Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Exporting Self-Help

Calling all French students: Care to defend yourselves from Tierney's brutal attack against your character?

I'd try, but for one problem: I don't think we in America have too much to lord over others right now. We're already doling out hoards of unwanted advice, mostly bad, and bullying into everybody's business all over the world, with abysmal results.

At least the French students have enough chutzpah and "self esteem" to get off their duffs and protest their government about something (right or wrong) they feel strongly about.

That's a whole lot more than I can say for the majority of American college students, who are frantically obsessed--above all else--with getting a job that will pay them the most mucho buckos.

In America, money is the new morality.

I win. You lose. Tough luck. It's every man for himself.

Oh, we killed innocent civilians in Iraq? Our soldiers are dying for lies?

Oops. Sorry. Not my problem. Protest the war? What for?

In America, it is Donald Trump's lifestyle to which our young aspire. The fact that we indescriminately drop bombs on the heads of innocents is simply not priority.

After all, what good would it do? You can't get rich from standing up for what's right.

Photo: George W. Bush as a college cheerleader at Yale

Who Moved My Fromage?
By John Tierney
The New York Times
As student protesters and workers try to paralyze France today, I don't suppose many of them are looking to America to come to their country's aid. Nor do I suppose many Americans are in the mood for a new Marshall Plan. But I have a modest proposal anyway.

Someone needs to rescue France from its self-proclaimed malaise. Close to a quarter of its young people are unemployed, but they're too busy burning cars to look for jobs. They're protesting a new policy allowing workers under age 26 to be hired for a two-year trial period during which — quelle horreur! — they could be easily fired.

This policy, intended to encourage companies to take a chance on inexperienced workers, is being denounced for producing "slave jobs." It would be "like living beneath a guillotine," said Charlotte Billaud, a Sorbonne student.

"We're not disposable — we deserve better," said another student, Aurelie Silan. "Aren't we the future of France?"

Yes, mademoiselle, you are. That's the problem. What kind of college student wants a lifetime employment guarantee for the first job out of school? France's future is a generation of students whose idea of a good career — chosen by 75 percent of them in one poll — is a government job.

The leaders of the French Revolution called for constant daring: "L'audace, l'audace, toujours l'audace." Today's street protesters have another motto: "Contre la Précarité." Against Precariousness!

Legend has it that when Napoleon's Imperial Guard was cornered by the British at Waterloo, its leader boldly declared: "The Guard dies. It does not surrender." Today's French can't even stand up to unarmed foreigners. When French young adults were asked what globalization meant to them, half replied, "Fear."

Beneath that facade of arrogance, the French are suffering from a condition apparent to any American. They have low self-esteem. They're not feeling empowered. They need that great engine powering our economy: the American self-help industry.

The French produce great Camembert, but they haven't absorbed the wisdom of Spencer Johnson's modern classic, "Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life." They haven't heeded Donald Trump's instructional CD, "Think Like a Billionaire." They haven't mastered Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" or Anthony Robbins's "Awaken the Giant Within."

A few French men and women have looked across the ocean for guidance — Robbins says he advised François Mitterrand — but the French masses still haven't awakened their inner giants. And they won't, unless we help them help themselves by sending over the titans of the American self-actualization movement.

This Marshall Plan B wouldn't cost American taxpayers much beyond a few French lessons, plane tickets and hotel rooms. The French might initially resent the intrusion — they have that fear of new things — but we can reassure them: there's a precedent. The U.S. government sent them the pioneer of self-help literature, Benjamin Franklin, and Paris loved him.

The only serious objection I expect is from Americans worried about our G.N.P.: Could the American economy struggle along without these gurus? But I think we're ready to go it alone, thanks to the billions of dollars of wisdom we've already stockpiled.

We've learned secrets like "Be Proactive" and "Think Win/Win" (two of Covey's seven habits). We now realize, thanks to Robbins, that "the past doesn't equal the future." We've paid $19.95 for Johnson's revelation: "Movement in a new direction helps you find new cheese."

We can afford to share this knowledge with the French. If they understood Covey's radical Win/Win theory — "Seek agreements and relationships that are mutually beneficial" — French students might not be marching today. They might wonder why they'd want to spend the rest of their lives (well, at least until they retire in their 50's) working for someone who doesn't want them around.

