In Which Mito Almost Beheads the Self-Help Authors of the World

[In this story a wacky guru takes on the self-help authors of the world.]

One day Mito said to his disciples, “I am in the mood to do good—great good!” He cast about in his imagination for a minute, and then exclaimed, “Let’s behead all of the world’s self-help authors!” Knowing that some of his more junior disciples wouldn’t understand this fine leap of logic, he explained: “Almost all self-help authors are involved in a great conspiracy. They provide information, encouragement and sometimes even exercises for people to change, but they don’t encourage ongoing personal support, either a one-to-one Buddy system or a support group. They knowingly avoid the subject because they know that if people had the ongoing support, many more would follow-through with the intended changes, and the market for self-help books, tapes and seminars would shrink to one-hundredth of its size. That would be a disaster for them. Fewer would become rich, and most wouldn’t be able to make a living.”

“Yes, that’s bad,” said one of his more reasonable disciples, “But why behead them?”

Mito replied, “To send a message to other ne’er-do-wells not to even think of trying this scam in the future.” His disciples thought he was nuts, but from past experience they knew that strange things usually happened when Mito began to take action.

The next day, he handed them a flyer. “Copy this, and hand it out to the public.”

From: Mito, humble servant of Truth
To: The peoples of the world

Most of the world’s self-help authors have been playing you for fools. They know that ongoing personal support is practically essential to change, but don’t help you arrange it because then you would actually succeed, and then their market would drastically shrink. I call upon you to boycott any author who does not include information on developing an ongoing personal support system in his or her book. Furthermore, I call upon them to surrender themselves to me so that I may behead them one by one—a fitting and just punishment for perpetrating this conspiracy for so long, and for duping you out of your hard-earned money, and giving you perpetual frustration and failure in return.

* If you have not been able to lose weight, it is because of them!
* If you have not been able to manage your time, it is because of them!
* If you are not filthy rich yet, it is because of them!

Surely these crimes against you and the rest of humanity cry out for blood!!

Please pass on this flyer to others. Also, send them to your favorite self-help authors, and have them contact me at my e-mail address regarding their unconditional surrender.

He told them, “Distribute the flyers far and wide. Meanwhile, I must practice wielding a sword so that I may chop off their heads cleanly, causing them a minimum of pain. For let it never be said that I am not a humanitarian!”

Obediently, his disciples began distributing the flyers, and they talked to people at airports, bus stops and city street corners. Meanwhile, Mito enrolled with a Japanese master to learn how to wield a sword. Being naturally uncoordinated, as well as out of shape, he found that he had trouble swinging the wooden dummy sword. His back and arms were very sore the next day, too. But once committed to a course of action, Mito was nearly unstoppable.

Soon the “Great Self-help Conspiracy” was on everyone’s lips. Famous self-help authors tried to defend themselves when they went on talk shows to hawk their books. They denied being part of a conspiracy, calling Mito things like, “an absurd chucklehead” and “the Three Stooges after downsizing.” But they were routinely humiliated by the questions of the talk show hosts when they couldn’t satisfactorily answer why they had excluded such basic information about self-change.

Meanwhile as the weeks went by, Mito was able to swing the wooden sword with more ease and accuracy. Satisfied with his progress, the master donated his own samurai sword for Mito’s practice. He explained how the sword was painstakingly made, with the metal pounded thin and doubled over, then pounded, then doubled over, again and again, until it was hundreds of thousands of thin layers of tough steel. Mito found the sword heavy. But knowing that muscles need 48 hours to rebuild, he practiced on alternate days to build up strength.

Then the big break occurred: Under intense cross-examination on a late night talk show, a self-help author had buckled and confessed to the international conspiracy. He admitted that, behind closed doors, it had been self-help’s dirty little secret for decades. Yes, he admitted it: He and the other authors had successfully duped the public to the tune of billions of dollars annually. Then, while still on the air, he broke down and began sobbing about wanting the good things of life. He cried, “How am I going to support my family from now on, as I have no manual skills?”

Meanwhile, Mito was practicing on pumpkins. Then he decided that he needed a better way to simulate beheading someone. He took five pounds of carrots and bundled them around a broom handle, right under the straw portion. Then he took the inverted broom and stuck it in the ground. Then, WHACK! He felt the carrots yield, then felt the briefest resistance of the broom handle, and then the carrots flew in all directions, leaving a little carrot juice sprayed on his hands.

The public outcry against the evil self-help authors continued to grow. Eventually, the authors began to email Mito to turn themselves in. In fact, they organized themselves and made an across-the-industry surrender. In their combined statement, signed by more than a thousand authors, they said that they had become pariahs and even their families hated them for scamming the world. Even death was preferable to their unremitting shame. Full of remorse, they admitted that they in fact deserved death. Furthermore, showing that they were thinking ahead, they decided to organize a cruise ship to go to the Caribbean, so that Mito could behead them in international waters, so that he would not be liable under the laws of any country. They only asked one more month of life, so that they could put their affairs in order and make peace with their families.

This request Mito granted, for although he was now deadly accurate, he needed to build endurance so that he could dispatch perhaps a hundred or two hundred authors a day on the two-week cruise. He developed a jump-spin-and-strike technique which he demonstrated before his disciples on a row of twenty broom-handles with carrots bundled around each. As he became airborne, he emitted a loud “ki” shout, swung the sword through the broom handle, and then landed, facing the opposite direction. As carrots flew and carrot juice sprayed every which way, the disciples were horrified to see him dispatch the twenty brooms in about five minutes. When they collected the brooms, they found that each had been cleanly chopped between one and two inches from the base. But Mito demanded more and more carrot-bundled-brooms with each passing day. He attacked them like a sword-wielding banshee of destruction, leaving a carnage of broom pieces and carrots in his wake.

