2 min read

If It Can Change You, It Can Harm You

A couple years ago Dustin Moskovitz linked to a book called The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, which he named as part of Asana’s employee training material. It has 4.7 stars with almost 1,200 reviews as I write this. However, the top review is a one star review:

July 24, 2020
Great potential for harm

My experience with the 15 commitments has been catastrophic. My spouse, a business leader, read the book first and found a conscious leadership coach. He embraced these commitments with eagerness and began to implement them in his life. Within a couple months, our marriage dynamics were radically changed. We stopped being able to resolve arguments or repair connection. Empathy, respect, and warmth evaporated.

9 months later my spouse began to recognize the harm being done. He stopped practicing many of the commitments and significantly changed his ways of practicing others. We went to several months of therapy. He began to see how the commitments had negatively affected other parts of his life (parenting, faith). Misappropriation was certainly an issue as well.

We both can see some good things in this book. There are certainly kernels of truth, and he has integrated certain commitments, like integrity and play, but others (candor, responsibility, approval, exploring the opposite, genius) were disastrous. This ideology encourages readers to see life happening "by me" and turn inward when dealing with conflict rather than pursuing peacemaking and mutuality. It encourages self-centered thinking and living. Intimate relationships may sacrifice gentle vulnerability for careless bluntness (candor can operate as a free pass for contemptuous speech). Individuals may become island-like as they resolve all difficulties autonomously through intentional self-deception. They may dismiss the legitimate pain of others as self-inflicted drama.

If you read this book, please balance it out with listening and caring for those around you. Also, pay attention to the way the authors use shame to convince you --that if you don't adopt their self-centered philosophy, you must not really be committed to growth.

Self-help, management books, and their ilk are generally considered to be toothless. Yeah, people read them, but the main outcome typically isn’t much more than a mental pat on the back. But real change does not look like a temporary boost in confidence. Real change involves risk—risk that the change is not for the better.

The measure if something truly has the ability to change you, is if it can harm you as well.

I haven’t read the book, but this review makes me think the book “works”, in that it’s capable of enacting change. However, this review also makes me wish that advice, prescriptions, and guides listed their potential dangers as well. What direction does this advice push you? What are warning signs that your interpretation is going awry?

Pretty much all truly effective advice and guidance can turn harmful if not carefully implemented.

Taking advice from a careerist can lead to fulfilling work, material safety, and wonderful relationships. But it may also push you towards becoming a conniving, impersonal, and tunnel-visioned husk.

Taking advice from a hippie can lead to contentment, harmony, and cohesiveness between world view and lifestyle. It may also push you towards becoming a nihilistic, disconnected, and zoned-out blob.

Viewpoints usually recognize some kernel of truth, but also contain the seeds of their own failure. If it can change you, it can harm you.