Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams ***

The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams chronicles a week Abrams spent with Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. The book is a mixture of anecdotes and adulations with a smattering of science. This a wide-ranging and thought-provoking book on the topics of spirituality and happiness.
I found several threads strangely off-putting.

“Think of a mother who is going to give birth. Almost all of us want to escape pain. And mothers know that they are going to have pain… But they accept it.”
Here we have old men discussing women’s pain and presuming to understand the thoughts and feelings of these women. Their presumptions are the old male stereotypes of selfless acceptance.

“The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop were uninterested in status and superiority.”
Throughout the book, both men profess humility and modesty. However, they always use their titles and are living lives of privilege and luxury. For example, Desmond Tutu suffered the hardship of being separated from his children when they attended boarding school for their safety, which he compares to the suffering of others under apartheid.

“Then, instead of inner values, we become self-centered—always thinking: I, I, I.”
Both men and the author, constantly use themselves as examples of right behavior. I is one of the most popular words in the book. As with many celebrities, self-obsession comes with the territory. The author especially interjects himself into the proceedings assuming the reader is as interested in his thoughts as the other two.


The Archbishop and the Dalai Lama disparage bullies, while simultaneously teasing and judging others from their positions of power. This is one of the several cases where they fault behavior in others that they accept in themselves.

“Charity is prescribed by almost every religious tradition… Islam… Judaism… Hinduism… Buddhism… Christianity.”
I wondered about charity in smaller religions, religions of smaller groups, smaller organization, religions with central hierarchies. Is charity something invented to balance centralized authority and privileged leadership?

If you are familiar with self-help books that combine spirituality and science, you might not find anything new or interesting here. I found the author to be a self-obsessed fanboy (to spite the realization that that label should be an oxymoron).

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