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Postcards from Scotland

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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 11/01/2009

I’ve been enjoying using some of the cards we’ve produced recently. We’ve been thinking about doing something of this kind for some time. We thought about carrying quotes on some of the key words for us such as confidence and resilience but when I looked further at the quotes we could use I could see that we were just going to end up with the fairly standard quotes from mainly American figures, like Ralph Waldo Emerson.  This is why we decided to stick with Scottish figures and select quotes which are interesting in their own right, or which particularly fitted with the Centre’s agenda. We decided to make the unifying notion – wisdom. We’re marketing the cards as ‘Wise Words for Turbulent Times’.

However, the wisdom tag immediately presented a problem. This may well be a contentious point, but for me that simply removed the possibility of using a quote from a Scottish figure such as Hugh MacDiarmid. MacDiarmid is a creative genius but I think few could call him ‘wise’. Wisdom implies some kind of balanced, and all round view ruling out MacDiarmid who very deliberately upheld extreme  positions. “I’ll hae nau hauf-way house, but aye be whaur extremes meet’” wrote MacDiarmid.  

Another difficulty was that quotes which seemed to fit with our project were often difficult to authenticate. So, for example, there are really good quotes attributed to R.L. Stevenson but the Stevenson society says that they cannot trace them to any of Stevenson’s works or letters. In the end I ploughed through many of his books and letters myself. I’m a fan of Stevenson but I just couldn’t find a sentence which would work on a card. The same was also true of lots of other figures.

I was also very keen to have at least one quote from a woman. This proved almost impossible. Again I  did a reasonable amount of research – even reading the autobiography of women writers such as Muriel Spark or Naomi Mitchison. What I found startling is that these women wrote mainly about issues related to their own immediate lives and never seemed to utter a sentence where they pontificated about life. In the end I managed to get a suitable line from one of Glasgow’s female novelists from the early 20th century – Catherine Carswell. “The prudent fledgling would never fly’, she wrote in her unfinished autobiography.

For me, the best part of doing this research was reading an essay by David Hume called ‘The Sceptic’. This essay is on Hume’s view of happiness and it carries in its few pages more wisdom on the topic than I’ve read in countless books. It is definitely worth reading. As the recession bites and more and more people worry about money, his observations are worth paying attention to. “A passion for learning” he writes, “is preferable with regard to happiness, to one for riches.”

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