Starting in the 1980s and really picking up steam in the 90s and early 00s, the genre of self-help books and motivational speakers selling secrets to self-improvement took off as a multi-million dollar industry. People from all walks of life and from various industries flocked to literature claiming that anyone could make a million dollars, take total control of their professional careers, foster the perfect family, and be the ultimate power-wielding boss of their dreams. From the arts of wheeling-and-dealing to the power of a power-stance, today’s books touch primarily on outward appearances and harnessing any improvement for profit, power, or gain.
Contrast this, though, to the “self help” books of yesteryear. Self-help is a modern term, but the concept of bettering oneself through literature and advice from laudable characters is not new at all. The ancient Greeks, Machiavelli, and Baptist Preachers have long been distributing writings on how to better oneself, but their purposes have wildly varied throughout the span of history. Below are some of the things they emphasized, slightly different from what today’s books and speakers push:
Morality: For long swaths of history, a person’s moral fiber determined everything about them, whereas today, many find themselves defined by the brand of clothing they wear, the sports team they root for, their career, and other aspects of their outward appearance. Most olden books offer advice about introspection, purifying one’s thoughts, and making sure all one’s actions come from a place of altruism and not selfish gains.
Treatment of Others: Few if any schools teach manners and etiquette anymore. Children and teens don’t have any forum to learn formal decorum and the ins and outs of proper interactions with people, both professionally and personally. In a past age, how one approached, greeted, and interacted with the people in the community, both above and below their socioeconomic status, was tantamount to their public reputation.
Quest for Knowledge: Before there was Google and access to information was much more guarded, knowledge was a much more precious currency and a pursuit of knowledge was a noble and valued quest. From reading whatever you could to trusting the experts to apprenticing or shadowing masters, learning for the sake of learning and humbling oneself to those who know best were laudable and marks of a good person.