I actually like Tony Robbins, and I lean toward buy-in to the basic concept of motivational speaking.
The difference between believing you can do a thing, and not do that thing, matters. I’ve had amazing successes at points in my life, and terrible failures at others. Some of those amazing successes were attended by a deliberately positive mindset, some of the terrible failures were attended by aimlessly negative ones.
However, even having read several of Robbins’ books and listened to a number of his CDs, and doing plenty of nodding along the way each time, I have never even wanted to buy into firewalking.
Fire officials said 21 people at an event hosted by motivational speaker Tony Robbins suffered burns while walking across hot coals and three of the injured were treated at hospitals.
Despite being shy most of my life, I’ve had a surprising amount of ability to NOT do something everybody else was doing (among my Texas cowboy high school buddies, I was the maverick who chose a VW Bug over a Chevy pickup), and if I found myself at a Tony Robbins seminar on the beach in Hawaii (say as a gift from a friend; I probably wouldn’t spend the money — mainly because I don’t have it, but even if I did …), I would be one of the ones who stood by and observed while the more easily convinced walked out onto glowing coals. And burned themselves.
Because positive thinking doesn’t change physics.
The injuries took place during the first day Thursday of a four-day event at the San Jose Convention Center hosted by Robbins called “Unleash the Power Within.” Most of those hurt had second and third degree burns, said San Jose Fire Department Capt. Reggie Williams.
I get it that there’s this other possible lesson, that accepting a painful experience is a way to prove you can transcend that pain — a significant fraction of military boot camp appears to be based on the idea — and that this is a valuable lesson. I’ve gone through painful and exhausting experiences and learned you can overcome discomfort and keep going.
But damn, I don’t want to get burned — not by choice, not for any reason.
Besides which, I think the lesson being sold at these firewalk events is not that you can overcome the pain of being burned, but that if you’re fearless enough, confident enough, you won’t be burned.
Walking across hot coals on lanes measuring 10 feet long and heated to between 1,200 to 2,000 degrees provides attendees an opportunity to “understand that there is absolutely nothing you can’t overcome,” according to the motivational speaker’s website.
I suspect what’s been happening all these years is an Emperor’s New Clothes effect. People were getting burned but weren’t willing to make a fuss, because, hey, what attendee at a corporate retreat is going to admit he’s the only whiny pussy — right out in front of the CEO — in an evangelically brawny organization? (“Hey Scott, how are those little pink toes of yours, har har har!”)
I suspect what’s happening now is that the Emperor’s dick is hanging out and the kids are starting to point.
For more on the subject, check out FtB’s theoretical physicist Mano Singham, who weighs in on the woo, and Cuttlefish, who has actually done firewalking (and expresses a slightly different take on it than me), and who also has a fantastic poem (as usual!), this one a delightful play on “getting burned.”