If the French students studied Johnson — "The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese" — they might even consider the possibility of changing jobs. We could send them French versions of Donald Trump's CD, "How to Launch a Great Career," which does not include instructions for burning cars.

Eventually we could introduce them to Trump's television show, but not right away. There's a good reason "The Apprentice" hasn't made it to French TV. For now, "You're fired" translates as "We riot."

Photo credit: John Tierney. (Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times)

For Further Reading:

  • "France's Misguided Protesters" Editorial, New York Times, March 27, 2006.

  • "For the French, Joie de Vivre Fades Into Fear:Recent Riots Magnify Malaise Gripping Nation" by Molly Moore. Washington Post, March 25, 2006.

  • "Sham : How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless" by Steve Salerno. Crown, 288 pp., June 2005.

  • BBC NEWS | Europe | Violence flares at French rallies
    Students fear the First Employment Contract (CPE), which passed into law last week, will erode job stability in a country where more than 20% of 18- to 25-year-olds are unemployed - more than twice the national average.

    Mr Chirac has called for dialogue between ministers and labour leaders, but union officials say they will not enter into talks until the CPE is suspended.

    The government of Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin proposed the law to help youths in the French suburbs who took to the streets last year, many unhappy with the lack of employment opportunities.

    The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says the worry for the French government is that, as in May 1968, French students are expressing wider disenchantment with a government that is seen as remote and out of touch.
  • France: National student protest held against government attack on young workers

  • Le McJob
    The current youth uprising in France has caught international observers off guard. Over a million students and workers marched on March 18th and 19th, not just against a discriminatory law - the new "First Employment Contract" would make it easier to fire workers under 26 during their first two years on the job - but against a society that seems to have no place for them.


Mickey said...

I appreciate the fact that you try to upload NYT columns. I always want to know what the other side wants to say.... and you are maybe the only one who makes the effort to check it out. And I am not interested in paying for Times Select.) I should add that I had a hard time checking in to your column today indirectly from technorati.com.

In response to your comments.... there must be some reason why so many French people are involved in these protests. Tierney doesn't seem to have the time to ask the French why they prefer the status quo. It can't just be fear. (Fear of what?)

The Unknown Candidate said...


Sorry you had problems accessing my blog from technorati today. Not sure what the problem was, but Blogger has been having server problems lately, so it might have been that. Sorry--it drives me nuts when that happens!

As for Tierney, he always seems to take a simplistic, superficial road and almost always fails to ask the important questions.

That said, I confess to not fully understand the reasons behind the recent French student protests. My understanding is that a large percentage of students are unable to find work, and that was the reason for the previous protests. The protest Tierney writes about has to do with a new law designed to encourage companies to hire more students, but on a 2-year trial basis during which time they can be fired for any reason. I'm not familiar with French employment laws, so I don't know what kind of job protections existed prior to this one.

I only know that here in the US, it has long been the case that anyone can be fired from their job at any time for any reason (other than prejudice, age, etc.) So from our perspective, the French students' protests seem presumptive. Why should they be given a guarantee not to be fired? We aren't.

I always hesitate to form opinions when I have such a superficial understanding of the entire situation. I also tend to think this whole issue is really none of our business, and certainly not high on my priority list.

One thought I had in trying to understand why French kids take to the streets while our students are largely apathetic: The French are protesting not having a job, something that has a direct affect on their lives.

The most likely reason our kids don't protest the Iraq war is because, since there is no draft, it doesn't affect them directly; it's somebody else's problem.

During Vietnam, the draft made the war personal and, therefore, motivated them to examine it's moral ramifications. Could they fight in a war they found to be immoral? If not, they had no choice but to do everything in their power to end it by protesting.

I've often thought that the Bush administration was against the draft, despite record low recruitment numbers, because they understand the draft-protest effect all too well.

JasonSpalding said...

Riots are nothing new in France in 1789, when a Parisian crowd was demonstrating furiously in front of his palace, King Louis XVI asked, “Is it a riot?” and was answered, “No Sir, it is a revolution.’’