Self-help is not philosophy

​Self-help is not the same as philosophy. The two differ in a subtle but profound way: Self-help is concerned with the imposition of order upon chaos. Philosophy is about learning to live without order amidst chaos.

Pick up any self-help book and, chances are, its kernel will be a framework and a suite of concepts to help you organise and align your life. It’ll give you tools, questions and models to help you define what you want and don’t want, and it’ll help you craft a plan to attain the former and avoid the latter. Pick up a book about practical philosophy and it’ll teach you, not frameworks and models, but a way of thinking which makes it easier to perceive and digest the chaos inherent in life.

Of course, both are necessary. We need to be able to impose order and tolerate chaos. In fact, if life is just a tug of war between the forces of chaos and order, we could say that happiness is finding the mix of the two that satisfies us. Some prefer mostly order, some prefer mostly chaos, and others like an undulating, hectic mix of both.

Why is it worth knowing this distinction? Primarily because it can help us solve our problems and make sense of our existence. Are we trying to impose order where order is impossible? Are we letting chaos reign to the point that it becomes hard to rein it back in? Do we need a healthy dose of self-help, of order? Or do we need a syringe of philosophy in the neck, a shot which allows us to make peace with that which is outside of our control? These are valuable questions, and their answers can provide a piece of the puzzle that is life. 

H/t to Colin McCann for the conversation which helped me realise this.