In my previous study of the grammar of popular spiritual literature, I proposed that the “First Person Plural Omniscient” is a hallmark of charismatic speech, which tends to assume an unearned universality. I showed that when the FPPO is substituted for the first person singular in passages from Chogyam Trungpa and Pema Chodron, a hidden vulnerability and anxiousness is revealed.
The other grammatical tic that is prominent in this literature is a form of second person address I’ll call Second Person Intrusive Omniscient (SPIO). It flexes harder than the FPPO.
Here are some characteristics of the SPIO:
- It seems to address the consumer directly. This is deceptive, because the consumer’s relationship to the influencer is parasocial.
- It seems to be more intimate, allowing the influencer to seem like they know the consumer as a friend, family member, or lover.
- It seems to be omniscient, presuming to know the consumer better than they know themselves.
- While the FPPO hovers above in a moral high ground, encouraging a vague merging, the SPIO demands much more immediacy and closeness. I believe that this is only intensified through the longform podcast medium.
- It is the grammar of hypnotic induction. “You are now entering a world in which…”
- It can be the grammar of imperatives or shameful persuasions. “You must, you should.”
- It can easily be the grammar of high pressure, via accusation or mockery: “I know what you’re like…”.
- In the worst cases, the SPIO can carry palpable sadism. (At the bottom of this article I’ve printed some paragraphs from A Course in Miracles, Marianne Williamson’s favourite book, to make this plain.)
To examine the SPIO in action, I’ll present several easy-to-find quotes from New Age guru Eckhart Tolle’s best-selling book, and then offer the first person singular version to reveal the hidden grandiosity of the SPIO.
To my ear, translating these quotes — as with FPPO quotes — into first person diction lends honesty to the sentiments. Unless a writer is doing peer-reviewed psychology, whose internal lives can they really speak for, other than their own?
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that you are not “the thinker.” The moment you start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter — beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace — arise from beyond the mind. You begin to awaken.”
“The beginning of freedom is the realization that I am not “the thinker.” The moment I start watching the thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. I then begin to realize that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny aspect of that intelligence. I also realize that all the things that truly matter — beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace — arise from beyond the mind. I begin to awaken.”
“When you surrender to what is and so become fully present, the past ceases to have any power. The realm of Being, which had been obscured by the mind, then opens up. Suddenly, a great stillness arises within you, an unfathomable sense of peace.
“When I surrender to what is and so become fully present, the past ceases to have any power. The realm of Being, which had been obscured by my mind, then opens up. Suddenly, a great stillness arises within me, an unfathomable sense of peace.”
“Be where you are. Look around. Just look, don’t interpret. See the light, shapes, colors, textures. Be aware of the silent presence of each thing. Be aware of the space that allows everything to be.”
(Note: When Tolle issues imperatives, the translation requires a little more.)
“You should be where I am. I should look around. I should just look, not interpret. I should see the light, shapes, colors, textures. I should be aware of the silent presence of each thing. I should be aware of the space that allows everything to be.”
“One day you may catch yourself smiling at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on it.”
― Eckhart Tolle, Practicing the Power of Now: Essential Teachings, Meditations, and Exercises from the Power of Now
“One day I may catch myself smiling at the voice in my head, as I would smile at the antics of a child. This means that I no longer take the content of my mind all that seriously, as my sense of self does not depend on it.”
“When you are enlightened, there is one relationship that you no longer have: the relationship with yourself. Once you have given that up, all your other relationships will be love relationships.”
“When I am enlightened, there is one relationship that I no longer have: the relationship with myself. Once I have given that up, all my other relationships will be love relationships.”
Just to drive the point home, here are four paragraphs from A Course in Miracles, from which Tolle teaches. ACIM is also Marianne Williamson’s favourite book. I don’t know of another New Age text that deploys the SPIO with such sadism and brutality. These paragraphs are from ACIM Lesson 136: “Sickness is a Defense against the Truth”. The authorial voice is said to be Jesus.
7. Sickness is a decision. It is not a thing that happens to you, quite unsought, which makes you weak and brings you suffering. It is a choice you make, a plan you lay, when for an instant truth arises in your own deluded mind, and all your world appears to totter and prepare to fall. Now are you sick, that truth may go away and threaten your establishments no more.
8. How do you think that sickness can succeed in shielding you from truth? Because it proves the body is not separate from you, and so you must be separate from the truth. You suffer pain because the body does, and in this pain are you made one with it. Thus is your “true” identity preserved, and the strange, haunting thought that you might be something beyond this little pile of dust silenced and stilled. For see, this dust can make you suffer, twist your limbs and stop your heart, commanding you to die and cease to be.
9. Thus is the body stronger than the truth, which asks you live, but cannot overcome your choice to die. And so the body is more powerful than everlasting life, Heaven more frail than hell, and God’s design for the salvation of His Son opposed by a decision stronger than His Will. His Son is dust, the Father incomplete, and chaos sits in triumph on His throne.
10. Such is your planning for your own defense. And you believe that Heaven quails before such mad attacks as these, with God made blind by your illusions, truth turned into lies, and all the universe made slave to laws which your defenses would impose on it. Yet who believes illusions but the one who made them up? Who else can see them and react to them as if they were the truth?
In brief, what ACIM does is to offload the problem of evil onto the reader. The voice here is said to be that of Jesus. If Jesus is omnipresent and omniscient, why is his voice accusing the human reader this way?
Translating just one sentence here is quite disarming:
[Sickness] is a choice you make, a plan you lay, when for an instant truth arises in your own deluded mind, and all your world appears to totter and prepare to fall.
“[Sickness] is a choice I make, a plan I lay, when for an instant truth arises in my own deluded mind, and all my world appears to totter and prepare to fall.”