Today is a short one. I’ve been pondering over the usefulness of advice, self-help books and all that jazz. I’ve mostly been repulsed from these catchy titles, usually with a number of steps towards a better millionaire you. It seemed to me that while those authors have something to gain, they will pander to the masses in order to drive sales, this means books that won’t answer the difficult questions or push people away from their destructive behaviours. I’m sure that’s not the case for all of them, but I don’t want to put in the effort or time to find “the right steps” as seen on TV. Here’s why.
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher during the age of enlightenment.One part of his philosophy that stood out to me was the first line in his essay titled “What is Enlightenment?”. During that time, the big brains around were congratulating each other on pushing the world into a state of enlightenment, but the term wasn’t defined! How did they actually know they are all enlightened? This was Kant’s first line of the essay:
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity.”
Let’s break it down. What is this self incurred immaturity? Well, when you grow up you learn from experience of some solutions to problems. Hurt yourself? Parents clean you up and get a plaster. Hungry? Someone makes you food. 2+2? 4 as told by the teacher. There is always someone with an answer for a problem.
As you grow older, the questions become more complex. Either in high school, college or even work. But there is always a way to find someone with some sort of answer. It’s outsourcing decision making to someone else, let them find a solution.
Immaturity is not attempting to find a solution to a question that is posed in your life. This could be academic, interpersonal, financial etc. What Kant means by self-imposed immaturity is that as we grow up, it’s easy for us to stay in the comfortable cocoon of not having to make big decisions. At home parents can solve it, in school teachers, in college professors have the answer, in work the manager or boss.
Think on every time you had to find a solution to some personal issue you were having, I know for myself, one of the first things I would do is search for an answer in someone else who had a similar problem. The problem is, you are not those other people. What ends up happening is trying multiple solutions that actually don’t end up suiting you or the situation. Certainly this does not apply to all cases; there are some universal decisions that apply to all such as “don’t jump off cliffs without a parachute” and “don’t drink a gallon of paint on a sunny day”. What I’m writing about here are situations in the grey area with a nebulous outcome.
As with learning any other topic, learning by doing is more beneficial than copying or trying to learn something off by heart. If you come to a conclusion by yourself, you are more likely to remember it as well as adapt it to suit future needs. That’s my view on the matter.
So this is the long winded explanation of why I’m not reading self-help books. That doesn’t mean I don’t accept advice, I just make sure that I would come to the same conclusion if someone gives it to me. The other thing I like to do is reason whether the person giving the advice would to the same thing, or whether it’s something they would like to do themselves.
As I mentioned before, this blog is a way for me to put thoughts down in pixels, I’m not pushing any 5 easy steps to a better boiled asparagus. I do strongly believe that Kant was onto something with this self-imposed immaturity, but as you may notice, he didn’t give a solution.