Firstly, a happy new year to all of you kind folk who read my ‘Thinking Aloud’ blogs. The turning of the year always makes me reflect on what has been and what might be in store in the year ahead. I recently discovered some mind maps and collages David and I had made as we visioned our future and was struck by how much we could tick off as achieved. It was a good feeling and reminded me of the power of setting positive outcomes.
However, when I went into our local bookshop in December to buy Christmas books for my teenage great-nieces, I was directed to an area of the shop for ‘teen books’, almost all of which were dystopian. There were stories of aliens, viruses, robots, environmental catastrophes destroying life and the world. How miserable, I thought, and not surprising that so many of our young are suffering from anxiety.
I managed to find two books that were more optimistic in tone but it made me think how difficult it must be for young people to have a vision of a better future when all around them is 24/7 news of disaster and uncertainty, digital games of violence … and Brexit! We have always had dystopian books, of course, and I probably read quite a few of them as a teenager – Dostoevsky wasn’t exactly a song and dance, nor was Camus’ The Plague, nor Kafka’s Metamorphosis. We had the Cold War, the potential of nuclear warfare, economic instability, and most of Europe dominated by one authoritarian regime or another, and yet our concerns were, I think, tempered by post-war optimism, the rose-tinted view of life portrayed by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn movies, and not having endless news reports of misery or disaster brought into our sitting rooms from one part of the world or another. We didn’t have the technology for such things.
What concerns me today is that no one is giving us a vision of a better future. All we get is the negative and the divisive. In my experience, both as a development coach and in my own life, I have found that when people have a vision and set goals they frequently achieve them. If we, as a country, have no aspirational vision, no tangible goals in this muddle and mess of Brexit negotiations, how are we to achieve them? How are people to know what they need to do to create prosperity and happiness in this country?
We need to talk about what is working today and what we want for tomorrow. Have you ever been asked by your local politician what your vision is for your area, for the country as a whole? I feel they guess and get snippets of information but there is no cohesive view of how to make life better, whether we leave or stay in the EU. And yet statistically life is good, probably the best it has ever been. But you wouldn’t know it from what you hear and read. We need to change the narrative of catastrophe that is so au courant at the moment.
And one thing is for certain: whether we leave or stay we shall all need to work hard to pull together again, to talk up the skills and strengths of the UK. We need to believe in them and have faith that we can pull through, whatever the result. In Cognitive-Behavioural psychology we encourage people not to ‘fix’ their happiness on a particular expectation or result – eg not to think “we must remain in the EU otherwise I shall be unhappy and everything will be a disaster” but to think perhaps “I would rather we remained in the EU but I can manage it if we don’t and can work hard to build success whatever the result.” The same sentence would apply for potentially disappointed Leave voters … “I would prefer it if we had left in the way I had imagined but I can manage whatever situation arises and make the most of it.”
If we don’t talk ourselves up, personally or as a country, who will? It’s unlikely others will do it for us and we need to let the rest of the world remember what we do have to contribute. Otherwise we shall just talk ourselves down into a demoralised heap of negative thinking. A self-fulfilling prophesy.
So why not rise above all the ghastly political wrangling and believe that, whatever happens, we can make a success of the future?
But, more importantly, why not take five minutes now to map out some of the goals and positive outcomes you would like for yourself, your family, friends, the UK and the world in 2019? Wise leadership would be a nice one to start with, wouldn’t it? One can but travel hopefully!