Copyright (c) 2010 Willie Horton

When I work closely with my personal development clients, I provide them with what I describe as ‘mental exercises’ – short ‘meditations’ that enable them un-clutter and focus their minds. You must realize that a focused mind is the secret to living a happy and successful life. However, some of my clients are a little coy about how they practice their ‘mindfulness’. One in particular told me that he couldn’t even bring himself to tell his nearest and dearest that he was meditating. So, he would lock himself in the toilet to do his exercises – Heaven knows what his wife thought he was at! Now, I do understand that personal development is just that ‘ personal. But what I don’t understand is how anybody would feel ashamed about their efforts to better their lives. After all,, in doing so, they might even better the lives of those who mean most to them.

Perhaps it’s time for personal development to become inter-personal, for like-minded people to actually stand up and be counted for who they want to become – leaders in their own personal lives and a real and positive influence in the lives of all those that they claim to love. Our world needs this positive action because, as things stand, we are faced with an historic dis-empowerment of ordinary people who are simply trying to make the most that they can of their ordinary lives. I’ve just glanced through the latest news on Europe-wide protests against the austerity measures being introduced by European governments to ensure that the markets’ faith is restored in sovereign debt and the euro. But ‘the markets’ are run by the financiers who created the burden on sovereign debt in the first place.

For example, Ireland’s sovereign debt market standing is tarnished to say the least – the market demands that it pays practically three times the interest rate on its debt that Germany is paying. Ireland’s sovereign debt is burdened by the State’s rescue of Anglo-Irish Bank – a bank, according to Ireland’s Finance Minister, that is of no intrinsic worth but is systemically important because of its size. In exactly the same way that the world’s financial power-brokers huddled up with the political masters, so Ireland’s financial elite were given unprecedented free rein to create a beast of such magnitude that it has ruined Ireland’s financial standing internationally, rocked the European Union and dented the value of the euro on international markets. The Anglo-Irish Bank story is one with international ramifications – but it’s one of many such stories. Royal Bank of Scotland, Lehman Brothers and a whole plethora of US banks. And the banks that are now thriving, often supported by taxpayers’ hard-earned money, have stopped lending to small business and are, to quote at least one regaultory authority, ‘fleecing’ ordinary bank customers with outrageous charges and penal interest rates.

Now, a quick question. Which has had a greater day-to-day affect on the ordinary lives or ordinary people, 9/11 or the economic crisis? With 23m people unemployed in Europe, with double-digit unemployment in the US, Osama Bin-Laden need not have bothered. The real terrorists are wearing Hugo Boss suits and these guys are still manipulating the levers of power. And just like all terrorists, these guys are fundamentalists – driven by a deeply held belief and love. But it’s not love of God that’s the driving force here but a deep and abiding love of large sums of money – your money, my money.

Now, you may well ask, what has all this got to do with self improvement or personal development? Well, it was Gandhi who said that if you want to change anything that you have to be the change. And it was that same little man, who spun the material for his own clothes, who pulled the rug out from under a super-power that once ruled one third of the world. It was Martin Luther King who had a dream that was, perhaps, fulfilled in Barack Obama’s election to the Whitehouse – a victory driven by small donations from large numbers of people who believed the slogan “Yes We Can”. It remains to be seen if Obama’s election actually represents real change – but that’s because it took place in the context of a political system that doesn’t care about all those grassroots people. And, looking beyond the US, who would have believed that, during the Soviet era, a shipyard worker from Gdansk could set in motion the domino effect that spelt the demise of such a mighty and powerful bloc? A quarter of a century ago who would have ever even considered that South Africa might be ruled by the majority of its people?

Ordinary normal people in Europe and the US are, just like my friend, cowering on the seats of their toilets, praying for change in their own lives, too ashamed to stand up and be counted collectively as the people who really matter. Personal development and self help books make up a constantly growing major sector of the book market – yet all their readers are closet converts. Sure, you can change your own life for the better – you can be unemployed but happier, you can be up to your eyes in debt and on lower wages, but full of the joys of life. But, as I say to my clients, if you don’t have concrete results to show for your personal development (and that is not a pun on the concrete mixer that was driven through the front gates of Ireland’s parliament!), you’re fooling yourself. And, at present, it strikes me that there are just too many fools around.

Personal development is about making a difference – firstly in your own persona life but then, also, in the lives of others. Personal development, or self improvement, is not about keeping your mindfulnees or focus all to yourself. Don’t forget, you’re meant to love your neighbour as yourself – that means, firstly, you and then them. Yes, personal development or self improvement is all about making your own life better – and the lives of others too. Your own efforts at personal development need to be ‘inter-personal’. And when it becomes a force for change in its own right, we may well witness a real and holy war on terror.

Willie Horton is author of To Succeed Just Let Go and founder of the leading personal development website Gurdy.Net where you will find the online version of his famed personal development workshop that has been running since 1996. Born in Ireland, he lives in the French Alps from where he travels the world as a sought after consultant and conference speaker. His clients include Allergan, Pfizer, Merrill Lynch, Deloitte, KPMG, Diageo & Nestle.
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