Beware of false prophets (or, caveat emptor)

Warning for “post that will piss people off”. Warning completed.

In light of Joel Osteen’s exorbitant price tag for his “sermons”, I would like to say this:

A life coach or a televangelist is a salesman, nothing more and nothing less.

And, of course, the corollary to that is caveat emptor (let the buyer beware, Latin).

In fact, the more I go through life, the more I realize that pretty much all of these life coaches and philosophers and televangelists are just plain out there for money. They may have had difficult lives and triumphed, they feel that they may benefit people by passing on their message, and all of that may be good and true, but pretty much everything has a dollar tag attached. Moreover, considering that skeletons in closets tend to rattle louder if the closets are more public, the quality of the product is questionable as well.

In other words, be very careful of who comes in trying to sell you something, especially if it’s a philosophy.

The old saying goes that your therapist is probably the one with the most issues. From personal experience, the majority of people whom I encounter who work as shrinks have worse issues than some of their patients. The ones who don’t are usually the ones trying to fix their colleagues’ damage and are outnumbered by the shitty ones 4 to 1 at the very least. But life coaches are a special brand of individuals whom, as I find, should be avoided.

Let me explain why.

They have had difficult stretches in life. They got through on a combination of faith, philosophy, and reading inspirational Bible verses. Okay, great. They then continue to write a book about their experiences only because they know full well that people in similar situations will think, “They did this, so can I” and will buy their books. This is how they make their money; that and workshops and TV appearances. Think about it: self-help stories are a dime a dozen, and there are so many of them, all of whom are taking money for workshops on “how to build yourself up” and other things, that I am truly questioning the validity of some of their books. Those of you who are Law and Order: SVU fans will likely know what I mean when I will mention the possibility of more than one Erica Windemere instance in the self-help world.

I will never deny the benefit of such stories and workshops – sometimes, they do quite a bit of good. But to take the money that some people charge for them is just plain ridiculous, and it shows exactly what is at the forefront of putting them on in the first place. And it’s to build up something other than confidence.

In truth, it doesn’t matter, ultimately, how many workshops you go to or how many self-help books your will read: if you want to build up your confidence, if has to start from your inside, not someone else’s. Not a book. Not a workshop. But the actual honest-to-cheese person who needs the building. And maybe I’m going out on an unpopular limb here, but I severely doubt that paying $100 admission will go very far in confidence-building.

Worse, those “life coaches” tend to have at least one aspect of their own lives that is so horribly messed up that, if you knew about it, you wouldn’t give them one red cent to “build confidence” or “coach” anyone, because it will be plain and obvious that their entire qualification is baloney. They live in terror that their fucked-up personal situations will be exposed, because that in and of itself will discredit whatever they’re building up as their “life coaching” product. Because really, how can you possibly coach someone else when you yourself are messed up? How can you possibly teach someone to embrace their independence when in your personal life, you are so clingy and codependent that you scare people away? Can you really build up confidence in someone else when you’re clearly lacking it yourself? If tele-preacher Creflo Dollar, who spoke of confidence and forgiveness for abuse, got caught abusing his own daughter, then it’s really not that far a stretch to consider that pretty much everyone in the life-coaching/self-help industry has something to hide, and most of the time, that “something” will immediately discredit their entire message.

The words that come to mind are, “Doctor, heal thyself.”

Too many of these “life coaches” need to check themselves and their own lives before they go out there to pass their philosophy on to the world. People who are already down in the dumps really could find a better role model than someone who, for instance, preaches female confidence while at the same time being unbelievably clingy, codependent, and desperate when they think no one’s looking.

There’s a very crass saying, and unfortunately, it’s true: “shit floats to the top”. And trust me: it always does. If you’re trying to preach a message that you yourself don’t practice, you will find, very fast, that you won’t be able to keep that under wraps.

There’s a good reason that the self-help industry is a profitable and thriving industry: people are so desperate for an easy way, an easy approach, a lifeline of any kind, that they’re willing to pony up big bucks for anything that they feel will make life easier to handle. That is how people who purport themselves as life coaches thrive: because they are just a little bit more adept at marketing themselves and telling people what to do. In reality, they’re people, like any other person, and the only thing they’re selling is themselves. Philosophy, itself, is free, and can be acquired with a library book. Yes, their stories are inspirational, but for them, selling those stories and selling the mentality is a business. Make no mistake: Iyanla Vanzant makes a pretty penny. So does Michael Baisden. I may agree with what both of them have to say, but I also don’t lose sight of the fact that the money I’m paying for their books is money that they’re making by turning themselves and their experiences into a brand product.

They are salesmen. it’s just that their product is themselves. I will gladly buy a book if I think I will like it because I like to read, but if anyone thinks I will waste one red cent on any of their workshops, they’re mistaken. I am not of the sort of people who likes paying a complete stranger to tell me what to do with my life. I spent entirely too much time carving it into what I want out of it, and will be damned if anyone will disturb that harmony.

