Sunday, March 21, 2010

Books That Have Influenced Me The Most

Paul Tuns is following up on a meme regarding books that have influenced him the most.

I thought I'd join in.

Unlike him, I have read a couple of books that are religious in nature that I consider to be life-changing. But most aren't.

Your Erroneous Zones
by Wayne Dyer

This might surprise you. Wayne Dyer is a new-agey self-help guru whose tv specials are broadcast on PBS. I read this book when I was about 12. I cannot stress the impact it has had on my thought. It was absolutely foundational, and I consider it the reason why I was able to make it through high school in spite of all the bullying I was subjected to.

Now you must understand that I read this book with the eyes of a twelve-year-old. When I look back at how I interpreted it, it seems so simplistic, and I can see how I might have lost some of the nuances. But the fundamental idea I drew from it is this:

Feelings come from thoughts.

You can control your thoughts.

Therefore, you can control your feelings.

Now, in hindsight, I think that there are a lot of nuances that can be brought to that syllogism, but I believed it in a very fundamentalist way. And because I believed that, I believed in its corollary: behaviour comes from thoughts. You can control your thoughts, therefore, you can control your behaviour.

I think you can see where I derive my right-wing thinking.

It was a book that helped me to reason. Because I had this framework for analyzing my emotional world-- something a lot of teenagers lack. So if I felt bad, I would examine the thoughts that were leading me to feel bad, and I would try to change those thoughts.

There were other ideas in the book that were also very influential. Such as the idea that I, an individual, don't need people to make me happy. I don't believe that today, at least not in the way that I believed it when I was 13. But the positive end result of that belief is that I was happy to be by myself and do my own thing.

The one big thing that was foundational, too, was that the book spoke of Jesus as being a very self-actualized person. I wasn't very religious at the time, but it led me to look at Jesus as a model to follow.

I could go on all night about how that book influenced me. And although I don't really subscribe to the beliefs as I remember them, it helped me think about myself and sharpened my reasoning skills and eventually led me to other thought processes.

Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau

I read this book in university, and I thought it had a distinctive Catholic flavour to it. The main thing I drew from it: you don't own stuff: stuff owns you. That was something of an epiphany for me, and it made me happy because it showed me that literature still had something to teach me :)

The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila

Another foundational book in my life. I read it in the mid 90's. It really taught me about Catholic spirituality.

Treatise of the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
by St. Louis de Montfort

This book really opened my eyes to the necessity of Mary in Catholicism. Many people marginalize her without really understanding her essential role in the economy of salvation. I suck at the Mary thing, but I acknowledge her as vital to any contemporary understanding of spirituality, grace and eschatology.

Hardball by Chris Matthews

Everything I needed to know about operating in politics, I learned from this book. I understand how to play politics based on reality, not wishful thinking.

Lawrence Martin's Biography of Jean Chretien

Idem. Jean Chretien knows how to play politics. The most important lesson I drew from it is that when two political groups are in conflict with one another, it's the group that wants it the most that will win.

Self Matters by Dr. Phil McGraw

This is another book that has really made me see life in a new way. I liked Dr. Phil's thinking because there are many Catholic elements in it. One thing that I like is that his perception of the world is ordered. To him, the universe is an entity that operates with certain rules. Learn those rules and you'll have a richer life. Be ignorant of them, and your life will be in the ditch. An ordered universe is very Thomistic. While not being metaphysical (in fact I would say he would probably reject metaphysics) he gets to the underlying essence of how human beings operate. What is missing from his thought is metaphysics. It's really too bad, he'd make a great Catholic. :) He understands that things work a certain way. He just doesn't try to understand why they work a certain way.