Are you as fed up as I am with the amount of negativity and pessimism that exists in this country? Watching the 10 o’clock news does not make for a happy bedtime. Almost every media report is slanted towards the negative – for example, what the NHS is failing to do rather than the daily miracles they perform. The press have the power to shape our perspectives and beliefs and drama sells newspapers so inevitably stories can be ramped up to catch the public’s attention. Our political leaders reinforce these messages by talking of division and a “broken Britain”. The worst thing is that we end up believing it! We need more balanced perspectives.
This morning we happened to re-read some paragraphs of Napoleon Hill’s Success through Positive Mental Attitude. The passages reminded me how important his message of a positive mental attitude is to happiness, health and success.
Hill’s message also reminded me of an initiative I had wanted to set up way back in 1995 to “Think Positively for Britain” . I don’t know if you remember but the recession of the early 90s had put us in the doldrums and I became aware that we are very good at the doldrums in the UK, that we have a habit of denigrating ourselves and being apologetic for more-or-less everything we do or stand for. And I felt then, as I do now, that such negative messages only lead us into a state of paralysing disempowerment. As I wrote in my report in 1995 “every time we talk negatively about the UK we bolster the image of a failing and disintegrating nation”. Do we really want the rest of the world to see us and respond to us in this way, particularly when Messrs Barnier and Juncker are happy to do this for us?
It seems to me all the more urgent now that we shift ourselves out of this gloom. How can we bring up a confident new generation when the messages that young people receive are that they are in a country that is about to fall off a “cliff-edge”? We need to inspire the young to rise above the negativity and create success despite the very real challenges we face in the world. Positive expectations, when based in realistic possibilities, motivate others to step up. We need our leaders to talk of unity and vision and what each of us can do to help achieve this.
We have a tradition in this country of helping entrepreneurs and supporting small businesses. Start-ups are given tax relief and concessions on VAT until their business is established. In July this year the employment rate (the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 who are in work) was 74.9%, the highest since comparable records began in 1971. Our youth unemployment figures are 12.3% compared to up to 46% in Greece and many young people in the UK want to, and do, start their own businesses – our tech companies are thriving as are our design, music, fashion, film, life sciences and service industries. That’s pretty good news as far as I am concerned.
We beat ourselves up about everything – Brexit, racism, inequality, poverty, housing, health, education. You name it, we complain about it and of course there are very real improvements to be made in many areas but right now we need people to feel energetic and willing to work hard in order to tackle the challenges of a changing relationship with the world. As Napoleon Hill says, we need to attract success by being the sort of people others want to work with. We have shown ourselves capable of this in the past so there’s no reason why we can’t do it again.
I suggest that we need to review the reality of our tendency to apologise for our existence – they say the Brits say “sorry” even when others have bumped into them (read Watching the English by Kate Fox).
Are we really that much worse a country than others? Yes, there are anti-immigrant groups here but look at the rest of the world – the numbers who voted for Le Pen in France, the far right movements in the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland, Austria. All over the world there are many families who do not condone their offspring marrying outside their ethnic or religious community. I am not condoning this but I just question whether we are truly worse than others are? There is an assumption that by the small majority that voted for Brexit it makes us all racists, though certainly not everyone who voted for Brexit was racist nor a Little Englander.
Yes, we have some class issues but the Americans have their Ivy League, the Italians have any number of Counts and Contessas, the French politicians have almost all attended the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) and the Indians have their caste system. Yes, we had an Empire but so did the Dutch, French, Chinese, Romans, Spanish, Portuguese and many more. Yes, we have inequality issues of social mobility but believe me it is a very different world to that of my 1950s childhood in terms of opportunity for all. We have a long way to go still but we need to acknowledge the changes that have been made and use them as a springboard. We need to remember, also, that not everyone wants to move upwards – that people have communities of friends, cultural and family networks that feel comfortable to them. I also question whether, while the term “posh” is used as an insult, it encourages people to move up or become wealth creators? People tend to use the term “rich” as a criticism, forgetting that wealth creators can become philanthropists.
I am not condoning the situations that need improvement but my question is to check whether we are really so much worse than others in the way we currently seem to think of ourselves? Our institutions of government, law and social services are not perfect but they match up pretty well to those in other countries. Let’s acknowledge what we have developed over the centuries. It isn’t about comparing ourselves with others necessarily, as comparison doesn’t always work when each country has its own unique circumstances. It is about perspective. Let’s not judge ourselves more harshly than we judge others. It isn’t good for our future, especially in a time of false truths and radicalisation.
The majority of people here live in better circumstances than ever before. We have a reasonably civilised and tolerant society where we strive for equality of the sexes, classes, gender and race, even if we inevitably don’t succeed as much as we would like to. Far more people today have a roof over their head, central heating, fridges, cookers, washing machines, televisions, a mobile phone and cars, than in my childhood. We benefit from a National health service and free education. We can drink the water from the tap and be assured that our sewage system works pretty well most of the time. Having travelled to over 50 countries, I feel we have much to be grateful for and yet we certainly can’t be complacent and need to keep striving for improvements.
My argument isn’t about nationalism or empire building or any political movement. We don’t have to wait for politicians or social services or anyone else in order to be able to start conversations that remind us of the better aspects of life here. We can do it now, for ourselves. We can build up a sense of confidence and worth, a sense of belonging to something good. This focus can make us happier and also improve our health. The Danes may have invented Hygge but surely we have done cosy for generations? We live in a beautiful country made up of a multitude of good people: let us celebrate what we have achieved. We need to believe in ourselves and our ability to create more success through collaboration, despite the challenges. Let’s start describing ourselves as a country in which there is enterprise, achievement and potential.
In my 1995 initiative I suggested that we allocate a time each day, say 8.15am, where we focus on thinking positively about what is working and could work, rather than what is not. I suggested people identify and share just one thing that pleased them about living here – for example, perhaps public libraries, public footpaths, national parks and forests, our immense generosity as a nation when giving to charity, Bake-Off …? Why don’t you name what comes to your mind and do let me know – and if you manage to persuade a journalist to print a positive story I will give the first ten people who do so a copy of my CD on positive thinking!
Napoleon Hill: Think and Grow Rich; Napoleon Hill and Clement W Stone: Success through Positive Mental Attitude; Napoleon Hill and Dennis Kimbro: Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice
Kate Fox: Watching the English
Charlotte Abrahams: Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures. Living the Danish Way.
Positiveworks Ltd is now owned by Sixth Sense Consulting www.sixthsenseconsulting.co.uk