Wednesday, October 21, 2009

7 Habits of Highly Effective People

In the course of organising my research I have put together a list of books that quite plainly constitute a canon of self-help literature. Any attempt to discuss the genre necessarily means that I must be familiar with all of the books on the list. I call it my "Classics List," and whenever I have a spare moment I am always working away at it, absorbing the thoughts of the most successful self-help authors of the past three centuries.
One of those classics is, of course, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. It was one of the books that defined the 90s, and I still remember going to the gym and seeing people with the book propped open at the treadmill while they did their obligatory kilometres. At that stage I was highly dismissive of self-help books (I was only 21), and I sneered at the sweating 30-somethings intent on their self improvement.
When I actually read it, I found it quite interesting and helpful. Of course, I have heard all the stories about the author, Stephen Covey, and his right wing political links and rank homophobia. Once a lesbian friend caught me reading it and she demanded to know what I was doing "reading that Mormon bigot?"
A little essay in the universality of self-help ideas is the example of how once I attended a talk by an Ananda Marga monk and he set forth the 7 Habits as enunciated by Covey as a perfect example of the practical application of Tantric philosophy.
Self-help academic and critic Micki McGee identifies Covey's brand of rhetoric as particularly masculinist, and points out the tortuous circles Covey ties himself in in order to disguise his peculiarly theistic - indeed, Mormonistic - worldview.
In a recent essay appearing in the Human Relations journal, John G. Cullen presents a fascinating analysis of Covey's success, identifying The 7 Habits... as a kind of secret religious propaganda, re-packaging quite distinct spiritual ideas in the language of management and success.
Probably Covey's most lasting contribution to popular culture is his introduction of the word "paradigm" into popular parlance. Where would pontificating CEOs and politicians, not to mention earnest undergrads, be without that particular well-worn buzzword?

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