Broken Marble - An Analogy for Living

by phil on Friday Feb 27, 2004 11:20 PM
marbelization, self-programming

Doesn't it seem like self-help books just keep people on the self-help track?

Choosing to pick a self-help book is not a remedy, but a symptom: if the reader did not have a problem, they would not have sought the help. Therefore, the goal of psychotherapy, whether it is in self-help books or in sessions lying on a couch, should be to remove the need to seek help in the first place. However, this is not a profitable strategy, and so it’s no surprise that things are this way.

And so I offer this metaphor to help others truly help themselves.

Imagine a marble that has a third of it chipped off. If the marble rolled on the table, it would inch forward at first, but eventually gravitate in one direction. The marble will veer off and follow a spiral circle until it stands still. No matter how much effort is made to transcend this path, the marble will be befuddled by its lopsidedness. People similar to this marble are frustrated in their attempts to change their station. They eventually remain content in equilibrium and resign themselves to a routine. To them, life has nothing more to offer except a Honda Civic and a Rolex watch at retirement. The majority of Americans are of this type, spinning around until life runs out of steam.

Imagine another marble similarly cleaved, but broken on both sides instead of just one. This marble resembles more of a disk than a sphere. It's a little different than a disk, as a disk has a straight circumference; this marble has a tortured edge, sometimes forking off into canyons and mountains. In order for this marble to roll without tumbling into its fractured valleys, it must struggle to stay on its flat edge. Imagine its movements like that of bent ring, wiggling on its side in order to remain upright. People with this shape are struggling to avoid the pitfalls in their life. Ultimately, they develop complicated contingencies like, "in this situation, do x, in that situation do y, but if I do x and y too much, I must do z." Self-help books target these people, providing them with complicated plans, rules, and principles. However, these books only mask the symptoms, when something more fundamental needs to change.

Finally, imagine the full marble. All that needs to be said is that this sphere can roll on all sides. If there is a path it wishes to take, it merely wills it, and the ball gets rolling immediately. These are those calm people you meet who are not error-prone. They somehow always end up on the positive side of situations, which is reflected in their attitude that "things work themselves out." They've mastered steering through life.

The goal in personal development should be to build a complete character, as this is the path to long-term growth. Because if someone is missing fundamentals like compassion, rationality, or self-acceptance, no book or plan is going to help. All of these books first give the sense of an arc of progress, but ultimately hide their true form: a downward spiral to nowhere.

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