In the Chicago Reader‘s Spring Books Special, Julia Rickert records her strong suspicion that Rhonda Byrne fabricated a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in her bestselling book, The Secret (“A Little Secret about The Secret“):
So what? you may be asking. The question came up a lot in discussions of Frey’s dishonesty, and back then the only answer with any weight was that we value truth for truth’s sake. Many readers were inspired by what they believed to be a true story, but it’s hard to show that Frey’s lies did any real damage. But The Secret has potential to cause tangible harm to both believers and bystanders.
For those of us who haven’t read Byrne’s book, reading the article makes it clear that, whether or not the quote is bona fide, Byrne has made a lot of other stuff up. (And given the way she’s prospered from it, no wonder she thinks it’s a cause-and-effect relationship.) My particular favorite is the way she seems to state — by inference, but I don’t know how else you’d interpret it — that the victims of the Holocaust had only themselves to blame.
Her insistence that individuals are solely responsible for the bad things that happen to them is arguably the nastiest part of The Secret, but she doesn’t ignore the likelihood that readers may object to the idea that there are no victims. "Often when people first hear this part of the Secret they recall events in history where masses of lives were lost, and they find it incomprehensible that so many people could have attracted themselves to the event," she writes. "It doesn’t necessarily mean they thought of that exact event, but the frequency of their thoughts matched the frequency of the event."
I wonder if we’ll ever see Byrne sitting in the James Frey Memorial Hot Seat? Not over the Emerson quote, but perhaps after some impressionable lad fails to will himself to fly after leaping off a cliff? I can almost hear the Q&A now….
Oprah: So what, exactly, possessed you to write a book telling people that they could imagine something and it would be true?
Rhonda: Oprah, my method works. The young boy’s problem was that he imagined he could become a bird, which is clearly impossible. Had he imagined that he was a boy who could fly, he would have glided safely to the ground.