When we look at the way that Hill lived his life, Hill’s understanding of the Golden Rule meant that people would become indebted to you for providing something to them. It was a weapon. Rather than “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he believed that by providing something to someone or simply showing them kindness, they owed you something in return.
The idea of it all was absurd on its face. But it gained Hill national coverage in newspapers and magazines around the country. It’s doubtful 150 people cast votes in Hill’s little magazine poll, much less 150,000. But his award-giving tactic would later let him gain access to some of the famous people he so dearly wanted to meet.
Hill’s ideas were borne of the New Thought movement of the late 19th century and early 20th. Proponents of the philosophy included Mary Baker Eddy, who would go on to start the Church of Christian Science. As with any religion or religious philosophy, there are plenty of disagreements about what the proper way to practice might be, but the fundamental idea running through all of New Thought is that ideas and thoughts have very direct and material actions upon the world. Hill’s contributions to the New Thought movement simply added that as long as you could influence the world using only your mind, why not get filthy stinking rich in the process?
Hill was always dancing the thin line that separated brilliant marketing technique and outright fraud, often escaping the law because Hill would claim it was always the former and never the latter.
Americans are always amenable to the idea that thoughts produce real world results in some way or another. It’s practically enshrined in the US Constitution. The American Dream is a bit like Napoleon Hill himself—slippery, hard to define, and not aging well.