Sunday 18 August 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'Passive Aggressive? Can't hear you!'

Oprah Winfrey (AP)
Oprah Winfrey (AP)
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

I'm not one for labels, but I think I've identified a new form of anxiety and I think I have it. I have Anxiety-Book Anxiety or ABA. This is a condition whereby you become troubled by all the self-help books landing in the offices of a newspaper on a daily basis. You worry for the people involved. As each one arrives you wonder if this person has done something special that will set their anxiety book apart from all the others, and if not, will this all end in disappointment for them? Indeed, you worry that they might be feeling anxious themselves about how crowded the market has become.

I used to feel this way about novels. New novels would arrive in here every day until there would be mountains of them. And you'd wonder who was going to read all these novels. You'd feel sorry for these authors and all the work they'd put into these novels, the vast majority of which were never going to be regarded as great novels, or even good novels. But clearly they thought they were. They believed they were worth reading, possibly even great. And their publishers possibly thought the same. But I would see them sitting unloved in here, no one bothered with them..

But somewhere in the last few years, the whole notion that everyone in Ireland had a book in them, became the notion that everyone in Ireland has a self-help book in them.

I stress that I say all this with love. I like the odd self-help book myself. I find they are all more or less the same thing, but it's no harm now and then to remind yourself of these things. Right now the vogue is for some twist on Buddhism/mindfulness. There's also a new vogue for purpose. The purposeful organisation is a big thing in the business zeitgeist, and in the self-help area, purpose is everywhere. Even Oprah herself has a new book around the whole purpose thing, and let's face it, Oprah has been around the self-help scene for a while now. She knows what works.

Another reason I say all this with love is because I too was once a budding self-help author. I like to think I was a bit of a pioneer in this area. Mind you, I never wrote an actual book. I hatched a few during late nights with friends, but I just never had the time or the inclination to write the actual book.

The idea that I might write one was a handy notion to have at the back of my head. It took the pressure off when people would suggest to me I should write a book. I would say yeah, maybe one day. I have a few ideas all right. The ideas, such as they were, were things like the system I called ENBY. Expect Nothing. Be Yourself. I'll admit I hadn't really fleshed it out beyond that. I think the truth is that I wouldn't really have the patience to sit down and write a book. It just seems too big a job and I'm too lazy and skittish. And if I did, I reckon the book wouldn't be any good. That's not false modesty. That's just the truth.

I think I was attracted to the self-help genre because that sounded like the easiest kind of book to knock out, one I might realistically do. But even that was too much. I sort of regret it now, because the moment is gone. Everyone's at it now.

I still have my little concepts though. I think if I did do one now, the way I would make it stand out would be by not encouraging readers to be all compassionate to themselves and others and whatnot. I think it's time for a self help book that encourages people to toughen up.

For example, I've always thought that being passive aggressive is an unfortunate part of the Irish DNA. And the fact that no one is allowed be openly aggressive any more has only made it worse. The trouble with passive aggressive people is that you're tempted to be passive aggressive back, so it becomes a cycle. But what I've realised as I've gone on in life is that the best way to handle PA is ignore it. If people think you're not picking up their PA digs it drives them nuts. So the key is, the more PA they are, the more you smile and ignore it. If they want to send you a message, make them come out and say it - which they can't these days. I think I'd call the system PACHY. 'Passive Aggressive? Can't hear you!' There we go. Another book I'll never write.

'Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge' continues on RTE 1 on Wednesdays at 9.35pm after the news and weather

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