Those days are passed now

June 21, 2008

Carol Craig came to speak to my class this week.

Her work springs from her interest in Scottish culture. (If you click on one link in this post, make it this one.) Her main thesis is that Scotland suffers from a crippling lack of confidence. She talked about the the troubled relationship between England and Scotland and the ‘schizophrenia’ of identity that this brings for Scots. She cited some aspects of Scottish character and culture that she sees as central: the reluctance to put one’s head above the parapet and draw attention; the bone-deep pessimism; the scepticism; the extensive social problems; the way that diversity is silenced. She painted a picture of something broken. She thinks Scotland’s need for positive psychology is great.

I was listening, transfixed. And in between listening, I was madly texting everyone I know: I’m learning Scotland’s psychology!

I have a complicated relationship with Scotland. With one exception only, all the men I have loved have been Scottish or of Scottish ancestry or deeply connected to Scotland. I worked for a Scottish company for six years, and the work and culture always seemed to be deeply informed by the national character. I have spent a lot of time there in the last ten years, and I have come close to moving to Scotland on several occasions.

Craig’s presentation was valuable for me. She is a very gifted presenter and she talked a lot of sense, but the resonance was deeper than that. At one point, she was talking about Scottish idealism and how it can lead to depression and anger when people don’t live up. She talked about the Edinburgh Calvinist ministers looking through the windows of their parishioners on Sundays to check that they were at their devotions, and how this has led to a culture of thinking that everyone’s business is the community’s business. And I thought, I recognise this. It helps me to interpret people I’ve loved.

Craig got me thinking about generalisations. Mostly I am not a fan of generalisations. (Please note careful choice of wording here.) But I have been known to make trenchant generalisations about the Scots. I have been accused of racism here, and I think that was probably fair, so I’m a lot more careful than I was. That’s a whole ‘nother post, really.

But Craig’s thesis is not just a collection of generalisations. Her book is profoundly scholarly – her background is in philosophy and political science – but her work is practical. She is using her generalisations to choose which areas of the positive psychology canon to focus on – confidence, self-esteem and resilience, for example. She is helping many Scots to change, to become happier and more resourceful. I find that exciting, and I wish I could be part of it.

There are aspects of Scotland that I love beyond reason. The landscapes of the Highlands, the atmosphere of the West Coast, the architecture of Edinburgh; all take my breath away with their beauty. And there are aspects that I find hard; I always felt rather ground down by the number of Scots whose football team of choice was ‘whoever is playing England’.

I don’t know how to be in relationship to Scotland. I love Scotland, but don’t always like it. I can’t live there now. And I am not of Scotland. I am a foreigner there. But Craig has rekindled my love of Scotland, in all its flawed glory. It hurts a little, but it’s good to be back in touch with it.


7 Responses to “Those days are passed now”

  1. Jo Says:

    How interesting. I’ve passed it on to some Scots! I like the phrase “I don’t know how to be in a relationship with Scotland”. Isn’t that the way we feel about so many people and things?

  2. Simon Says:

    I think she makes some very good points, whenever I go back to Scotland I’m always surprised at the way *everything* from buses to tea bags has to be labelled as ‘scottish’

    I just wonder if some of that is really a confidence thing – as Robert Pirsig once wrote:

    “You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No-one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically devoted to political or religious faiths or any other kind of dogmas or goals, its always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt”

  3. Francesca Says:

    Yes, I always remember that.

    I am going to have to think about the quote. I do see what you mean, though.

  4. PhilD Says:

    As I mentioned the other day I think it’s best summed up by a phrase from Alasdair Gray; ‘The early days Of A better nation.’ (Ken Macleod named his blog for it)
    Just for background, I’m second generation Irish, born and bought up in England. This gives an unusual perspective and a fascination on questions around national identity.
    I’ve been thinking about this post a lot recently. I think what comes across initially as national self-confidence is something of a false idol. Rather as in Ireland, a significant part of the national identity is negative, ie it is *against* something (be it say, the English, or the Tory Party et al). My impression is that that’s exactly where Scotland is right now, too busy defining itself as what it isn’t, but hasn’t yet figured out what it is.
    Don’t get me wrong, i have a lot of time for the place and want to spend more time there, not just in Edinburgh at festival time.
    And I do like that phrase about how ‘I don’t know how to be in a relationship with’ (the place – I feel exactly the same about Ireland, but that’s another post I guess.

  5. Francesca Says:

    This is really interesting.

    I was talking about this with someone who works in said Scottish organisation over lunch yesterday. He often works closely with Scottish executives, and he really connected to the idea that many of the difficulties and much of the bombast covers a lack of self-confidence. I would not have framed it that way before this, but I find it compelling.

  6. Ros Says:

    Ooh, how interesting. I’m moving to Scotland at the end of the summer (just north of Inverness). I shall see how it compares…

  7. Kate Says:

    I wish I could sit down for an hour or two and talk to you about this, because it resonates very much with my own experience of the place (although my Love of Scotland triggers tend towards: smell of brewery, rain, sodium lights, and mixed poured concrete and Georgian architecture).

    But what I really meant to ask, was, have you read The Wee Book of Calvin?

    A lot of it is “you know you’re a Calvinist if…” and is grimly (mistyped “grinly,” which kind of suits) funny. But some of it is heartbreaking, and I found that in a lot of ways it explained some things I’d noticed but never articulated about interactions I have had with some Scottish people.

    The last essay really made me cry.

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