Saturday, January 19, 2013

Zig Ziglar

Ever since Zig Ziglar died, people have been posting quotes from him on Facebook. I had not paid much attention to Mr. Ziglar before, and I'll be glad when I don't have to anymore.

He's the feel-good pseudo-prophet of the month. His doctrines are meant to inspire and empower. He takes truth and leaves out a few key elements--like God--and then spreads it around, making promises that if you do certain things and believe in yourself, success will appear. Success, of course, meaning money.

But Mr. Ziglar's philosophies are flawed--deeply.  I don't know how he came up with his promises and formulas, but it seems like he looked at a bunch of successful people, guessed what they did, and then went around promising everyone it will work for them, too. Sweet little formulas like a dream + faith (in the dream and in yourself, not in God) + action + perseverance + time + patience = Dream Come True.

What he didn't take into account is that millions of people follow that formula and their dreams never do come true. But someone somewhere followed it and it worked, so we get promised it will always work for everyone. And there are some lovely built-in "outs" for Mr. Ziglar if it doesn't work--he can always claim you didn't have enough faith, you didn't work hard enough, you gave up too soon. In other words, you failed because You are a Failure. And if you believed in me long enough, you'd succeed.

I've heard this kind of stuff before, coming out of the mouth of my crazy grandma. Same formula, but her "dream" that starts out is crazy in the extreme--like being able to fly. Maybe that's why I can't stomach it from Mr. Ziglar.

Or maybe it's because it's overly simplistic. "You will either look back and say 'I wish I had' or 'I'm glad I did'." Is just overly simplistic. There's so much complexity in life that he just skips.  He doesn't address the reality that some dreams are not possible (being able to fly, or for me to play in the NBA, or for Tim to have our next baby, for example)--in fact, he teaches the opposite, openly and often. He doesn't address that some dreams would actually be nightmares if we could see the big picture, and therefore are not desirable.  He doesn't address the temporary nature of some dreams (I wanted to be a track star for about two weeks when I was in 3rd grade, now I have no interest in that.). He doesn't address the reality that we grow and learn and often give up on something we wanted for something we want even more. He also doesn't address the fact that life is not a one-track proposition. We have many interacting goals, dreams, aspirations, talents, limitations, experiences, etc. Isolating just one and making that our entire focus leaves us at risk of neglecting other important aspects of life. He doesn't address the very real situation that we are human and have physical limitations that can stop us from doing things we want to do--and that sometimes (often?) accepting those limitations makes us happier than fighting them. And he completely leaves out the reality that God is ultimately in charge, and His deepest interests for us deal with our development, learning, growth, and refinement--not with always helping us get what we want. If we put our faith in God, instead of our dreams or ourselves, we will find that we are often denied things we want--even good things we want, and even when we work really really hard for them--in order for God to help us get what He knows will make us happiest in the long run (as in the eternities).

Maybe it's because Ziglar's definition of success (and therefore his ideas of what we should be pursuing) are subtly tied up in social and financial success--he's promising money and power to people who work for it. The trouble is, those "rewards" are the wrong ones to be searching for. Life is much better when we stop seeking money and power (which President McKay said were temptations of the devil, not valid goals) and instead start seeking happiness (which God has taught us how to get--and he didn't include gaining money or worldly power in the equation).  In fact, nowhere in the scriptures or the words of the prophets are we counselled to pursue our dreams. Not once. Never are we told that the ultimate happiness comes from our dreams coming true, or following our passions, or shooting for the stars. (And, in fact, many many  musicians we have met--people who the world considers the ones who are "living the dream" and "free from the nine-to-five shackles"--spend their whole lives mourning what they can't have: a stable home and family. They are not any happier than everyone else, and are often just as discontent. "Living the life" is lonely and unfulfilling, it turns out.)

Ziglar's doctrines are also deeply cruel. It's not right to tell a woman struggling with infertility that she just didn't try hard enough or believe it enough or work hard enough--and that's why she doesn't have a baby. It's not right to tell a father of an autistic kid that if he just tries harder and applies the right formulas, the kid will turn out to be normal. It's not right to tell a hardworking, content family that if they work harder and neglect their family relationships, they will have money and be "truly" happy. I, personally, don't find it helpful for Mr. Ziglar to tell me that I could keep my house spotless if I just tried harder (completely ignoring that I have physical limitations, like fibromyalgia, that make that impossible). It leaves me always feeling like a complete failure instead of like a valuable person who has a lot to contribute--just not to my walls.

Personally,  I prefer to rely on the advice of real prophets. Snippets like, "Forget yourself and get to work" are much more powerful than formulas for "success."

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