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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 12/09/2005

So that's the Vanguard up and and running now. I always thought it would be a great two days but it even exceeded my expectations. The speakers were fantastic and those who took part so engaged and interested. A few people came up to me and gave me very similar feedback: they couldn't remember being at another event which was simultaneously so stimulating and rewarding intellectually while at the same time having an emotional dimension. For those who didn't attend I'd like to point out that none of the speakers were ever 'touchy feely' but the content of much of the programme was about increasing positive emotion, optimism, meaning, life satisfaction, fulfillment and happiness. So many who listened were aware that this content was not only relevant to their own lives but to their children's or their employees'.

I'm also sure that there would have been a small minority of people who went away somewhat sceptical - particularly about Professor Martin Seligman's input. And, as far as I'm concerned, that is just fine. I have always known that there are aspects of Seligman's analysis that people were likely to disagree with or just not find convincing. The fact that he sees himself as an authority on the individual, and not on groups, is in Scotland - the land which very much believes in the collective - a big limitation. But nonetheless I'm sure that these sceptics still got a huge amount out of the two days. Apart from anything else it was a chance to consider their own ideas; it acted as a sounding board for their own internal thoughts and beliefs.

The part of the course which Scottish participants no doubt found most challenging is that for two days we rarely heard about class or inequality. From my own point of view, as the designer of the programme, I'm happy about that and not because I think inequality is unimportant. I grew up in a working class family, and like many Scots, social class is an important frame of reference for me. In my book I devote a considerable amount of time to mentioning social class, inequality and poverty. So the issue for me is not whether it is important but what we do about it. For years now in health there has been a huge emphasis on inequality and it has become a major focus for public health practitioners. But, as Professor Phil Hanlon, an expert on public health, pointed out in one of the workshops where the lack of an inequality perspective was being debated, inequality has been on the agenda for some time. It is the backbone of lots of initiatives but it simply isn't yielding good results and if anything health inequalities are getting worse. A new approach is needed.

A few years ago I read a great article by John Kay, an expert on economics. He pointed out that very often you are much more likely to reach your goal, not by trying to get directly from a to b but by what he called 'obliquity'. He argued, for example, that the companies that often are the most profitable are not the ones who go on about shareholder value or the bottom line but are the ones who care about customer satisfaction or staff morale. So perhaps in Scotland we might just find that our very up-front approach to inequality might be counterproductive. IN fact, it might even be making matters worse by heightening the notion of deficits and turning people into victims. By taking a more oblique approach, and stressing the importance of strengths and positive emotion, we might not only get to our goal faster but also have the knowledge to lead better lives.

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