What are the differences between "self-help" in its current individualistic connotation and the principle of mutual aid? How does an admittedly idiosyncratic and comedic book like Helping Me Help Myself fit into these ideas?
Micki McGee, in Self-Help, Inc., discusses the morphing of the meaning of "self-help" from referring to "cooperative efforts for mutually improved conditions on the part of a community of peers" to evoking a solitary and apolitical pursuit of individual improvement (p. 18-19).
Stephen Covey has the image of the "trim tab," which he uses to mean that you might look ineffectual but actually have the power to effect a disproportionate amount of change in your area; Suze Orman concludes her talk in New York that Lisick attends with the Gandhi quote that "we need to be the change we want to see in the world." But to what extent are these "gurus" interested in actually changing the world beyond improving the behavior and performance of individuals (and, dare I say, selling their products)?
On the one hand, seeing ourselves purely as individuals, with our own bootstraps to pull ourselves up by (or not), with our own "self" to "help," makes us less likely to conceive of our community, or our entire society, as something that can change in a radical way. Helping Me Help Myself does not challenge, for example, why Lisick and her husband and friends have to scrounge to get by just because they've chosen creative fields of work. Their struggles are their own private problems to deal with.
On the other hand, perhaps our society has benefited from some of the loosening of community bonds in favor of self-actualization. In the case of Lisick, she credits a stable, loving upbringing with giving her the confidence to choose such an offbeat lifestyle as an adult. In her previous book of humor, a collection of essays called Everybody into the Pool, she writes:
"I loved my normal upbringing. I just think the fact that I had a stable childhood was precisely what let me stray pretty far away from it without ever landing in therapy, rehab, or jail or having an identity crisis, eating disorder, drug problem, or prescription for antidepressants." (p. ix)
So the family support network was crucial, but living in self-contained American homes and fragmented urban environments also means that you can do weird things without risking alienation from the community as a whole. In other cultures, this would not be as possible.