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The Secret: Positive Thinking or Positively Nonsense?

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne is a best seller and no doubt heading to a beach near you. Kristen Archibald (MET’06,’08) reviews the self-help book.

Students taking the summer CFA course Arts Criticism: From the Old Media to the New, taught by lecturer and arts critic Bill Marx, honed their review-writing skills. BU Today will run these reviews periodically.

It’s been endorsed by Oprah, parodied on Saturday Night Live, and for weeks has secured a spot atop the New York Times best-seller list. If you haven’t heard by now, The Secret is out. The book, written by Rhonda Byrne, is filled with advice from informational specialists and speakers on how to change your life by turning your thoughts into reality.

The basis of The Secret is the law of attraction, which says you get whatever you want. Simply put, “thoughts become things.” Forget hard work and perseverance to make your life better. All you have to do is think your life into existence.

According to the book, what most of us don’t understand is that thoughts are not only magnetic, but have a frequency, which Byrne likens to the frequencies used by television networks to broadcast their programming. “As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency,” Byrne writes. “You are a human transmission tower,” she explains, “the most powerful transmission tower in the Universe.” In other words, everything you send into the world over your frequency returns back to the source, which is you.

In case this is clear as mud, I’ll endeavor a simplification. Want to be thin, rich, loved, or all of the above? Think positive thoughts about acquiring those things and it’s done. And it’s not just positive thoughts that impact our lives. Negative thoughts have the same influence. Someone who doesn’t have what they desire is simply blocking those things from coming to them. You see, the law of attraction is unable to compute words of contradiction, so when you tell yourself you don’t want something, you are actually willing it toward you.

Let’s put this into perspective. Maybe you own a clunker of a car and dream of driving a luxury sedan. Close your eyes and focus. Now look out the window. See a gleaming Mercedes in the driveway? I’m guessing no. Perhaps you’ve told yourself you don’t want to be late, or worse, mugged on your way to work. Application of the theory would say you are, in reality, urging these very things to happen to you.

Then there is the issue of sickness. Byrne’s book contends that “illness cannot exist in a body that has harmonious thoughts.” Since your body is a product of your thoughts, you could literally be asking for cancer by hoping you don’t get it. Of course, if you do, Byrne claims her book holds the key to making you well. And to think Pope John Paul II is waiting for canonization.

The Secret is anything but the veiled mystery the author professes it to be. In fact, Byrne’s theory is not a new one. Many authors have had success writing self-help books that advocate personal empowerment through positive thoughts. What makes The Secret different is that it reads more like an instructional for personal and material gain than a way to strive for self-betterment. Tactics like visualizing checks in the mail to obtain wealth and avoiding looking at people who are overweight to remain thin seem counterproductive, not to mention absurd. Though methods of quantum physics are often referred to, the theory is at best on the perimeter of mainstream science. In fact, there is no real evidence there is any science to The Secret at all.

As for the issue of religion, many spiritual supporters are upset with The Secret because it fails to address the virtue of prayer. Some have even suggested Byrne is blasphemous, since her methods sanction control of destiny by individuals and not a higher power. In other words, The Secret poses a threat to organized religion.

Of course, one would have to buy into the theory before it could be labeled a legitimate menace. Having Oprah endorse The Secret to a live audience and millions of viewers is often enough to convince those unable to form opinions of their own. Many Americans are easily swayed not by the power of thought, but by the power of persuasion. More than 3.75 million copies of The Secret are in print. In addition to the book, which was written in less than a month, audiotapes and a full-length DVD have Byrne laughing all the way to the bank. Perhaps she visualized becoming a millionaire by deceiving the public.

Kristen Archibald (MET’06,’08), a freelance writer and photographer in Wollingford, Conn., is working toward a master’s in liberal studies.