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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 18/08/2006

Guenter Grass, the Nobel prize-winning German author, has recently admitted that he served in Hitler’s elite Waffen SS. Ostensibly what is stunning about this revelation is that Grass wrote the great anti-Nazi novel 'The Tin Drum' and has been one of the leading figures encouraging Germans to talk openly about their fascist past. But now we learn that while Grass was encouraging openness and truth he was in fact concealing important facts about his own role in the Nazi regime. Now aged 78, and about to publish his autobiography, entitled 'Peeling the Onion', he says he needed to alleviate his own guilt by revealing the details of his ‘shameful’ past.

There is something in this story which has a familiar ring to it. I am continually struck in my dealings with people in my own area of work that they are often involved in promoting issues or ideas which are of great personal relevance to them. For example, a man came to see me a few months ago to talk to me about his training and consultancy work. In the course of the conversation he kept going on about how everything was about relationship skills. For him this was the key to the universe. At one point he said: "Confidence comes from being able to have good relationships with others. If you can do this you will be confident." Now while I am of the view that the most important thing in life is our relationships with others I simply don’t agree that being good at relationships is the essence of confidence. As I pointed out to him I could introduce him to at least ten women who are extremely good at relating to others but none of whom would necessarily be described as ‘confident’. What became evident in the course of our discussion is that what this quiet man, from an engineering background, probably had to learn in life was how to relate better to others and so it had become his mantra. Martin Seligman is another good example of this phenomenon. He is a self-confessed pessimist and believes that only a pessimist can really teach people the importance of optimism and how to increase it in your life. He also admits that he is never going to achieve the kind of happiness promoted in the USA – the Goldie Hawn version of happiness is how he often describes it. No doubt this is one of the reasons why he has written a book outlining different types of happiness which quiet, introvert types like himself can aspire to.

And, of course, I am also aware of how that old adage ‘people teach what they need to learn’ applies to myself. Being confident in yourself or your abilities was emphatically not the lesson I learned when growing up in a Scottish working-class family in the 1950s.

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