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Coach Thyself

I found it funny and appropriate that many life-coaching programs discussed by Genevieve Smith were founded by salesmen and accountants [“50,000 Life Coaches Can’t Be Wrong,” Report, May]. It’s no surprise the programs sound like baloney; they are designed solely to encourage their clients to be in denial about the realities of their lives. With no actual life-changing tools on offer, a coach simply allows her client to see herself in whatever life the client wishes, forcing the client to consume more and more coaching in order to prolong and elaborate on the delusion shared by coach and client. A perfect self-perpetuating system.

Especially apt was Smith’s coining of the phrase “emotional pyramid scheme” to describe the way clients of life coaches often become life coaches themselves. But what other options are there? Perhaps it’s fairest to view this industry as a symptom of the broader failures of our economy.

Matthew Zorich
Alliance, Ohio

Smith portrayed inaccurately both the Coaches Training Institute and the life-coaching industry generally, taking an excessively critical attitude toward a subject that is quite complex. If Smith had suspended her cynicism during the coaching course she attended, she could have learned a number of valuable things — how to really listen, ask more powerful questions that elicit more authentic responses, explore a wide range of human experience, feel and show compassion, and expand curiosity. I would think a writer, just as much as a life coach, needs these sorts of skills.

Sadly, they were not on display in her essay. Smith mocked coaches, but many of us do important work. We help survivors of rape, political activists, Hurricane Katrina volunteers, parents, and regular people making their way through life. I stand by what my son calls my “noble profession.”

Amy Logan
San Francisco

After thirty years in the industry, I must say that I find Smith’s conclusion that coaching amounts to an expensive friendship entirely inaccurate. In reality, precisely because a preexisting friendship can easily muddy a coaching relationship, it is inadvisable for coaches to work with close friends and loved ones. The goal, finally, is to relate to others in a positive and fulfilling manner. A good coaching relationship, devoid of agenda or bias, provides a grounded structure for the client’s ongoing personal and professional development.

James Flaherty
San Francisco

Against the Grain

What a classic example of the elephant in the room. In Lisa M. Hamilton’s “The Quinoa Quarrel” [Letter from Bolivia, May], there is hardly any mention at all of Monsanto; the chemical giant’s name appears only in reference to a scientist who used to work there and a geneticist’s saying he would share seed with the company. I found it odd that Hamilton failed to consider what would happen if a company like Monsanto gained ownership of a particular variety of quinoa. For starters, the company would likely genetically modify the crop to be resistant to herbicides and prohibit farmers from collecting seed. It was disappointing that Hamilton missed this opportunity to remind readers of the harm inflicted on all of us by agribusiness.

Naomi Rachel
Boulder, Colo.

I trust I’m not the only one noting the contrast between Hamilton’s article and Daniel Smith’s review of The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert [“Consume, Screw, Kill,” May]. While Hamilton suggests that we need an international effort to develop hybrid crops to feed our growing population in an era of climate change, Smith points out that it is precisely this human tendency, intentional or otherwise, to intermix species from around the globe that is leading us rapidly to the next great period of extinction! The conclusion would seem to be that our salvation will come through more of the very same behavior we need saving from. Perhaps we just can’t do things any other way. A species that runs as we do may be destined to burn out fast.

Tom Peterson
Monkton, Vt.

Harper’s Magazine welcomes reader response. Please address mail to Letters, Harper’s Magazine, 666 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10012, or email us at [email protected]. Short letters are more likely to be published, and all letters are subject to editing. Volume precludes individual acknowledgment.

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July 2014

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