Lesson 1: The Mater Mind
— you can do it if you believe you can —
Some years ago, I read The Secret by Rhonda Byrne more so out of scepticism than interest. I had seen the book discussed on Oprah and my interest piqued. I was headed off to university, still full of optimism and certain of my inevitable success so although skeptical was willing to have as much in my tool kit as possible. I cannot recall in great detail the ins and outs of the book though I do remember my impression of it. Titles like The Secret and I can Make You Rich make their intentions clear: read this, learn the ‘code’ and change your life.
There is an appetite for (quick) fixes; that one thing that holds the answer to all your problems. A set of codified rules which when followed can turn the most mediocre of humans into a template for success. There is no denying that in some ways, these sometimes do work. Like Pentecostal Churches that promise eternal salvation and a manifold of prosperity, a few test cases is usually enough to convert the multitude. They exists precisely because they fit a narrative that we want (or need) them to fit. One more palatable to the masses. A feel good story that makes us feel like we too can. A ‘code’ demystified for consumption by those who dare to take that brave step.
I admit what you get out of reading a book is in a lot of ways determined by your motivation for doing so. Since I am by nature ‘questioning’ and affronted by any suggestion of an easy fix to life’s problems, I am perhaps only reading to confirm my own biases. In my mind, any change can only be sustained if it addresses the root cause of the problem. In the same way, any approach that purports to provide the ‘keys’ to success must, in my opinion, recognise that success – whatever we might define that to be – cannot be achieved in the absence of personal growth. Growth comes from identifying and addressing our character flaws.
I ought to start with myself. What is so wrong if someone reads a book like The Secret and believes that through it, they have found the will to pursue a long-held goal? What if what I dismiss as a ‘quick fix’ gives someone the courage to take that first step toward a goal that might otherwise have seemed insurmountable? Is it so wrong to want to belive in something?
Krista Tippet in her book Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living makes a good argument for the purpose and value of listening and questioning. She introduces us to the idea of generous listening; one powered by curiosity, a willingnes to be surprised, to take in ambiguities and to let go of assumptions. A good question, she contends, is not for us to present competing answers but to elicit honesty. If answers do indeed mirror the questions from which they arise, it is then any wonder that I reach the conclusions that I do?
I remain open to learning. Reading, like listening opens up new possibilities.
I am in my first week of reading The Laws of Success in Sixteen Lessons by Napoleon Hill. The book was originally published as a series of booklets and is designed as a course on success with heavy emphasis on application. My electronic copy has 1170 Pages (the copy on Amazon had 548 pages).
In the coming months (that’s how long it will take me to absorb the book), I will present a periodic summary of what I have read and offer my impression on it. For a non-avid reader like myself, 1170 pages can seem daunting but Mr Hill’s mostly simplistic writing and his often-effective use of anecdotes tells me this will be an enjoyable read. If you can tell a person by their writing, Mr Hills strikes me as a man of inquiry: forgoing titillation and oversimplification for detailed explanation.
A core tenet of the Law of Success is the creation of a Master Mind and where the first of sixteen lessons begin. Master Mind-a term supposedly conjured after an interview with Andrew Carnegie1 explains the relationship between congenial minds. This ‘ideal’ state describes the way in which individuals gather, classify, and organise useful knowledge through a harmonious alliance with two or more minds. Harmony is a prerequisite for the formation of the Master Mind. To make his point N.H (as I will refer to him from now on) resorts to science: molecules, atoms, and electrons, vibrating fluid of matter, air, and ether. Here, for a moment, he lost me, not because I couldn’t grasp the science but because for a while, it was unclear what point he was trying to make. In summarising his hypothesis, he states:
[the] hypothesis that mind can communicate directly with mind rests on the theory that thought or vital force is a form of electrical disturbance, that it can be taken up by induction and transmitted to a distance either through a wire or simply through the all-pervading ether, as in the case of wireless telegraph waves. There are many analogies which suggest that thought is of the nature of an electrical disturbance. A nerve, which is of the same substance as the brain, is an excellent conductor of the electric current. When we first passed an electrical current through the nerves of a dead man we were shocked and amazed to see him sit up and move. The electrified nerves produced contraction of the muscles very much as in life. pp45
A simpler explanation for his hypothesis is that there is such a thing as the ‘Chemistry of the Mind’ which would explain why a meeting between two persons whose minds are naturally adapted to each other could result in kindred spirits or “love at first sight” while that between people of natural antagonism toward each other will result in mutual dislike without a word being spoken. The reason for this, he argues, is that our minds possess an energy (or fluid or ‘mind stuff’) which when near each other sets off a chemical reaction which could either result in a pleasant encounter or an unpleasant one. This is the fundamental principle on which the Master Mind is based. In the absence of harmony, the Master Mind dissipates.
