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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In Praise of Negativity
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When people hear about the big vision the Centre has for helping to bring about a transformation in Scottish culture to make it more supportive of confidence and positive attitudes they often ask if I don’t feel daunted by the task. Of course, I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel some anxiety. But this anxiety is not so much about failing to make an impact on the agenda of lots of Scottish organisations. I'm
much more concerned about what people do with their new-found inspiration.
The reason why I feel fairly confident about the impact we are likely to make is quite simple: there’s lots of interest in what the Centre is doing and a real enthusiasm for the type of arguments we are putting forward. This is why I regularly give talks to people in organisations right across the public and private sectors. Some sections of the press may be keen to portray the Centre as ‘controversial’ but in fact it is not. There’s a huge support for what we are doing. In fact I regularly find lots of journalists, particularly young journalists, very supportive of our analysis. And this level of press interest helps us to keep getting our message across.
So why the anxiety? My anxiety is around what people do with the idea that we need to be foster a more positive atmosphere and help build confidence. From the experience I gained from working for fifteen years with individuals and teams, as well as from my own personal experience, I know there are no hard and fast rules about how to nurture confidence or how to promote more positive attitudes. It is not a question of saying positive good, negative bad as this can end up being repressive and hence counter-productive. Here’s a real life experience of what I mean. At an event I attended recently aimed at getting more businesses involved with schools, one local businesswoman, who was already very involved in her local primary school, demonstrated that she was a devotee to the positive thinking cause. Indeed she told us that if we went into the school she was involved with and asked any pupil how they were, they would say ‘’fantastic’ as ‘nothing else is acceptable’. I’ve little doubt that we live in a culture where people routinely never report being anything other than ‘not bad’. It is a pity that when things are going well for us we fear registering our pleasure or success in case others think we’re crowing or that somehow we’ll get our comeuppance. Hence when people ask how we are, we rarely say anything more positive than ‘not bad’ even when our lives are going well. But surely we don’t want to encourage a culture where people are expected to say they are ‘’fantastic’ if they don’t genuinely feel like that? Surely we don’t want to create a culture which undermines authenticity in relationships or usher in another era where it is not possible to express yourself for fear of being told off?
As with most things in life there is a strength to thinking in a positive way but only when it is appropriate to the situation and not overdone. Here’s an example from my own life and one that I’ve learned from enormously. The post I was working in latterly at the BBC was made redundant. I saw it coming and had made some plans. When the axe fell I immediately went into positive thinking mode. I convinced myself it was for the best and busily set about putting my new life into order. I didn’t spend one second moaning or whining or talking about how I felt I’d been kicked in the teeth. But a few months down the line when the BBC sent me my P45 and took my free telly away I came down with terrible sinusitis. I felt dreadful and I finally had to admit to myself that emotionally I found the redundancy difficult to accept. I had worked there for thirteen years. I felt undervalued and rejected and not admitting that earlier hadn’t been very good for my health. It would have been more appropriate to have been negative about what was happening in the first instance. To have acknowledged my negative feelings and got a bit of sympathy before moving on. Of course, some people if they are made redundant can spend too long in this negative, self-pitying state and need a bit of encouragement to see the best in the situation. But there is a balance to be struck and each situation is different. There are no hard and fast rules. Not only do we need self-awareness but also wisdom to navigate the complexities and paradoxes inherent in human experience. For example, brain imaging techniques show that Buddism produces some of the happiest people on earth. The irony is that Buddism does not teach its followers that life is fantastic. Far from it - it is a philosophy of suffering.
I passionately believe that there is so much negativity in Scotland in the form of excessive criticism, blame and pessimism that as a culture we can benefit enormously from what the new discipline of Positive Psychology has to offer. But we must be careful lest well-meaning zealots try to demonise negativity and end up making things worse for individuals, not better.
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