuses”.

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