The mind and the matter

October 9, 2022

A conversational self-help book with pop culture references

The mind and the matter


elf-help books (of which many read like motivational talks) often carry lessons from the writer’s life. Needless to say these can be quite tedious. Therefore, the author or the speaker has to make a particular effort to make the book or the discussion engaging.

Shahzad Malik has come up with what has been billed as the “first Pakistani self-development book.” It is compact, has pop culture references and sets a dialogue-like tone, not a monologue. It aims to address the basics of the subject. It urges one to radiate positivity. According to Malik, one’s perception of the universe reflects the effort one has put towards achieving one’s goals. He asserts that the universe will respond in the same manner and with the same frequency as an individual’s initiatives. Work on an Urdu version of the book is under way.

The book is divided into eight chapters. It talks about channelling positive energy and envisaging the kind of life one wishes for. The exercise, it says, makes the goals believable and therefore achievable). Malik says he believes that positive energy attracts positivity and negativity magnifies negativity. The book is short and concise. Many books on self-discovery include insights on religious and spiritual subjects. Malik, however, steers clear from this. He does not claim the high moral ground. This makes the book more accessible to those not subscribing to a particular belief system.

Dare to be You does not have a holier-than-thou voice. Those who find references to spirituality intimidating, overwhelming suffocating can generally not benefit from books that insist on it. The necessary spirituality then makes one’s well-being inconceivable. Malik keeps the tone light and mostly free of unnecessary detail. The voice is refreshing and easy to comprehend.

I had two major concerns while reading the book. First, how does the book deal with mental health. The book sometimes overstresses the individual by incorporating the traditional carpe diem style and frequently reiterating the idea that one can accomplish anything if one can feel and propagate positivity. In addition, it discusses specific ‘laws’ including “the law of attraction.” Probably this is not what Malik intends to do and the book is not primarily about mental health. But a lot of the self-help literature carries the baggage. There is a need to be careful not to fall for the trope.

According to Malik, one’s perception of the universe reflects the effort one puts into their goals. He asserts that the universe responds in the same manner and with the same frequency as an individual’s initiatives.

Second, Dare to be You as a self-development book. It comes from an author with a privileged life and some extraordinary experiences. Recounting of personal experiences conveys the idea that irrespective of one’s background, the innate human struggle is the same. However, from a vantage point of privilege, it feels like although the book wants to make sure that the idea is kneaded into pop culture references and is relatable, the examples and instances are quite removed from a large part of the local audience.

Malik focuses on “visualising” one’s goals and ideal life. He seldom talks about everyday struggles. Some of the instances he mentions - wanting to buy a yacht, wanting to donate to a charitable cause or teaching in an underprivileged school – are not universally relatable. There is no implication that people should not aim for their own goals. However, the book appears to fail to make the ‘solutions’ it proposes inclusive for people from other backgrounds, class and access.

A large number of local households do not instill self-belief in a person. The environment creates a perpetual anxiety about a lack of a safety net to fall back on (when a career choice does not work out as intended). Unfortunately, the book does not mention this side of the story.

The book’s introduction holds Chicken Soup for the Soul, the American self-help series, as a mark in this genre. I remember that our principal, Sister Martin de Porres, who passed away recently, used to read it to a bunch of 11-year-olds during the awareness lessons. In those lessons, I failed to connect with myself and my mind kept wandering. The stories that emphasised love, giving and caring made it impossible for me to think they were for me. The models used in the book under review do not even work that way. Dare to be You focuses the mindset, citing examples that may be relatable to a minority. For this reason, I feel that the book may not be for people from all backgrounds.

A lot of books by Pakistani authors do not resonate with everyone. It can be argued that they do not have to. They can tell stories about certain people to certain people. However, they will do well in that case not to claim a universal relevance. Reading this book reminded me of a discussion I had had with someone who suggested that I should read Laleen Sukhera’s Austenistan because it was a portrayal of Pakistan or at least some people’s experience of it. I knew that it would not resonate with me.

Dare to be You

Author: Shahzad Malik

Publisher: Liberty Publishing

Pages: 119

Price: 458

The reviewer is a Lahore-based educationist and researcher

The mind and the matter