Early into the first lesson it becomes clear N.H believes in one’s capacity for self-improvement. For while a person may not initially possess the mental attitude conducive to the formation of a Master Mind, he may through discipline, master the spirit of harmony conducive to blending to a Master Mind. Put another way, to achieve success-whatever we define it to be-we must learn to adapt ourselves to our environments in “harmony and poise”.
Of equal importance to harmony is corporation since individuals cannot on their own form a Master Mind. It requires that individuals subordinate their personalities and immediate interests to that of the common [Master Mind]. As examples of individuals who employed the Master Mind to their benefit, N.H presented the relationship between Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone2. He credits their individual success with them having mastered (retrospectively) the principles of the Master Mind. As proof, he cites the following:
- All three men had very little in way of formal education and yet achieved incredible success and power in their lifetime.
- They had a very cordial relationship, going into the woods once a year to rest, meditate and recuperate.
- They were known to form periodic mind contact (here I assume he means sharing of knowledge and ideas).
He put it better when he wrote:
Success in the world is always a matter of individual effort, yet you will only be deceiving yourself if you believe that you can succeed without the co-operation of other people. Success is a matter of individual effort only to the extent that each person must decide in his or her mind what is wanted. pp7-pp8
Just as we would reach out to a friend, colleague or mentor we respected for advice, so too (it seems) did Edison, Ford, and Firestone and to great effect. That harmony and corporation is emphasized throughout is no mistake. Surround yourself with the right people and you will be energised. My maternal grandmother often chastised: show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.
Aside from forming profitable alliances, N.H. also attributed theirs and the successes of others he studied to their more intimate lives. He wrote:
All of the great geniuses, as far as this author has been enabled to gather the facts, were highly sexed people. The fact that sexual contact is the greatest known mind stimulant lends colour to the theory herein described. pp73
Read into that what you may, we cannot accuse N.H. of being a prude. His intention in making mention of this was not (in my opinion) of advocate ‘frivolous humping’ but merely to emphasise the importance and benefits of good (enjoyable) partnerships. As he saw it, the significant other(s) in our lives are as much to credit for our success. He went as far as to suggest without Mrs Ford there may never have been the Henry Ford we speak of today.
Success is deliberate and not gotten through chance, but through perseverance in learning and application. It demands that we correct weak spots in our personalities and that we not only obtain knowledge but apply it for “knowledge becomes power only to the extent that it is organised, classified and put into action.”
A man is half whipped the minute he begins to feel sorry for himself, or to spin an alibi with which he would explain away his defects. pp89
It compels us to both equip ourselves with the right mental attitudes and align ourselves to the right people: those who energize and will us to be better versions of ourselves.
Seek the counsel of men who will tell you the truth about yourself, even if it hurts to hear it. Mere commendation will not bring the improvements you need. pp95
There are no quick fixes or easy paths to success. No summoning of supernatural deities. It comes from a place of ruthless introspection to get you to a point where you are “big enough to blame yourself for your own mistakes”.
If you cannot do great things yourself, remember that you may do small things in a great way. pp113
Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you may be following as an occupation, there is room for you to make yourself more useful and in that manner more productive by developing and using your imagination. pp7
- There is earlier mention of the term Master Mind. William Walker Atkinson, who wrote under the pen name Theron Q. Dumont used the term Master Mind in his 1913 book The Master Mind: The Key to Mental Power Development and Efficiency. The Law of Success was not published until 1928. Theron explained the Master Minds as one consciously, deliberately, and voluntarily built up, cultivated, and used. He contrasted this with the ordinary mind-that which is a person of circumstance, susceptible to the power of impressions from the outside world. His championing of knowledge cultivation and application is very much echoed in the Law of Success. That both men (and many more persons after them) embrace this concept is perhaps proof of its validity.
- Bill Gates and Warren Buffet share a well-documented friendship that one could regard as illustrative of a Master Mind. Both share an unshakable curiosity about the world, one satiated through continued learning.
- What has been your experience/impression reading self-help books?
- Do any of the points from the first lesson resonate with you?
- Are there any relationships you’ve seen, read about or know of you think illustrate a ‘Master Mind’?