A lot of us have heard of the metaphor involving the carrot and the stick. It describes the idea of reward versus punishment, such that a cart driver can use the former to motivate a reluctant mule or they can hit it with the stick. When we think about self-help books they typically use the carrot or positive approach and look at affirming the reader. But what would happen if the author went with the stick method? Elan Gale is an internet prankster, social media provocateur and an executive producer on the US version of The Bachelor. He adopts the latter option with his anti-positivity self-help guide You’re Not That Great (but Neither is Anyone Else), with varying results.
Gale’s approach seems to take a leaf out of books like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k by Mark Manson and He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. Gale’s language here is quite sarcastic and acerbic at times. His message is that those people who are too positive are also too willing to accept the status quo and in doing so, remain in a state of inertia. He argues that people should strive to be better, not just feel good and in order to do so, they need to embrace their negative emotions like: fear, rage, sadness, revenge and disappointment to get moving.
In some cases, Gale makes some interesting – if repetitive – points. There will be many people who will agree that the cult of positivity has become too extreme and that placating people means that the person eschews hard work and fails to put in the hard yards to be better. At the same time however, Gale seems to venture almost too far in the opposite extreme and wants to cut people down at almost every corner, even the children we praise for their lacklustre drawings from school. This seems incredibly mean-spirited and unhelpful. Perhaps a better solution is for people to find a way to be tactful and honest, an idea that you can give people feedback and criticism but you don’t have to completely destroy their self-esteem in the process.
It is intriguing that Gale has no qualms about dishing the dirt on his own personal journey. He admits that he was an alcoholic, a fat guy and a small and physically weak man. He says that the way he overcame these negative things in order to become the successful individual working in the entrainment industry that he is today was to embrace negative feelings and to prove his detractors wrong. This un-inspirational act may have worked for him and this book may be useful for people who are overly confident and mollycoddled by their positivity, but it could be potentially damaging for those who are already depressive, insecure or suffering from low self-esteem.
This book is a slim volume and Gale’s prose is short and sharp and that makes for a swift and easy read. His irreverent and biting sense of humour will not appeal to everyone – some will find it an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. You’re Not That Great is designed to take the wind out of one’s sails and shock them into action with some brutal, straight-talking criticism but can this book really be taken seriously? Well, the answer to that really comes down to whether you prefer the carrot or the stick.
You’re Not That Great (but Neither is Anyone Else) is available now through Hachette Australia