Philosophy is not supposed to be a business venture. Socrates had to swallow a cup of hemlock for his trouble, and he was by no means wealthy for his work in getting people to start asking the hard questions. Salvation is supposed to be free, why is Joel Osteen charging three figures for admissions to his megachurch sermons? And have you seen the lifestyle he has with that income? Have you seen the lifestyles of the megachurch Southern Baptist preachers in the South? I’m sure you’ve seen the stories of Ted Haggard, the infamous anti-gay televangelist who got exposed for – of course! – soliciting sex from a male prostitute. Here’s the thing: they are all like that. All of those conservative preachers, all those anti-gay anti-abortion reverends, they’re all no more than hypocrites with a cross and a Bible. The more they preach against something, the more likely it is that they themselves are guilty of the exact sin they decry. And they still will charge you $300 and up to listen to them run at the mouth.

This is why the verse about false prophets comes to mind, and this is also why I strongly urge caution whenever you meet someone trying to sell you something that is not supposed to have a price tag in the first place. Salvation is free, and even if you’re not a Roman Catholic or a Presbyterian, both of these church denominations can offer you the same comforts and the same verses for none of the cost of Joel Osteen. My own opinion of the Bible and its validity completely aside here, think about it like this: an average preacher of the Roman Catholic Church does not have Joel Osteen’s private jet or McMansion. And yeah, Osteen has both of the above. No recognized church – Church of England, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Eastern Orthodox, just for example – has their preachers flying in private jets. Tell me, exactly, why you’d pay money for Joel Osteen, and I’ll be glad to show you how you got duped.

You may remember Miss Cleo, the tarot psychic of late-night 90s commercial fame. Know where she is now? In jail for fraud. Whatever your opinion on validity of psychics and tarot cards aside, again: her services at $5/min could be well acquired either on your own with a $15 tarot deck that you can teach yourself to read, or from a anyone else with a tarot deck for $10 a pop. No need for an exorbitant phone bill for someone with a fake accent to guesswork at your life. You may question that too, but I’m sure you can understand from this essay so far: take caution when someone offers you a price tag for something that has no business having a price tag that high in the first place, if at all..

Caveat Emptor, and consequently, Caveat Venditor (let the seller beware, Latin).



4 thoughts on “Beware of false prophets (or, caveat emptor)

  1. This is another solid post full of lovely advice! I have to agree with you. Especially when it comes to that point that confidence has to start with you. It’s like when people need help. Doesn’t matter what help they get, because it’ll be useless until they admit they need it and want to help themselves.

  2. Now Kat-you know I’m a Substance Abuse Counselor and a Recovery Coach (aka Life Coach)! But I have to say that you and the above commenter are so correct. I certainly have the same feelings when it comes to the church and it’s so called “pastoral” care. I can’t tell you the number of women that I counsel who are victims of domestic violence and addicted to substances. They tell me of horrifying experiences of seeking help from the church because they’re emotionally and physically scarred, mentally torn and the “pastor” successfully plays on this taking them to bed-it’s disgusting. Now just imagine what these women go through on a daily basis with their addiction-the mental obsession, the physical compulsion, the compromises made when they don’t have the money to buy drugs and they’re still not ready to get help from a detox or an in patient facility. A large part of that population goes to the church first looking for a miracle of some sort and literally get screwed.
    Then you have the treatment facilities with a staff who are sick and take advantage of their clients. Or the facility that refuses to refer a client to outside resources because the director is worried about retention numbers and finds a way to double bill. I just resigned from an agency that is holding clients “hostage” It was do I stay and go along with this or stick to my own morals, ethics, values, principles and walk? I chose the latter.
    The culture you’re speaking about have no ethics or morals. Their entire value system (if they ever had any) is shot to hell. And it’s so true-if you haven’t resolved your own shit you can’t resolve anything in life. And if you’re not ready to get better ,switch your thought process from negative to positive , do the required inside work you will never change.
    Thanks for a good perspective Kat-as always!

    1. Hey Pat – yes, I remember very well what you do. And you’re one of the people I had in mind when I said that the good ones usually have to undo the damage from the bad ones. I’m very sure that you’ve come across more than one person in your practice for whom you had to undo the damage of a predecessor.

      One of my best friends is studying for a Master’s in Psychology and she was thinking a lot about the practicing side of coaching. I told her, “You will really have to see how much of your work is undoing your colleague’s damages.” As I continue through life, I’m seeing myself turn out to be right in that respect.

      I read the stories about the pastors bedding the victims on an unfortunately too-regular basis. It never fails to gall me, no matter what denomination of religion this occurs in. If pastors are following the teachings of Christ, I’d love for them to point out the Bible verse that allows them to take a mentally and emotionally screwed-up woman to bed. I read the Bible cover to cover, and I don’t quite recall seeing that verse anywhere.

      So many people lose sight of things when it comes to both sides of the self-help world. The agency you describe is unfortunately a classic example – what’s more important to them, the patients whom they’re supposed to help, or their bottom line? Double-billing = fastest way to pad the bottom line, especially if people don’t question what they get billed for…and unfortunately not enough of them do.

      Good on you to stick to your guns!

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