I have a complicated relationship with the self-help industry. It’s beneficial to maintain a positive attitude, but using positivity as a blanket approach has two serious flaws:
- It focuses on the individual to the exclusion of systemic problems, which shouldn’t be ignored.
- It fails to account for people with bad intentions. Relentless positivity can turn you into a doormat if you aren’t careful.
It’s true – you’re the only person whose thoughts or behavior you can control. But it’s a cop-out to use your lack of control over others as an excuse for inaction. Danielle LaPorte recognizes the importance of balancing individual and collective needs.
Another key principle of hers is to consider how you want to feel instead of achieving a particular goal. Say you decide to go to law school. If you’re only doing it to please your parents, you won’t enjoy yourself. But if studying law ties into some core part of your identity, like a passion for justice, you’ll probably be much happier. And if you’re so thirsty for your parents’ validation, might there be another way you can give yourself the validation you need (spoiler alert: there almost certainly is)? If you want to learn more, check out her book The Desire Map.
A frequent critique of prominent people in the self-help space is that they can be too bland. More specifically, they can be too slow to criticize people in power who behave badly. LaPorte does not have this problem. More importantly, she encourages people who might feel disempowered to stand up for themselves, even when it’s not the nice thing to do.
Sidebar: I don’t consider niceness and kindness to be the same thing. Sometimes kindness can be unpleasant in the short term, such as giving someone difficult feedback that can help them improve in some way. The dark side of niceness is the flip side of that, like where you withhold important feedback from a person because you’re afraid of hurting their feelings, and then they go out and look like a fool. I’m all about kindness. I’m not particularly bothered about niceness.
One of my biggest frustrations in the spiritual tradition I grew up in was that spirituality was often used as an excuse to squash legitimate grievances. While I won’t dispute that forgiveness is an ideal, I also think you can’t force that timeline any faster than it wants to go. LaPorte has an excellent blog post where she discusses a particular struggle with forgiveness that she was having. When she was being told she needed to forgive someone, what she heard was:
Dismantle your boundaries, make yourself wrong, admit to things you never did so everyone thinks you’re nicer and saner than you may appear, [….] and for God’s sake, smile more—because that is what it means to be a truly spiritual person, Danielle.
This, in a nutshell, is what I love about Danielle LaPorte. She acknowledges the importance of spiritual ideals while also recognizing how the rhetoric around them can be corrupted, especially for marginalized people. For the record, the blog post offers a different take on what forgiveness can be. I highly recommend it.
If I had to sum up LaPorte’s philosophy, it would be as follows: nothing is worth compromising being true to yourself. Not even spiritual attainment. That idea will be controversial to some, but it’s a welcome antidote to a lot of what’s out there.
Who do you admire for going against the conventional wisdom? Share your favorites in the comments!