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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. 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 09/05/2012

I recently received such an interesting and insightful comment from a Scottish engineer who had read The Scots Crisis of Confidence that I've decided to give over my blog this week to him:

 

I've just read 'The Scots Crisis of Confidence' updated version, having read the first issue around five or six years ago, and thought I would share a few thoughts with you. The updated version is even better with some interesting insights added. I really feel if Scotland can face up to the issues laid out here, improve on what we can, and keep doing the good stuff well, we really can make lasting improvements to our lives. 
 
Firstly - well done! - what a fantastic summary of the way the collective Scottish mind works and how this impacts on our lives, for good and bad. It really hits very close to home, when reading through some of the anecdotes and examples - I just kept thinking 'Oh my God, that explains it'. All those niggly doubts, that everyone experiences, but we Scots sometimes seem to have amplified - your books opens up a great debate on where this comes from and how to tackle it.
 
The opening story rung very true for me, about the American woman who, despite loving lots about Scotland, feels that since she has moved here she has lost a sense of herself as she feels she has to fit in all the time, and as a result is losing confidence. I am Scottish born (in 1972) and bred, growing up in Glasgow to hard working, loving and positive parents. I was lucky enough to study Engineering at College/University and took my first job at a Japanese electronics company. I loved working there, with its mix of Japanese, American, Scottish, English, Irish and other foreign workers it felt really modern and outward looking. People were encouraged to put ideas forward to improve the factory processes and products, at all levels - often the best ideas came from the lowest paid 'shop floor' operators. One thing I also noticed was the Scots were absolute stand-outs as engineers and problem solvers - something the Japanese managers really liked and often acknowledged. The Japanese were often very structured and methodical, which is great for an overall business, but when it came to thinking on your feet and fault finding, the Scots were great.
 
At this time, I just thought that was norm - every work place in Scotland was brimming full of ideas and enthusiasm, and I saw our economic prospects as excellent with a country full of people like this. However a few years later, I had to undertake an enforced change of industry (Semiconductors largely shut down here because a company can run a similar factory in China and the like, for much less outlay) and moved back through to the Glasgow area to a more traditional industry. I knew it was going to be a different ball game - more old school - and was ready for challenges, however what I found was a real shock to me. The over-riding culture among the almost entirely local workforce was one of reticence, lack of interest, low motivation, jealousy at anyone who was 'bigging themselves up', and downright laziness. There could be many reasons for this - private/public sector, older industry, etc - but it really struck me how this Scottish industry could be in such poor shape. It felt a bit like being back in a school classroom - where speaking out would see you condemned as a 'smart-arse'. Dreadful. I could definitely feel the confidence drain from me in this environment.
 
At first I thought this was just a one off, but the more I see the more I'm concerned that maybe the confident, vibrant, outward looking, multi-national electronics company was the exception! I seem to have found that as a Scot amongst foreigners (including down south!) I am less concerned about what others may think of me. Strange I know, but up here you are much more likely to become the focus of a verbal attack (often witty and in good humour).
 
So where does all this come from? I've heard the film director David Lynch talk about "the suffocating cloak of negativity", and in Scotland this can smother the life out of people sometimes. Another example to add to the many in your book, is when my father-in-law comes to visit he usually walks in the door and finds a fault before actually addressing anyone - his latest being, on seeing his nine-month old grand-daughter for the first time in months, "has she got a squint?"!!

I have also been reflecting on Alistair Gray's quote about Scotland being battered down by it's "wee hard men". Tying this in with the football, which you also mention a few times - I spent 14 years playing for a local amateur team every Saturday, and lost count of the number of times these "wee hard men" would be on sidelines bawling, shouting, cursing, abusing and generally trying to frighten the life out of the opposition players (sometimes their own players too!). Our own teams manager was never exactly a beacon of positivity, with team talks often revolving around how bad we played last week, and threats of being dropped if you were that bad again! The older I became, the more this annoyed me, as I could see young guys freezing up under this pressure. I used to talk to the younger guys once we were out on the park and tell them what they did well, and to make use of their best attributes. This kind of behaviour chases young guys away from football, and indeed other aspects of Scottish life where going out and expressing yourself is necessary.
 
After I made that big career change a few years back and few other things went a bit pear-shaped in my life, all my normal smallish insecurities seemed to multiply and I started suffering from quite a severe anxiety problem. I didn't want to go down the medication route, so did loads of research and tried things like hypnotherapy, counselling, etc, but the one thing that really helped me get back on track (as well having a great family around me) was meditation. I went along to the Glasgow Buddhist Centre where they taught me a couple of simple techniques over a few weeks, and honestly within a couple of months I felt my nerves level out again. I've kept at this, on and off, for about six years now, and the effects have been remarkable. This switching off of the brain whilst in an awake state, and also paying attention to my thoughts ,has had a great impact on me. I care much less than I ever did, even before the anxiety episode, what anyone thinks about me. I feel as though, while by no means bullet-proof, I'm gradually shaking off my demons of self-consciousness. Like that David Lynch quote above - the cloak of worry/doubt/fear/negativity lifts when I keep at the meditation. When I think back I had always been a bizarrely Scottish mix of gallousness and anxiety!
 
I'm not saying that meditation is going to be a panacea and if everyone Scotland sat mumbling mantras all our problems would go away, but its back to that thing about the attention to the inner life - whether it's through meditation, prayer, appreciation of beauty/art, philosophy. It's definitely a key angle I reckon many Scots could look at to improve their lives - if nothing else it just slows things down and helps people switch off for a wee while (I know how hyper-active the Scottish mind can be! - it can get quite exhausting).

As you point out, the Scots appeared to be a jovial bunch pre-Reformation, so it seems we have to lay a lot of the blame here. Blame is maybe the wrong word - I believe that many great things came from the Scottish Reformation - the great advances in education, democracy, free-thinking, enterprise to name a few. However, in my opinion the baby seemed to be thrown out with the bath water! By discouraging the appreciation of beauty/music/art, and the attention to that more 'inner life', we lost a vital uplifting way of life which can really soothe and calm people.
 
One more point however, is that whatever changes we can make to the Scottish mindset, we shouldn't lose sight of the good stuff we do already. As I mentioned above, we often make great engineers, fault finders, scientists and our oral traditions, debating, idea generating and the like are loved by many around the world. Despite all the analysis of our down-sides, we're a guid lot!
 
Thanks and best wishes for work at the Centre, I share your passion for making Scotland a better place and unleashing our full potential.

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