At last the day of reckoning neared. News camera crews filmed 1,651 self-help authors of every stripe filing up the gangway to the cruise liner for what was scheduled to be their last trip. Some wore suits, others wore flowing garments and necklaces of power stones. Most seemed brave, almost cheerful, but a few hung their heads, their eyes lined with anxiety and grief.

They had only two more days to live.

During those days, some could be seen calm and cool, sipping their mixed drinks and having a good time. After all, these were the masters of positive mental attitude. Others roamed the decks, mumbling affirmations, such as, “Every day in every way, I grow better and smarter.” Others had broken down completely and did not leave their staterooms. They wouldn’t even get out of bed to do their aerobics routines, they were so crushed.

The first execution day arrived, sunny and warm. Mito woke up early, looked out the portal window, smiled and said to himself, “Hoka Hey!” which in some Native American tongue meant, “It’s a good day to die!”

After breakfast, a disciple handed him his sword and a clipboard with the list of those to be smote that day. The order of execution was simply based on the overall number of books sold, with the most popular authors slated to go first. This gave those with smaller sales a few days or a week more to live. The first hundred were lined up single file with about five feet in between. Some of the ship’s crew were ready with hoses to keep the deck clean and pristine. And, of course, all of the other authors stood around spectating, many with their video cams ready.

As was decided in advance, just before the execution, the first of those to be beheaded made a prepared speech, on behalf of the whole group: “We the self-help authors of the world, full of remorse, do apologize to humanity for our sins. We recognize that withholding the essentials of learning how to learn has allowed not only personal unhappiness and frustration to persist, but worse, has deprived humanity of the skills and knowledge that would have prevented a tremendous amount of suffering and loss of life. Our dying request is only that Mito, our executioner and doer of good, not be held liable for the actions he is about to perform.” He stepped back from the microphone.

Mito then stepped up and gave his speech. “I would like to take this very emotional and highly-televised moment to give back to humanity what these men and women have taken away: the keys to learning and change. Ongoing personal support is just one of many factors of learning. Think back to when you were a student in the classroom. You had many ingredients of learning besides a book. The teacher provided a structure, encouragement, practice in the form of exercises, feedback in the form of corrections, evaluation in the form of testing. You had the rewards or punishment of grades, and judgment of what others thought of you. You even had the expectation to learn, unlike the expectation we adults have of ourselves and each other, that we don’t need to learn, and will make life changes only rarely and with difficulty.

“All these ingredients are critical to learning. The people behind me willfully and maliciously hid the knowledge that all the ingredients were needed for learning. If you lacked even one, such as feedback, you were essentially locked off target, doomed to a life of frustration, futility and self-recrimination. It is for this treason to the human race, both to present and future generations, that each of them will lose his or her life this week, starting today. Henceforth, let all never forget that they must reconstruct their learning environment with all of the needed factors, in order to change.” He gave a slight bow as he moved away from the microphone. A disciple handed him the great sword and he stepped back to a clear space and took a few practice strikes at thin air.

Then he approached the first man and looked him in the eye. Mito half-crouched, about to make his leap into the air when a woman five away in line shouted, “Stop!” As he stood up straight, she approached the microphone and spoke. “I have been doing some thinking. Though we are guilty, it is not as much as you suppose. I personally believe that the public wanted to be duped. In fact, their choice of the most entertaining self-help books shows that they were not interested in learning as much as being flattered and amused.” A man stepped out of line and spoke over her shoulder. “Yes! I too believe that unconsciously everyone knows what you have just stated.” Another man added, “In reality, most people want something for nothing. We give it to them in the form of an illusion of working toward self-change.” Then a woman joined in and said, “And what about all the ministers and priests who know that one twenty-minute sermon each week isn’t really enough to cause people to change their behavior? Why aren’t they here on this boat with us?” Following this were a host of “Yeahs!” and one “Amen, sister!” Then another author spoke, “And what about all of the innocent people in the book industry who publish and distribute these books? It will take away their livelihood.”

Mito became more and more perplexed and pained at these challenges to his plan. His sword dropped lower and lower with each protest. Finally he became completely disconcerted and cried out, “What am I going to do now? You—you were only going to die; but now I must live with the sting of defeat on the very threshold of glory! You have shaken my faith in my ability to generate hare-brained and simpleminded solutions appropriate for any occasion.—What am I going to do now?

One of his disciples then went up to him and whispered in his ear. Mito visibly relaxed. Then he again faced the audience, smiling. “It occurs to me now that I have succeeded after all. Here is my pronouncement: In this highly-televised event I have made clear to the world that self-help books and their authors are almost worthless without ongoing personal support and all of the other necessary ingredients of learning. Therefore I will set these authors loose again upon the world. Those, then, who buy their books without reconstructing their learning environments will bring their just punishment upon their own heads—And that punishment is futility and failure. I have also made plain the true state of self-help authors to themselves. Therefore, those of them who continue in this deceptive undertaking will have to live and eventually die with the knowledge that they are charlatans.” He turned to the group of reprieved authors, saying, “But as long as you’re on board for the remainder of the voyage, may I recommend the boiled carrots?”

* * *

And that’s the story of how Mito almost beheaded the world’s self-help authors. Those who remember this story and reconstitute their learning environments are the ones who can actually learn from self-help books, workshops and even life itself. As for the rest, well unfortunately they are still losing a great deal.



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