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Guru-ism: In search of the quick, painless fix

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Barbara Coloroso was in town last week. For those unfamiliar with Coloroso, she is the bestselling author of the child-rearing tomes: Kids Are Worth It! and The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander . A popular fixture on the parenting lecture circuit, she spoke eloquently on the topics of bullies and ethics, the theme of her new book, Just Because It Isn’t Wrong Doesn’t Make It Right.

I have read her first two books. They were interesting in as much as they confirmed my suspicions: raising kids is often a thankless job that is not for the faint of heart and that it is possible to raise emotionally intelligent people who get their kicks in ways other than humiliating their peers.

Much of what Coloroso espouses I could get from a casual discourse with my Spousal Equivalent’s right-on, straight-shooting, 88-year-old grandmother. Moreover, she’d throw in a cup of tea, the likes of which any one without an Irish accent simply cannot reproduce.

I suspect that probably everyone out there has such a relative, an older person, who doesn’t mince words, honestly accesses their own experience and has seen everything – twice. However, I also suspect that living in the type of consumerist society in which we do means that even conventional wisdom and common sense has become a commodity. Coloroso, and many others, have made a career out of repackaging common sense and positioning themselves as accessible experts. Shell out a few bucks and get the answers you need. Simple. Our unwillingness to take responsibility for our own lives turns accessible experts into gurus.

Gurus have uncanny timing – they always show up at exactly the right time. And thanks to an increasing diversity of media, the nets they can cast have never been wider. Once upon a time, they only had books and the lecture circuit to promote their messages. Sure, there might be a talk radio interview here and there, or maybe a 90-second collection of sound bytes to round out a slow news day on the local affiliate, but that was pretty much it. Today, those traditional channels of communication have been substantially augmented thanks to technological advances.

Maybe I should see if SE’s nana wants to sit down and ink a deal for a line of books, tapes and personalized text messages. We could set up an interactive website in no time and with her charming brogue I think she’d be a natural for Podcasts.

The rise of the North American guru coincided with the coming of age of the baby boomers. Not understanding why they weren’t as happy/successful as they thought they should be, they looked outside of themselves for answers. It wasn’t that they weren’t interested in introspection, after all, this was the generation that perfected the ability to derive meaning from gazing into the remnants of their umbilicus. No, looking inside to decipher meaning would lead to having to take responsibility for their emotional and physic well-being.

It was far easier to pick up a copy of Wayne Dyer’s I’m OK, You’re OK and get instant validation. If happiness was not immediately forthcoming, you could at least shift the blame to a close relative by running with the theories proposed in My Mother, Myself . If you had the time, you could sign up for a course in EST and spend a few consecutive weekends in the ballroom of a Holiday Inn finding the mysterious "It" and realizing that you were perfect just the way you were.

As a tail-end boomer – born in the ’60s with no hope of attaining the type of wealth achieved by those born immediate post-War – I was not immune to seeking an easy, instant fix.

In my early 30s, I spent nearly $10,000 over four years of trying to find out exactly why I couldn’t be content with life. Towards the end of that experience, my guru – oops, my therapist – gave me the secret to a successful and happy life. Here are the four simple guidelines designed to make everything easier:

1) Show up

2) Pay attention

3) Tell the truth

4) Have no expectations

Of course, the simplicity of this set of guidelines is deceptive.

For example, showing up takes a little more than rolling out of bed, dragging a comb across your head and racing to wherever you think you need to be. To effectively employ this philosophy, you have to take showing up to mean arriving at a destination fully prepared to address the tasks before you. Paying attention means acutely focusing, actively listening and engaging. Telling the truth means you start with yourself. Ouch! And living a life without expectations means having faith that the journey is where the value resides.

Clearly, this is not easy. Ditto the lessons that Barbara Coloroso et al offer. The effectiveness of any philosophy depends on the commitment of its adherents. And commitment is dependent on assuming responsibility. Ironic, hey?

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