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Julia de Funes: “Awakening takes precedence over personal development in a more dogmatic form”

Critic of personal development and coaching, philosopher Julia de Funes has demystified the deceptions and mechanisms of these very popular practices in a fascinating essay (1). Always striving to do her part in “freeing the mind from certain regiments,” today she watches with concern the rising tide of awakening. Explanations.

L’Express: Why was a philosopher like you interested in the field of personal development and coaching?

Julie de Funès: I was doing my PhD thesis on personal identity and authenticity, and I couldn’t ignore the relevance of these topics, which today are monopolized by the actors of personal development. I also worked in HR for ten years and oversaw the work of coaches. Some people have been more out of captivity than out of the (highly dubious) prescriptions devised by their stereotypical trainers of vague training. A sense of deceit, mixed with a desire to free the mind from these fictitious behavioral recipes, prompted me to write this book.

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For you, coaching and personal development follow the same logic, a single whole?

Many coaches took offense at this connection, stating in a learned tone that they should absolutely not be confused. But if you stick to the facts, then it turns out that most of the authors involved in personal development are coaches, and that most coaches create their postural set based on these books.

With books, the risk of influence is still much lower…

Not to mention influence, a book can have a big impact. If we take a closer look at the personal development bestsellers, we can see that they have all the ingredients to create them. Familiar tone, friendly if not affective complicity – Lisa Bourbeau you are something more.) This type of statement certainly seduces the reader, who says to himself, “Finally, someone understands who I am.” Once the seduction has been recorded, the impact can begin.

However, readers of Natasha Kalestreme or other authors often talk about her with stars in their eyes, emphasizing the benefits she brings to them…

This is quite understandable. But goodness is never a sufficient argument in philosophy. “Not because a thing is good, we want it, but because we want it to be good,” said Spinoza. A cigarette can do me good, but it’s not good! The question is not to denigrate the results of these works, but to understand their effect.

What do you say to these people who, in principle, do not feel very well and find help in these books?

I am not criticizing the purchase of personal development books. Many buyers find themselves in an unstable state, and I fully understand their expectations and needs. I am criticizing supply, not demand. Sometimes we pay less attention to our mind than to our body. If I have a physical problem, I prefer to go directly to a specialist who has been studying for ten years. In case of psychological distress, it is better to turn to specialists than to read recipes or go to show-offs that have been (online) trained for several weeks!

You can draw a parallel with alternative medicine, there is also a kind of charlatanism with personal development …

Of course, and if coaching and personal development don’t have state academic recognition, it’s because the teaching is still too messy and too weak. There are only certified titles or DU (university diplomas), which are very far from state academic diplomas. Personal development is to psychology what homeopathy and other pleasures are to medicine. Here again we are dealing with something that “does no harm” but does not really do any good. If you answer me “yes, but it works”! But the placebo effect works too! Again, it is not the effects that I question, but the quality of the causes, because they seem to me more liberal than liberating, and more impersonal than personal.

Can philosophy be an alternative?

No, philosophy is not a recipe for happiness or existential coaching! It remains a rigorous and intellectual discipline. She learns to sharpen her reasoning, refine her words, expand her thinking. And it is better to be healthy in order to immerse yourself in a philosophy that prefers painful realities to comforting illusions. Unfortunately, we see more and more philosophers riding a wave of personal development that is much more for sale…

Are you concerned that personal development will continue to grow, due in part to the health crisis and economic hardships?

In the United States, after ten or fifteen years of looking back on the influence of this fashion, the public is returning. In France it will be the same as always. Many critical works are also beginning to appear. I believe unmistakably in the intelligence of the public, who always knows when the effect of fashion wears off, whether what they are consuming is real or not.

At the same time, wellness department sales in bookstores have never been so good…

People buy telenovelas knowing that they are not great literature. It’s the same with personal development. Viewers think that self-development is empty, but it’s easy to read, fun to read, and good for the beach. What worries me more is the much stronger identity ideologies that are spreading (waking up), taking over personal development (it’s always about me), but in an incomparably more dogmatic, ideological and sectarian way.

For what reasons?

Identity ideologies improve the self much more effectively than personal development, the results of which are difficult to measure. With awakening, a person feels valued in his personality. This search for identity is the common thread between personal development and awakening. At first, there is the same lack of identity, but the reaction of personal development is light, in the awakened person it is much stronger. Note that I am not against the insights that awakening brings, some of them have been very helpful, but the concept of identity seems to me to be one of the most formidable, which is the whole subject of my next book, Le siècle loss (which is forthcoming). scheduled for September, approx. ed.).

Isn’t awakening first and foremost a recognition of belonging to a community? On the contrary, does it not allow you to get out of the frenzied individualism that accompanies personal development?

I do not think so. The community that an individual joins exists to strengthen it, a person joins this group to feel better: more proud, more recognized, treated less unfairly, etc. In the wakefulness, the community serves itself, and not vice versa .

What is the problem?

Once again, and as always, my only goal is to free the mind from certain regiments. Personal development can be one thing, awakening another. But upon awakening, it is identity that seems to me more of a liberticidal concept than a liberating one. Collectively, identity turns into an ideology (we see this today with awakening). The individual personality is frozen in roles and masked to the same extent as it is formatted. How many people gave their lives to live up to an identity that didn’t really belong to them? And, finally, conceptually, identity is a very poorly constructed concept, meaning both identical (identical) and different (specific). For all these reasons, I show that the sense of self, of ourselves, and of others can never come from the search for identity, but from the courage of freedom.

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(1) (In)personal Development, Impostor Success, Editions de l’Observatoire, 160 pages, 16 euros.

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