Global Resilience Solutions > 2015 > September

Personal Development: Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff

 

We recently agreed to put on a workshop on the inner principles of Tai Chi and Qigong a local tradeshow. Generally speaking we enjoy giving workshops, it’s just rather disheartening when the workshop after you attracts five times as many people- and worse, when the topic of that workshop is something to do with visitors from the Fifth Dimension. This has gotten us thinking once again about one of the most important topics in personal development- how to distinguish the genuine offerings from the quacks.

You’d think this would be easy enough when the latter draw their inspiration from 1950s science fiction serials, but apparently there are plenty of people out there who are attracted to the brazenly banal cultists who populate the shallow end of human credulity.

Evidence

The most important thing for you to investigate before investing in any area of personal development is the evidence behind it. In order to assess the evidence properly, you have to understand what qualifies as evidence in that particular field.

Physical Evidence

If you’re looking for a personal trainer, you might want to know if he or she has previously been able to help people in your situation attain their fitness goals. You might want to know what the theoretical basis is for their particular approach, and its track record if it’s been around long enough. You can pretty much cut and paste this formula for anyone doing anything in the physical realm- diet, medicine etc.

We do have to pay particular attention here, because there are many scientists who position themselves as “mainstream” who are happy to dismiss, smear, and use any number of tactics to discredit the work of anyone pursuing certain avenues of research, whether or not the research in question used sound scientific methodology. There are basically two reasons for this: money and the Newtonian worldview.

Since we’ve gone into this issue a few times previously, we’ll leave it there. Suffice to say that many people studying alternative medicine, alternative nutrition and energy psychology have come out of years of practice using mainstream methods and found them desperately inadequate. Those people tend to approach their fields with scientific rigor and an eye for what actually helps the people who come to them.

The surest way to find out what sort of person you’re dealing with is to ask them some pertinent questions. If their response is grounded in a robust theoretical approach and they can point to evidence that their stuff works, great. If they evade the question with hype, run away.

Spiritual and Psychological Evidence

The psychological and spiritual realms require a distinct category of evidence. Their work is with the mind, the spirit and the overall mode of being, and therefore require evidence of systematic improvement in the inner life of human beings. This evidence in ancient spiritual traditions was the production of enlightened people, whether called saints, bodhisattvas, immortals or whatever else. The claim is, if you follow this method, you will get these results. If a psychological method does not produce reliable results with a particular problem, it’s time to find a new one. If a spiritual tradition does not produce transformed human beings, it’s totally worthless.

This sort of evidence tends to be severely lacking where the neighbourhood tarot-card reader, angel therapy provider or modern cult is concerned. Much like the definition of “religion” that we talked about in a previous post, these people cater to human uncertainty and the desire for control over their environment rather than providing truly transformative help. That’s not to say that some people can’t have remarkable gifts and experiences. It is to say that not everyone who makes such a claim is truthful, and not all of those who are truthful have the wisdom to help people systematically.

Sorting Through the Chaff

Energy medicine and energy psychology, as “emerging” or at least experimental fields in the West, tend to breed a great deal of experimentation. Let it be said immediately that some approaches are far sounder than others.

The theory and practice of acupuncture, and of Chinese energy medicine more generally, has millennia of practice and evidence to back it up which anyone can find documented if they know where to look. That doesn’t mean that every individual TCM or Qigong practitioner is of the calibre to use it properly, nor does it mean that every method or theory within that larger approach has always been sound.

Of the thousands of Qigong practices, for instance, there is a core body of practices which have been shown to be consistently reliable for health, strength, longevity, qi cultivation and many other purposes. There are many lesser-known practices that are also sound. But there are also many harmful or useless practices, and others that have been co-opted by cults. Perhaps the most notorious example historically was the White Lotus sect during China’s Boxer Rebellion, who claimed to be able to stop bullets with their version of Iron Shirt Qigong. Needless to say, that didn’t end well!

There are modern takes on energy medicine such as EFT/TFT, BEST and others that are trying their level best to establish reliable methods through rigorous testing. There are also systems out there that seem to thrive more on hype than evidence, and plenty of one-offs who can go either way.

Eyes Open

The important thing is to keep your eyes open and get a good idea of what’s on offer before you jump in. If someone tells me they can help me clear emotional blockages by tapping on acupuncture points, I’ll at least think about it- even if I hadn’t seen and personally experienced significant evidence for this approach, I know enough of the theoretical background to see the point. If someone tells me they’re going to treat me with some pretty crystals or by channeling a spirit from the planet Kolob, I’m going to take some convincing.

And speaking of Kolob…

Learning how to ask the right questions, cutting through the hype and getting to the theory and the evidence are key skills for anyone who wants to improve their life in any area. The only one who can take responsibility for your personal development is you.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger


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