You should probably know from the start that I thought about giving this a less generous name. The one I most wanted to use was “The Law of Attraction is Hooey,” but I also thought about adding the snarky but overblown, “I’ll tell you The Secret:” to the front of it. Now that you know my feelings, lets get down to some strong reasons to question the Law of Attraction, as reintroduced to the general public by Rhona Byrne’s The Secret.
At first I considered this matter closed and unworthy of comment. Newsweek did an excellent piece about The Secret that pointed out a number of its flaws. But then a few days ago the popular Steve Pavlina–who claims to write “Self Help for Smart People”–mentioned it as if it was verified fact. That made me think this idea merited revisiting.
For those of you who don’t know, the Law of Attraction is defined by Wikipedia as such:
[The Law of Attraction] states [that] people experience the corresponding manifestations of their predominant thoughts, feelings, words, and actions and that people therefore have direct control over reality and their lives through thought alone. A person’s thoughts (conscious and unconscious), emotions, beliefs and actions are said to attract corresponding positive and negative experiences “through the resonance of their energetic vibration.” The “law of attraction” states “you get what you think about; your thoughts determine your experience.”
The first reason we should doubt the Law of Attraction is this: as Mr. Pavlina suggests, it’s popular with a lot of people who are already relatively well-off and successful. So what?
This matters immensely because the Law of Attraction is essentially an affirmation that every person is getting exactly what they deserve. This notion can be infinitely comforting to those with a great deal that they may not feel worthy of. If they are indeed getting exactly what they should be, as The Secret encourages them to believe, then they can feel absolutely comfortable and deserving.
Perhaps more troublingly, if these well-off people are getting exactly what they deserve, so are their brethren with less. The homeless man deserves to be homeless. The rape victim deserved to get raped. The victim of genocide deserved to be killed.
These assertions probably make you uncomfortable. And rightly they should, they are disturbing thoughts. But they are constantly and troubling forgotten by those supporting the Law of Attraction (or LoA). Some backers of the LoA would probably concede that these possibilities exactly the case if the LoA is absolutely true; if they then persist in believing in the Law, the absurdity of their minds truly stuns me. For most, I feel, this troubling implication of the theory (or “Law”) is a good reason to at least doubt its truth.
What’s perhaps more disturbing is Steve Pavlina’s defense of the Law of Attraction from just over a year ago. In it, he argues that there is only one consciousness–your own–and that the entire rest of the world only exists in what is effectively your imagination. Thus he argues that the poor people are only suffering because you are allowing them to in your mind, if you were to forgo this thought, they would no longer suffer.
This is an awfully convenient defense, but it is also absurd. If, in order to believe some set of self-help rules, you have to deny the existence of reality itself, you deny the need to go on living by the Law of Attraction or any other laws. You may as well do whatever you want, whenever you want and however you want. Blow up whatever you want, steal whatever you want, kill whatever you want, after all, the suffering is confined to your troubled mind, no?
I can’t help but wonder how Mr. Pavlina would feel if he were in a debilitating car accident. Or the victim of grievous violence. In the face of this, would a man continue to believe that there is no reality other than his own? Would he willingly accept that he brought this upon himself? In backing the law of attraction, this is precisely what he is claiming that the unfortunate should do.
The cognitive dissonance of this has made me irritable. I apologize for the lack of moderation in this, something I usually take pride in. I just find it difficult to accept that people are comfortable with the implications of this “Law.”
Now, I would also like to take this opportunity to specify that the troubling implications of the LoA are not a reason to claim that it can do no good. As Harvard psychologist Carol Kaufman told Newsweek:
I don’t think you can actually attract things to you. But if you’re profoundly open to opportunity [as the Law of Attraction encourages], then when ambiguous events occur, you notice them. I think what positive thinking does is raise your consciousness to possibilities so they can snag your attention. We’re starting to see some empirical studies on that now.
Indeed, I believe intensely in the power of gratitude, something encouraged by many LoA supporters. One of my favorite quotations is what the author Melodie Beattie has to say about gratitude:
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.
But gratitude itself should not be confused with the Law of Attraction. The Law of Attraction is too grandiose and encompasses more than positive thinking and gratitude. It claim to know too much and affect too much the nature of reality.
In general, I think it is both more useful and more prescient to take the good advice that the Law of Attraction can encourage, and deny all of its troubling implications. Is there much left of The Secret when one does this? No, not really. Is that really a problem? Not at all.