Rachel and I started reading this book together when we first got married, and only just finished it, which gives you an idea of how slowly we work through books, really . . .
However, for my own part, this makes my second time through the book (the first time I read it a lot quicker).
I find it hard, sometimes, as a Christian, to know what to do with self-help books, but at the same time I like reading them. The problem with them, is that the very notion of “self-help” kind of infers that for every problem in life, man is capable of finding some guaranteed “cure” to lift himself out of it, whether it be being overweight, poor, not having any friends (not to mention not being able to influence anyone), single without a partner, not able to cope with having his cheese moved, procrastinating, not being able to manage time, etc. etc.
I think a lot of these books (because they’re not written by Christians) miss the spiritual side of life: a lot of the reason we keep making friends is because basically we’re sinful. Gluttony that causes excess weight gain, bad attitudes that cause us to have no friends, wastefulness that causes us to spend more than we should – these are all symptoms of what happens when man tries to do exactly what he likes rather than taking note of what God has planned for mankind. So, at that level, just finding a few “techniques” to fix things up, doesn’t address the root problem of our hearts.
However, that said, with this physical body God has given us, we have the ability to exercise self-discpline and self-control, and change our behaviours and attitudes. In fact, if we’ve become Christians, we’re called to make major changes to our life, and if we’re serious about them, we need to give serious thought to the nitty-gritty of what that involves. So, in that sense, there can actually be a lot to be gained from studying some self-help books because the writer (regardless of his faith) may well have grappled and dealt (in detail) with issues that we as Christians need to deal with. (So, for instance, you don’t necessarily have to be a Christian to write knowledgeably about how to deal with time, but you do need to understand that a non-Christian isn’t going to be approaching the subject with the same starting point or end point that a Christian would.)
Which brings us to The Seven Habits. As far as I can tell, Stephen Covey is a Mormon, so he does make reference to his faith throughout the book, which gives it an interesting spiritual dimension beyond a normal self-help book (though I wouldn’t call it a “Christian” book). However, I think there’s a lot of good stuff in here for Christians.
I don’t want to go into details about the seven habits (you can always find a copy of the book somewhere and read them for yourself), but the basic gist of the book is that successful people, rather than just learning “techniques” for fixing problems, actually recognise that the important thing to change is their character and the way they view the world.
Covey argues that our lives need to be centred, not around our job, our spouse, our church, ourselves, our money, etc. but around what he calls “correct principles”. Herein lies the problem but also the hope.
The problem is that Covey doesn’t spell out what correct principles are. Obviously, you can tell from other parts of the job that respect for mankind, care for one another, fairness, honesty, etc. are what he considers to be part of these “principles”, but he doesn’t spell out where to get these from. In fact, he almost hints that they’re “natural laws” and that they should be obvious to everyone. I think this is a problem because, if you look around at the world, people are all the time disagreeing on basic issues such as respect for other human life, how you treat others, etc. and that’s why we have such a hard time with terrorism, wars and general nastiness everywhere. So to pin our hopes on some self-evidence “natural” laws is not a great idea, in my book.
So I think ultimately this book, for those who have no set of natural principles is going to give people either licence to make up their own, or it’s going to offer nothing to people who have no principles.
However, for Christians, because we have the goal of building our life around serving Jesus, we can find in the Bible the principles and laws that we should live by. So, coming as a Christian to this material, and knowing what my basis for living should be, I find Covey’s framework quite helpful for thinking about how we approach life, time and one another. I would be cautious, though, of finding this book fantastic, however, and not recognising that a lot of this wisdom can be found in the Bible.
The biggest challenge, however, is that this book sets down a really hard set of habits to live up to. Take the first one, for example, which is proactivity. By this, Covey means a lot more than just getting things done early without having to wait till the last minute. He means no less than realising that you can choose how you respond to every situation. So if something bad happens, do you complain or do you accept it? When things are not to your liking, do you just take it, or do you work to change the situation? When you come across people you don’t like, do you assume that they have to do all the changing, or do you look at yourself? Not easy, is it?
So, yeah, I highly recommend this book, with the above cautions. I think if you do try to make these habits part of your life (bearing in mind that they should rest on a basis of service to the Lord Jesus rather than just some vague “natural law”), then I think you will be a major changing force in the world.
4 1/2 out of 5.