Another year of dream-making and heart-breaking has come to a close.
X Factor 2014 has a winner.
Cuddly “Croydon boy” Ben Haenow saw off impressive fellow finalist Fleur East to win one of Simon Cowell’s coveted superstar makeovers.
But will it work?
Time, of course, will tell. But whatever happens, I sure hope his metamorphosis will leave intact whatever animated the now-champion when he blew millions of us away with his Week 5 interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the mirror”.
It was so good it was worthy of a double helping! And we got just that as Haenow repeated his impassioned performance in yesterday’s final.
But it wasn’t just the power of the singing that resonated. His acapella to stadium-anthem rendition brought out the power of the message, too. I felt that deep desire “to make the world a better place”. I felt the still deeper demand to start by changing the one person we can: ourselves.
These are brave sentiments.
Why? Because it so often seems our “self” is the hardest thing to change.
Maybe that’s why the search to to do so has become a “$13 billion industry” – one that’s better at turning in massive profits than turning around people’s lives, according to a recent BBC series “Heal Thyself: A History of Self-Help”.
“Precisely because their products don’t do what they promise they are guaranteed a whole lot of repeat customers,” is how Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman summed it up.
So if there is such a gap between the promise and the delivery of much of today’s self-help, what might be missing?
Author Jessica Lamb Shapiro has no doubt the concept has lost its noble roots.
“Self-help in the 19th Century was very much about duty to society and duty to make the most of oneself,” she told programme compere, comedian Robin Ince>
“In the 20th and 21st Century, it’s really shifted so much to the individual, where it no longer has any connection to society and it’s really just about what you can get for yourself,” she added.
Which brings us right back to “Man in the mirror”. The song is all about changing oneself in order to better the lives of others – echoing that nobler motivation from the 1800s pinpointed by Shapiro.
Going back still further, another wise seer took it a step higher still. Jesus stressed that genuinely “looking out for number one” is inseparable from unselfishly caring for number two, by insisting we should love our neighbour as ourselves.
That was a conclusion shared by another author – Mary Baker Eddy – mentioned on the same BBC series. The healer and religious leader was not, it was pointed out, a self-help writer. In the 19th century and early part of the 20th she discovered and developed a systematic approach to prayer-based healing which she described as a return to “primitive Christianity”.
On that basis, far from promoting “self-help” Eddy taught that real satisfaction comes from seeing our neighbour’s need and responding to it – “seeking [one’s] own in another’s good,” as she put it in her key text, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
By contrast, and talking of the need to express the divine nature, she warned: “Absorbed in material selfhood we discern and reflect but faintly the substance of Life or Mind.”
Why is it so important to perceive and express the Divine?
Well, when I didn’t, I found my material goals always remaining just out of reach. But when I exchanged them for deeper aspirations a couple of things happened.
Most importantly, I felt so much better within myself.
And secondly, it helped me achieve some of the very goals I had been yearning for. For instance I had hoped to travel the globe, but when I shifted my focus from personally trying to make that happen to taking on work that served a charitable purpose, the organisation I joined ended up sending me around the world.
In hindsight I can see that turning thought from self to divine Soul opened me up to ever-present and satisfying possibilities I would otherwise have missed, including the healing of mind and body and establishing harmony in troubled relationships.
And while I was happy to cheer for both Ben Haenow and fellow finalist Fleur East – who will probably also do well – it’s great to know that life’s star prize of feeling good about ourselves is actually equally available to us all.
“God loves a cheerful giver”, is how the Bible puts it. Doing good is a great way to feel good, and to discover our divinely authentic “superstar” selves.
Now that’s really giving “the man in the mirror” a makeover!
This first appeared on The News Hub as: How DO We Change “The Man in the Mirror”?