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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 24/11/2005

We’ve just finished the fourth of our action research courses. Funded by the Scottish Executive or Communities Scotland they have all taken place over two days and have been a huge success. Since they encourage participants to reflect more on their practice and measure the impact projects have on client groups’ confidence, such training has the capacity to improve effectiveness.

These training courses have also been a useful learning experience for me. One of the facilitators on the course is Keith Hunter who has used action research methodology for years in his own work. The term action research I’ve learned was first coined by an interesting German social psychologist called Kurt Lewin. He worked extensively with groups, advocated various methods to enhance participation and was the first person to use the term ‘feedback’. Lewin also put forward the idea that ‘unfreezing’ a person’s belief system is an integral part of change. In other words, it is only by challenging values and beliefs that people can find the motivation to change their perceptions and behaviour. I suppose one of the reasons why I’m particularly taken with Lewin’s ideas is that I’ve just realised that much of my own energy at the moment is dedicated to work which could be described as ‘unfreezing’. In the past few weeks I’ve routinely been giving about three to four talks a week in which I outline some of the key values and beliefs inherent in Scottish culture. It is not unusual for people to be painfully aware of how applicable my analysis is to their own life and upbringing. One man came up to me after a talk recently to thank me and say that it was if I had lifted the top of his head and examined what was going on inside his brain. Others come up and tell me that it was if I had written my book, or given my talk, about their own life. People born and raised outside of Scotland corroborate that it chimes with how they see the Scots though often they are also aware of the positives in Scottish culture as well.

What is fascinating about Scottish culture is that it is based on some very strong beliefs and values but often people are not consciously aware of them. If I ask people to outline the barriers in Scottish culture to the development of individual self-confidence they rarely come up with the kind of points I’ll make in my analysis. They’ll tend to stick to issues of national self-confidence such as sport and the relationship with England but say nothing about the effects of Scottish egalitarianism, for example, on how people feel about themselves. However, when I outline how such egalitarianism can easily lead to a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone else’ kind of culture they so recognise it as well as other factors which inhibit confidence such as the huge fear of getting ‘it’ wrong or making mistakes.
Encouraging such values and beliefs to come to the surface so they can be examined and then confirmed, discarded or revised is an important step in an individual’s personal development. It heightens self-awareness and the feeling of personal control. I’ve spoken to thousands of people in the last year or so. Thousands more have bought my book. This new awareness of Scottish values and beliefs could help bring about the unfreezing Kurt Lewin saw as an essential part of the change process. I’m convinced that it could help lead to a gentle warming of the atmosphere in Scotland - to the kind of rise of temperature that helps you relax and enjoy life more

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