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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. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. 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 09/06/2005

Apparently the word for self-confidence in Russian does not have positive connotations and is almost synonymous with arrogance. I learned this earlier in the week when I was leading a workshop for about 20 people from former Soviet block states. They were in Edinburgh on a John Smith Fellowship programme jointly organised by the British Council. I wasnít particularly looking forward to my workshop. I had to get to Edinburgh for an early start and I was feeling a bit under the weather with a sore throat. I was also slightly apprehensive about leading a workshop on confidence with people from so many different nationalities. But, in fact, it was one of the most enjoyable sessions Iíve ever had on the theme of confidence. They all spoke impeccable English and were ferociously intelligent. There was no awkward silences and they asked great questions and made extremely pertinent points. What was so gratifying for me is that they mainly had never thought through the confidence issue in this way before. In groups they discussed why self-confidence matters more than before and then in the ensuing discussions they identified some of the ways that their national culture either encouraged or inhibited the development of confidence. Understandably there were some common themes round issues of equality, and not thinking you are better than others. But there were fairly big differences as well. Some of those present said that their countries encouraged and valued leadership, for example. Others said that the absence of good welfare systems also forced people to be very entrepreneurial and there was little of a dependency culture.

The workshop also confirmed a hunch Iíve had for some time - that there is some very close similarities between Russian culture and Scottish culture. It was the Russians in the group who most identified with what I said about Scotland. One woman who had been in Scotland a few years ago said that she felt at home immediately in Scotland. She felt in tune with the culture and felt that she could easily move here. Yet she didnít understand why. My description of Scotland helped her to understand why this might be the case. The nub of the issue is that the Reformation in Scotland wasnít just an attempt to depose the Catholic Church Ė ultimately it became the attempt to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. This is a huge, utopian goal that no other Christian nation has ever attempted on such a scale. It is, therefore, not difficult to see some similarities with the great socialist, utopian project embarked on by Russia. The problem with such a vision is that it leads inevitably to a great deal of social control as the lives of individuals have to be brought into line with the collective goal. In Scotlandís case for hundreds of years there was spying and prying as well as the discipline meted out by the Kirk sessions and supported by the state. One of the legacies of this time, I contend, is that people still think it somewhat dangerous to draw attention to yourself in case you are caught doing something wrong. In the case of the Soviet Union their pursuit of utopia led to Stalinism and the gulags. Again it led to fear of scrutiny, censure and punishment. Other similarities relate to egalitarian values which keep people in their place. Both countries also have very critical, analytical and intellectual cultures.

Of course, there are huge differences as well and I accept that Scotland, has never had anything like Russiaís political experience or commitment to state socialism. Our left of centre leanings look pale pink by comparison. Nonetheless there is still those indefinable similarities which the Russian I spoke to picked up within days of being here.

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