Steve Pavlina: Are your friends an elevator or a cage? 
Wednesday, 19 .April, 2006, 15:16 - English Entries, Online/Blogs, Self-Improvement

As said before I started a new category on "Self-Improvement". Besides other things I want to discuss blog entries from people who write on issues of personal development.

I start with an article posted at Steve Pavlina's website. The site is subtitled "Personal Development for Smart People" and is a treasure chest for people who want to work on their self development. Steve has a very good style of writing and his lines of thought are always expressed clearly, so that it is easy and even entertaining to follow.

In his article "Are your friends an elevator or a cage", Steve highlights, that at certain times in our lives we change our friends. This is of course true, I lost contact to a lot of people in Germany since I moved to Finland and only with a few very good friends there I am still in touch. On the other hand I found new friends in Finland. Steve emphasizes that the process of changing friends is something that happens naturally to more or less everybody in modern society.

Having said this he goes the next step and asks, why we could not trigger the changing of friends all by ourselves and not just wait for time and fate to do it for us. One might ask why we should actively change my friends and Steve gives his justification for that: you most likely have one or more friends, that hold you back, that do not elevate you - whilst others do. You should ask yourself with every friend that you have, if you want to be like her or him in your future. If you do not want to be, then this friend can be understood as a cage.

Steve makes it perfectly clear, that consciously ending a friendship which you regard as not helpful for your life is not "getting rid of people", as "people are always drifting in and out of each others' lives".

You may still doubt this, as I did. It sounds not nice to get rid of people that you shared several nights with in bars and just because you think that one beer less a day would elevate you, you have to tell to your mate "I am not prepared to be caged by you any longer". Isn't that unfair? Isn't that sad?

Not if you use the right definitions for certain terms. Steve himself has very high values, which he expresses on his website, and he cannot just leave aside an old friend like that, he first has to flip through his book of personal rules, in order to find out if he would not break one of them by dismissing that person out of his life. So in his article he asks "What about loyalty?" and his answer to this question is so clear that I have to quote it here as well:

Loyalty is one of my personal values. But my value of loyalty means being loyal to my vision of my highest and best self and to my core values.

It seems perfectly right to me that everybody defines their values on their own. It just surprises me that in the context of friendship and loyalty, the reference is not made to the other person, but to ones "highest and best self". Loyalty in my understanding is towards other people, who might have weaknesses and make mistakes, but they are my friends and therefore I am with them, even if they fail. Steve's definition of loyalty is related to a better "me", a person into whom I should develop. It is directed towards an idea, a hope which is about oneself.

The article on how to choose the right friends is much longer and I will not go into further details about it. I encourage you all to read it and get your own impression of it. I also suggest you to have a look at Steve's website in general, because by reading only this article one might think that Steve's thoughts are too far off, so they might not have an audience. That is not true. His site seems to be very well visited, it comes up in all sorts of search engines with a high rating and people frequently post comments to his articles, giving him thanks for what he writes.

Steve starts with a very agreeable fact (during the time of your life, you will change your friends) and proposes that this fact could be consciously used by humans in order to improve their lives. That is a valid thought, but instead of stopping after two steps and saying "oh no, that was wrong, when I do this I might do more wrong than good", he just goes on convincing himself and his readers.

The reader nods during the first paragraph, is willing to become a better person and therefore also nods through the second paragraph and after that he cannot really disagree with Steve anymore, because it all sounds logical and even helpful.

But friendship is not about logic and self-improvement, nor is it about cages and elevators. It is for sure also not a spiritual thing, means: I definitely do not want to install friendship as an untouchable value itself, simply because I do not believe in universal values. Friendship is just a plain simple thing that is defined by common actions and experiences: talking about the things in your life, having a holiday together, wasting time, getting drunk and sober together, hunting the other gender. My friends do not need to pay off. Some of my best friends I had and have are friends that I maybe have to care more for than they do for me - that's not a problem, I do not ask for total compensation.

I also do not view friendship as some sort of hierarchy. If I would think of all my friends only as valuable or elevators, I would see myself at the ground floor, waiting for them to come down and open the doors for me, after they have transported more important people between the higher layers of this pseudo-spiritual building. I would feel as their cage. It all would add to my latent inferiority complex and most likely I would end up somewhere under a bridge after some time with all these elevators. This does not mean that I need "weaker" friends to feel a bit superior in my life; it just means that the whole elevator thing simply doesn’t apply to people that I like or love.

So what does Steve see differently here than I do? He judges his friends by his own values (as he wrote when talking about loyalty) and one of his values is already included in the subtitle of his website: "Personal Development". That is the road he sees as desirable to walk down and whatever guy is on the way, asking for wasting a night on the town, will be classified as a cage and removed in a friendly but perfectly clear way.

To my understanding – and I might be very wrong here, – this way of thinking can be summarized in a single sentence: If you are not profitable for me, get out of my life. If it's that what one calls "smart" or intelligent, I will give back my brain at the next occasion.

But I do not want to be too ironic about this. I disagreed with Steve's "Are your friends an elevator or a cage" already during reading it and that made me think about my own ideas about friendship. In his terminology Steve might say, that he triggered more consciousness within me. That is right and I am grateful for that, but it does not change me disagreeing with him.

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Friday, 07 .April, 2006, 16:56 - English Entries, Self-Improvement

Enlighten yourself I decided to start a new category on this blog, which I will call "self-improvement". During the last weeks I found a lot of websites and blogs related to this subject, which I never was especially interested in. Nowadays it is very hard not to get aware of the issue of developing the own personality into something better and more valuable. Lifestyle journals embarrass you with next weeks horoscope, TV reports investigate the advantages of Buddhist meditation temples in the Swiss Alps and every now and then you stumble over some Wicca or Dianetik page in the internet. The proliferation of salvation is at the speed of light.

What bothers me most is, that there are only very few voices that criticize this movement. Many people just shake their head or declare the whole thing as nonsense. But that does not help much, as modern redeemers and pseudo-psychologists seem to be more and more accepted by the public. At least parts of their teachings have become common in many peoples life. I don't say that for example aromatherapy would not work - I don't know if it works, but there is a certain mindset that comes with this form of wellbeing, that frightens me.

All these esoteric or psychological efforts express idea that we are special and could be more effective or enlightened if we just work on ourselves. I don't believe in this, it sounds good, but it shows that we take ourselves too serious. It is just another "we are the center of the universe" idea of mankind, which needs to be dismantled else we get lost in our narcism.

So I thought it is about time to be annoying towards those who annoy me. Under this new category I will collect counter-posts to articles written on the web to which I disagree. I will also step by step try to explain, why I for myself think that working on my personal development is a useless thing.

Asian Spirituality My first-aid advice for those being already confused to a certain degree by the influences of self-improvement-preachers is the following: Stop making sense every now and then. Don't kill your neighbour, don't rape your colleague, just have a beer too many and teach your children how to pick on their teachers. Read books by Charles Bukowski, watch Monty Python movies, listen to the Dead Kennedys. Relax, don't be hectic, don't try to be effective - take a nap. Waste your time, your money and your life.

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