August 5th, 2011
01:55 PM GMT
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Johannesburg, South Africa (CNN) In the roadside markets of central Johannesburg, alongside neat piles of fresh vegetables and Chinese-made wigs, hawkers sell self-help books.

The book titles are long-winded and have the author’s photo enlarged on the cover - a style that seems popular in the United States. In fact, most of the books are aimed at the American businessperson and seem incongruous sitting in a Southern African roadside stall.

The Americans have pioneered that genre of literature that aims to “help.” Some books take a religious tone and others are more business-focused. Some of these manuals are self-righteous, some are plain boring; most are worthy and the authors have a genuine desire to help others “make decisions,” live “in the moment” or find their “passion.”

What “life lessons” can, for example, an immigrant Zimbabwean living in Johannesburg learn from a salesman in Idaho? Well, a lot apparently.

The common denominator in much self-help literature is the underlying need to triumph over adversity or to improve oneself. The universality of that instinct translates across cultural or geographic differences.

Personally, I like to just get on with things. Professionally, as a journalist, I am always open to hearing stories about how people change their lives or make a difference. I avoid the self-help books but over the years, I have interviewed business leaders, self-help gurus, management experts and many others who offer their solutions to dealing with life, money and business.

For me, the simplest arguments make the most sense. There is a whole industry and tone of language devoted to the self-improvement business but once all the waffle is taken away, it’s the obvious advice that is the most valuable.

Take, for example, the recently re-released book “The Surfer’s Code,” written by South African surf legend Shaun Tomson. I interviewed him recently and his lessons or “codes” made sense, even though I am a useless surfer and average swimmer.

Some of his offerings include, “I will always paddle back out,” and “There will always be another wave.” These will be familiar to many parents who constantly remind their children to keep trying harder and never give up.

The old adage that one should pick one’s fights is reworked as “I will never fight a rip tide.” Sensible stuff.

“I will watch out for other surfers” has shades of good neighborliness and the 10 Commandments.

It is a gentle book about dealing with tragedies and challenges. Like all self-help books there is nothing new in it ­and that’s the point. Tomson’s message is that everyone faces difficulties and sadness in their life; the big challenge is how to deal with it.

As the global economic situation seems to look bleaker and bleaker, ­ from the United States to Europe to East Africa ­ people are realizing that future opportunities might get lesser.

So, many more will look for comfort and advice in the pick-me-up manuals that are flogged in the bookshops of fluorescent shopping malls of the industrialized nations as well as on the brightly sunlit stalls of the developing world.

The messages will offer succor and try to sustain populations of people around the globe who are all sharing experiences that are familiar:  how to make money and be happy.

It’s as simple as that.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Bonita

    CNN, why do you refuse to post the comments by the conservatives? Stop your racism.

    August 6, 2011 at 5:14 am |
  2. Bonita

    Man who trusts himself ruins his life. So does such woman. The proven wisdom since the ancient. Only the puffed-up secular Americans are unaware of it. America became the greatest in the shortest time because of her clean Christianity but she became so immoral afterwards, her downfall will be quick as well. Wickedness wrecks civilizations.

    August 6, 2011 at 5:19 am |
  3. Ashada2012

    I, dear Robyn, believe in “power of oneself to change”. In your case described, the people of Johannesburg I feel so absolutely, that there is already some movement happening amongst the population, which certainly will lead to more freedom for them even there might be restrictments as all over the nations in Africa, which is still monitored by two governments in the world! One of them is UK, as you certainly know.
    Again, I agree and know, that the only power of change happens in oneself. And the people of johannesburg and surrounding, the people of whole africa…. ARE AWARE and they change as we speak. Things will happen, according to what actions will be taken. And everyone is responsible what one does! In bad, and in GOOD!
    The headlines in the international papers is clear – clear for “non-interesting people”. Anyone else knows, Robyn, watch how the market!
    Literature given, with the goal of helping individuals as well as nations, might be a fact. It says, knowledge can be distributed, but every person is responsible for handling and implementing own and general knowledge. This means, dear Robyn, as in your experiences made, knowledge is a helful instrument, but every human being is the master! Africa in its wholeness is a mirror to the rest of the world. People, who don`t speak, people who are integrated in certain public and non public investigation, which concern this part of our planet, do agree on this statement.
    Your article is very interesting. People, being sensitive towards certeins future aspects, should certainly read this. I know nothing, but feel, that you have written an very important article, which will be researched in a about 5 years.
    None the less, I want to give a mention. “Might everything be written, I can change everything!”

    August 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  4. keewatinbob

    A Base to build on...

    Individuals, communities and nations rally invest and grow around their values and dreams. In years past we built on family and some real values. Seems that in our new world we build on greed, fear and accumulation of things and power.... things that do not last. Building on these values hardly makes for stable foundations and explains how people can justify billions in bonuses while millions starve to death.

    Without a new base to build on societies and empires will simple crumble or battle each other for things and power. We have lost touch with what it means to be a member of the human race... and now race for toys that will not last.

    August 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  5. Brooke

    "people are realizing that future opportunities might get lesser" – Is that correct English??

    August 30, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
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  9. NYC fitness events

    t’s as simple as that.You must learn from others and from your self.Great stuff!

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