Four Books that Changed my Life this Summer

I did a lot of growing this past summer, and a lot of that growth was directed by some very, very good books. These have come up at least once in every serious conversation I've had since then, so I thought I'd post some explanation for the benefit of my friends who keep hearing about them. Each of these books has undeniably changed the way I think about life, for the better, widening my perspective or giving me the mental tools to better understand and grasp certain aspects of life. Without further ado:

Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Written by Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad Poor Dad tells the story of his childhood in Hawaii, learning about money from his rich dad (actually his best friends father) and his poor dad, his real father. The big lesson of the book is that the rich think about money completely differently than the middle class, and Kiyosaki tries to help us think that way, or at least set the stage.

He makes clear some of the fundamental concepts necessary for acquiring and growing wealth. Without this basic mindset and knowledge, more higher level ideas like investing, real estate, etc don't make much sense, which is probably why we never quite got them. Kiyosaki takes a world that so many of us see as simply alien and beyond our reach and comprehension and shows us how to navigate it. It is left to you to explore it further but unless you are already set (and even then) this book will teach you a lot and if you are willing to change some of your preconceptions about money, will enable you to start down the path of real financial success.

Way of the Peaceful Warrior

This book is of a more spiritual bent than the last. Written by Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior is the semi-fictional account of his college years as an aspiring Olympic gymnast. Finding himself dissatisfied with his life, despite all the outward trappings of success, young Dan wanders into a late night service station and meets an old man who eventually ends up mentoring him.

The book's main insights center around a very Buddhist approach to life, living in the moment, accepting one's own ignorance as a path to truth. Excellence in living, whether that be as a gymnast (arguably the manifestation of human physical perfection) or as a cook is advocated, and the philosophy presented by the book inherently claims to enable that kind of excellence and mastery of life. It is not an easy path to follow, as demonstrated by the storyline, but the rewards are so far beyond what most people want in life, they are practically indescribable. Basically, Nirvana (I am reluctant to use that word, because most Westerners have a false understanding of it, but its accurate meaning allows for real-life improvement. I'm not going to go into a discussion here).

This book is the inspiration for the name of his blog, by the way, though I was calling myself a warrior before I read it. It did help me crystallize the notion, however. Funny how things work out...

Choice Theory

Choice Theory, written by Dr. William Glasser, is about a new approach to psychotherapy, one based on the idea that we are all, including the 'mentally ill' (a term of questionable usefulness in this theory), responsible for our behavior. Those who deny their responsibility, who act irresponsibly, are those who have everything ranging from 'issues' to full-fledged psychological disorders. The mode of therapy arising from Choice Theory is Reality Therapy. Basically, the role of the therapist is to help the patient, who is denying reality by acting contrary to its dictates or his responsibilities, to accept reality. When people can't meet basic needs, they try other things to deny the need exists or to replace it. This attempt manifests as mental disorder. Pretty controversial stuff.

Mind-blowing! The connections between Choice Theory and Buddhist psychology are eerie. The connection with other philosophies of empowerment are also pretty astounding. And that's what makes Choice Theory so appealing. Even those our society considers the most 'broken' and beyond help, the mentally ill, are empowered to take control of their own behavior. Those of us who grew up on the Freudian model have been blaming our parents, or maybe their parents, for our own faults. Choice Theory doesn't care whose fault it is. It doesn't dwell on the past, it is only concerned with the here and the now, what we can do (action not attitude), who we can control (only ourselves), and it produces results. Dr. Glasser has successfully treated everyone from the mildly depressed all the way out to severe alcoholics and even some schizophrenics, all on the premise that some basic relationship need was not being met and that the symptom was a way to deal with that failure.

I think everyone should read this book. Anyone who cares about other people's happiness, or their own, about being an effective human being, especially those involved in intimate relationships either with family, lovers, spouses, or children. Basically, anyone who has any human connection. Even if you don't change the way you think, just knowing the ideas in this book will improve your life.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Written by Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces traces the lines of similarity between human myths across the world and her cultures. It is interesting because somewhere along the way, you begin to realize the human mythmaking and storytelling is linked somehow to human notions of empowerment and growth. The hero of every myth is us, or rather, we are the heroes of our own stories. Modern society has done a lot to prevent us from connecting the dots, and as a result many of us do not realize the specific challenges we must overcome to complete our hero's journey and fulfill our myth. The result is dissatisfaction, psychological distress, which Campbell associates with psychotherapy. Therapy seeks to help us complete our journey.

Upon completing this book, I realized that myths were not meant to be taken literally (not that I took them literally, but they seemed trivial, just entertaining stories that ignorant people believed were truth). They were stories about the journeys the human psyche undertakes through life and death, helping mankind understand his connection to the world and the greater universe. And despite the massive (infinite really) scope of myth, I saw it as a very personal thing, something that had deep relevance to my own life.

What kind of meaning does science provide our lives? We exist to reproduce, to propagate the species? Social theory isn't much better, and modern religion has lost its meaning-generation abilities. In truth, even ancient religions could be nothing but hollow forms for those without the courage to step past the curtain to look at the truth it was protecting us from. Biology is just one lens, one that neglects the human spirit (and probably the animal spirit, plant spirit, world spirit, etc).

All of these books are part of a collection. The ones I've mentioned here are the first and most relevant of the series, the best introduction to the ideas (except Choice Theory. You might want to start with Reality Therapy to get a practice application). When so many ties and similarities arise, I assume that they must all be peering at some common truth, which is why I think these books are worth the read. I hope some of you decide to pick them up.