Ira Israel wonders if the Internet is one huge High School popularity contest gone awry.
Imagine if a law were enacted declaring that people could only refer to themselves on the Internet by the same monikers inscribed in the “Occupation” boxes of their tax returns. How many of the 80,000 Huffington Post bloggers would write the following as their occupations?
Published Author, One of The World’s Leading Meditation Experts, Sex Guru, Acclaimed Wellness Consultant, Urban Shaman, Master Reiki Healer, Tantrika, Award-Winning Filmmaker, New York Times Best-Selling Author, Internationally Known Lecturer, Certified Yoga Teacher, Master Teacher, Relationship Counselor, Human Behavior Specialist, Spiritual Advisor, Nationally Recognized Nutritionist
Let’s break this down:
1. Chatting with the Danish guy on the minibus from Cancun to Tulum does not make you an “International Speaker.”
2. Self-publishing a compilation of unpaid blogs does not make you a “Published Author.”
3. Calling yourself “One of the World’s Leading Meditation Experts” is obviously self-contradictory because anyone who really was an expert at meditation would have learned enough humility NOT to call herself an expert.
4. Yoga Alliance does not offer any type of certification; they merely REGISTER teachers into their meaningless registry. Unless someone has completed a multi-year Kripalu or Iyengar or Viniyoga or Parayoga certification process, it is incomprehensible why he would call himself a “Certified Yoga Teacher” when no universally accepted certification process exists.
5. There is no such thing as a “Reiki Healer;” there are only Reiki PRACTITIONERS who are conduits for Reiki energy that enables clients to heal themselves. Whomever calls himself a “Reiki Healer” does not understand Reiki.
6. Doing ayahuasca in some Jewish guy’s basement in Williamsburg does not make you an “Urban Shaman.”
7. All of the “Tantrikas” who I have met would be arrested for prostitution in all fifty states for the services they provide so I seriously doubt that anyone is putting “Tantrika” on her tax return.
8. Ghostwriting a book ten years ago that does not have your name on the cover does not translate into you being a “New York Times Bestselling Author.”
9. Winning the Immanuel Kant Award for Most Obtuse Video on Vimeo does in fact make you an “Award-Winning Filmmaker,” but it just so happens that it is one of the infinite awards that nobody cares about.
10. If His Holiness The Dalai Lama refers to himself as “A simple Buddhist monk” then anyone who anoints herself a “Master Teacher” on the Internet wants to be famous more than she wants to teach people. There are no “Master Teachers;” we are all just humble servants.
All of the above self-grandiosity is occurring because people write their own inflated bios in order to hawk their wares. Recently I have been sent a slew of “How to Become A Guru!” webinars all of which could be re-titled “How To Scam Your Friends and Acquaintances Using an Old-Fashioned Ponzi or Pyramid Scheme.”
The funny thing is that most of these hustlers were impoverished before they figured out how to lure people on the Internet into wiring them $2,500 to teach them the “foot in the door technique” that psychologists have known for decades. These Guru-makers sell you the “secret” of getting friends and acquaintances to sign up for your email list, then sending these friends and acquaintances 3-6 free bits of helpful advice to win their trust, then inviting them to your free webinar/tele-conference to help them overcome (insert affliction here), and then casually announcing that you have just given them 10% of your wisdom and the other 90% will cost them $2,497 (people are more prone to buy things ending in the number “7” so sellers will arbitrarily price products at $2,497 rather than $2,500. They will also provide a fake “anchor” by saying “This course normally sells for $8,999 but if you sign up today it’s only $2,497… and act now and you’ll receive a free set of Ginzu knives as our gift to you!”).
Voila! Congratulations! Now you’re a bonafide Guru! Now you’re a self-ordained Master Teacher!
Listen, we all watched that propaganda reel called “The Secret” and are all trying to “step into our futures” and manifest the massive abundance that awaits us if we can only undo our self-sabotaging blocks. Got it. However, stepping into your future does not give you to the right to blatantly fabricate a curriculum vitae or set up a Ponzi scheme to scam your friends and acquaintances.
Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book, “The Culture of Narcissism,” documented how with the decline of the family unit Americans were increasingly getting their senses of self, their personal identities, from things outside of them – things such as what Thorsten Veblen referred to as “conspicuous consumption” or what hip-hop artists call “bling.”
But now people don’t even need actual, physical “bling” when they can pull counterfeit accolades and appellations out of thin air and post them on Internet: “Joseph Blow, Spiritual Brain Surgeon, Etherial Consultant, World Famous Landscape Engineer, and Founder and CEO of Joseph Blow’s Executive Training Webinar for Master Masturbators!”
Of course, as P.T. Barnum stated, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” With “long tail” marketing on the Internet I guess it is just as easy to say, “There’s a snake-oil salesperson born every minute too.”
It is unclear that the wheat is rising from the chaff and that the Information Age is engendering the finest attributes of humanity. Sometimes it seems as if the Internet is one huge High School popularity contest gone awry. People will post any sort of “clickbait” in order to claw their way to their 15 minutes of fame and “go viral.”
Having an over-inflated sense of self-importance and scamming friends and acquaintances is not bringing long-term happiness for anyone. As I teach in my workshops (that I am flagrantly hawking here), if you want to be happy then cultivate meaningful, trustworthy, authentic, IN-PERSON relationships – I’m sorry to break the bad news to you but mirror neurons don’t fire via Text, Tweet, Instagram or Facebook; and if you want to lead a meaningful life then be of service to others (preferably while releasing your expectations for anything in return). Period.
Anyone who measures his or her self-worth by the facade he or she fabricates on the Internet – or by his or her material possessions and status symbols – or by the Facebook and Instagram LIKEs he or she receives for posting selfies – is a disaster looking for a place to happen.
Thankfully, there is a wave of authenticity coming that may one day be strong enough to wash away all of the make-believe fairytales that are resulting in such rampant maladies as anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD, OCD, depression, and many of the other mood-disorder diagnoses in the DSM.
For the time being, maybe it would be helpful for the people on Planet Social Media to reframe Jon Kabat-Zinn’s quote, “Wherever You Go, There You Are” as “Wherever You Sell, There You Are” and the adage, “I want to be a human being, not a human doing” as “I want to be a human helping, not a human selling.”?
Humble servant, Licensed Psychotherapist, Unproud Owner of Ira Israel’s Ego Afflictions, Leading Expert of Nothing, Severely Gifted Conversationalist, Semi-Professional Dilettante, Occasional Romantic and Recovering Writer, Ira Israel