I did something recently that I’ve sworn for years I would never do. Never by choice. Never under duress. Never by request. Never under any circumstances would I buy an “Idiot’s Guide to [Something]” or a “[Whatever] for Dummies” book.
I am not an idiot, nor am I a dummy. I find no humor or positive outcome in assuming this self-demeaning pose. It isn’t accurate, it isn’t funny, or helpful, or uplifting. It’s insulting to the book’s intended owner, whether someone acquires it as a gift or buys it for him/herself. It’s like a fraternity hazing, or like having a horrible boss who demands deference and contrition because they can’t earn respect. It’s a thumb on the psyche of the reader. There is nothing spiritually sound about having to declare yourself inferior in order to gain knowledge. These are “how-to” books, people! If you already knew the subject matter, you wouldn’t need the book. Nothing dumb or idiotic about that. The concept and the posturing infuriate me.
Fast forward to my “never.” I came across a nearly-new “Teach Yourself Spanish” book from this genre while mining treasures in a resale shop recently. I paused…. because I love books, and I yearn for increasing skills in Spanish. I often collect volumes on sale or in resale stores to have a well-rounded library of reference aids. I reached for the book, tentatively, as if it were dangerous, and began to flip through it. I liked the layout. The lessons seemed well-considered. It set my moral compass spinning.
I was at war with myself. I had been happy in my firm position, refusing to support self-deprecating titles. “They’ll never get my money!” and similar vows of supporting human dignity have rolled off my tongue for decades. Now, here was a book that looked to be pretty good (except for the title of course), and possibly quite helpful in my life goals, for the low, low price of fifty cents.
Would I sell out for fifty cents? Or, knowing my own firm, long-standing position, could I objectively re-think the situation, now that this one particular book was in front of me? Rules change with time, even a person’s own standards can change. I wasn’t even sure I wanted the book, but I had to determine if it was an option to purchase it and not compromise my own standards. Because it was in a resale shop, the author and publishing company wouldn’t get any of my money. In that regard, I wouldn’t be supporting the titles…. and yes, I bought the book.
I’ve masked over the insulting part of the title, so I don’t even have to see it or process it subliminally. Believe it or not, doing that felt really good.
It also feels good to be brave enough to re-examine a stance — to even feel like taking a new look at an old position. Are there new perspectives? Have the circumstances changed? How are today’s outcomes different from other things I’ve considered? Am I willing to be flexible, possibly to give up a hard-line position that I’ve held? Is it growth, or is it selling out?
I think it’s important for us to be willing to revisit our positions in life. We need to be open to new perspectives, changing conditions, and the transforming society around us. We need to consider new information and re-consider if our position is still 100% supportable. If we hold fast to a position while things all around us are evolving, then our position becomes one of unthinking allegiance rather than well-considered facts and circumstances. It becomes “but we’ve always done it this way” rather than something of sound reasoning and timely application.
The pivotal condition in my purchase was the fact that the book was in a resale shop. Purchasing it promotes the charity that was selling it, not the statistics or the bottom line of those who choose to promote that kind of titling. If I find it condescending, I can throw it away and I’ve merely paid fifty cents for the right to explore my own values. Or, I could re-donate it and assume that someone who doesn’t find it offensive will benefit from having it. In any case, the author/publishers don’t gain, and I don’t lose.
My core position has not changed. I still will not buy one of these books new and support their labeling, no matter how valuable the contents. But resale shops? Never say never.
(c) 2019, J. Cools