I’ve been in an enquiry for the last year asking how does the US cultural lens influence personal development? The USA (California particularly – New York where I’m at soon, may disagree!) dominates this field and exports it worldwide in what I’ve come to call the “Spiritual Industrial Complex.” There are also signs of growth in Europe such as the recent European Integral Conference which I’ve heard many good things about and has all European speakers – a rare thing. I think a critique is badly overdue still though, so here are my main conclusions after extended discussions online with people on both sides of the pond. I’ve also lived in three US states and studied with mostly US teachers. The US cultural bias in personal growth work across many disciplines leads to:
– An overemphasis on individual vs relational and cultural context. This means West-coast style personal development (PD) is blind to this cultural analysis and that it often stresses individual practice rather than community or political activity. Sometimes leading to self-obsession and narcissism. Due to the emphasis on individual rather than social development I think it’s become the perfect pressure valve in service of modern consumerism and often little more than a type of Prozac.
– An achievement focus from the Calvinist tradition. Combined with the new age distrust of science and measurement this means it’s never-ending work! The Calvinist tradition also comes with a sense of humour failure foreign to my Anglo-Irish routes!
– A politically correct and legalistic culture leading to certain rich avenues of PD being ignored. The latter also leads to branding and ownership of marketable models.
– A public confessional and performance aspect and emphasis on emotional expression over containment. Europe isn’t Oprah.
– A push towards being “positive” – see Happy or Die. US personal development has a distressing lack of cynicism 🙂
– A lean towards profit and consumerist models endemic in the US, often combined with over-confidence and a cult of celebrity that mixes unpleasantly with the Asian guru model. The marketing success here over European competitors is a result of these factors but at a cost!
Agree or disagree? Comments welcome.