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Self Help Me!

The photo for Jay Shetty's podcast "On Purpose."
The photo for Jay Shetty's podcast "On Purpose."

When I was a child growing up in Kolkata I came across a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People among my father’s books. I don’t know if my father ever read it but its a book you still see it all over India in big book stores and sidewalk book displays.
At that time I didn’t realise it but I had stumbled upon my very first self-help book.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata

That book was originally written in 1936 in the middle of the Great Depression. In hindsight one can see its appeal in an America in the grip of a terrible economic downturn. Here’s a bit from the audio book

DC1: Part 2: Six ways to make people like you. Chapter 1. Do this and you will be welcome anywhere.

Self-help books promise a secret formula to individual success, an irresistible lure for those who feel powerless against huge economic forces. But self-help stories also need a charismatic salesperson with a great life story, preferably rags to riches.
Self-help megastar Jay Shetty had a great one. The story as put out by Shetty is that he grew up in an Indian family in the UK, went to a lecture by an Indian monk because his friend promised to take him to a bar afterwards, saw the light and lived several years in an ashram in India. Then he decided instead of becoming a monk his mission was to share that wisdom far and wide. The likes of Michelle Obama appeared on his podcast On Purpose, one of the ten most-subscribed to podcasts in the US last year.

Michelle Obama and Jay Shetty: please welcome the former first lady of these united states Michelle Obama. I dont want people looking at me and Barack like # couples goals. No no there’s broken things that happened in best of marriage

Jennifer Lopez was so impressed by him she had him officiate her wedding with Ben Affleck. people pay thousands of dollars to attend the Jay Shetty Certification School’s online course.

Now an expose in The Guardian says Shetty didn’t quite stumble upon eastern mysticism. He grew up in a Hare Krishna family. The Guardian says most of the time he says he spent at an ashram in India was actually in a Tudor estate outside London making Youtube videos.
Shetty’s lawyers are trying to refute The Guardian’s allegations. Whether Shetty’s life story had a lot of holes in it or not, it does not mean people don’t want the life he created for himself.
The real appeal of a self-help book is the agency it pretends to confer upon you. Self-help gurus do that by claiming they have a 1-2-3 step-by-step guide to whatever you need. It might be a slimmer you, a richer you, a more confident you or a you that lasts longer in bed. In short, a happier you.

JS1: Before we jump into this episode I’d like to join this community and become. Happier healthier and more healed. All I want you to do is click on the subscribe button.

It also promises the way to that person is there inside you. You just need the guru’s secret key to unlock it.

Shetty had an added advantage - his cultural origin. For long the West has preached the mantra of individualism to the East. Indians have swallowed that hook, line and Dale Carnegie. Then disaffected Westerners, fed up with the relentless pursuit of materialism, came looking for the meaning of life in the East. Now we gurus of Indian have turned that eastern spiritualism into a self-help commodity which they peddle back to the west with books like Smarter Better Faster or Superbetter or The Secret.
But it’s the self-help gurus who know the real secret about us. They understand that behind the constant pressure to upgrade our phones and gadgets lies a relentless anxiety that we are the ones who need to real upgrade. We may snicker at Shetty but that does not change our basic fear of inadequacy, and the hope that we can fix it somehow with a simple life-hack.
In 1936 Dale Carnegie was teaching us how to win friends and influence people. In 2024 when every other person wants to be a social media influencer nothing has really changed. Except now we are really looking to win not friends but followers.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW

And for those in the bay area on Tuesday March 19 our technical producer Eric Wayne and I will be celebrating crossing 500 episodes of Dispatches from Kolkata on KALW in San Francisco. Come and say hello. More details on kalw.org.