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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 07/03/2011 | 3 Comments

I've been ill for a couple of weeks and the enforced leisure has allowed me to focus on a number of things which at first sight may not appear related yet follow a pattern. They all involve something which I find dispiriting and disheartening -  the all-too-common tendency for people, when they disagree, to impugn their opponents' moral character not just their actions or beliefs.
The first recent instance of this was in my own village. A number of residents were keen on a project for allotments and a community garden. They worked assiduously to get funding for the project (approximately 70k would have been  secured). The landowner in question wanted the negotiation to be kept quiet in the village but the funding timetable meant the allotment group had to put in for planning permission. There was undoubtedly a few carts before horses but some of this, to my  mind, was part of a whole sequence of unfortunate events and communication problems – more cock-up than conspiracy. The plan for allotments was mainly objected to by a group of residents in a nearby block of flats who would see some sheds and greenhouses from their rear windows. They mounted a vociferous campaign which included anonymous leaflets. At the community council meeting, the Chair was accused of lying and the whole tone of the objectors' protests was that the allotment group were wilfully acting in a fraudulent and underhand manner. Indeed the tone at the meeting was so hostile that most of those who were in favour were intimidated into silence. I had no choice but to speak out in support. I then received a letter from an elderly couple in the flats wrongly asserting that I had questioned 'the architectural merit' of their building (when I only talked about the visual intrusion of the flats in a rural area) and calling me 'impolite and juvenile'. All this because my views were different from theirs!  (This plan is not now going ahead as the landowner has withdrawn his support so in this respect they've won.)  All of this is parish pump politics but nonetheless it's a window into what often passes for public life.  I'm pleased to report that at the last community council some sense seemed to have returned and there was much more listening and respectful interaction.

The second occurrence of someone being attacked personally for their actions was Wendy Alexander.  Before I explain why, I'd like to say that I have known Wendy personally for a number of years but I also want to make clear that knowing Wendy does not mean that you can work out my political allegiances. In the past decade I have voted for four different political parties depending on the election and the issues. I also know people who are senior in the SNP.

Wendy's recent announcement that she was quitting politics was treated with absolute derision in various sections of the press. There were all sorts of stories about how she had flounced out because she wanted to be made finance minister if Labour won power. Others said she was quitting because she had no faith in the Scottish leadership. The general tone of the coverage was: 'Come off it Wendy don't give us all that you want to spend time with your family stuff, as we're fed up being told such lies.'  Some commentators were derisive because they asserted that it was the pre-school years that were difficult for working mothers to manage so now her  twins were five she was home and dry. Oh really?

As someone who was once a working mother I want to say that I found not being there for my children more difficult as they got older – not less.  The school year is filled with occasions where parents are expected to be there – pantos, sporting events, concerts - and there is also the whole problem about what to do when children are ill or on holiday. But more importantly as children get  older they can communicate very clearly what they want from you. They let you know that they want to see you more; that they are unhappy that you are not putting them to bed. I also wanted to be there with them as well and I was lucky as I was able to work for myself for fifteen years.  If Wendy had become a minister she would have hardly been around at the weekend, never mind in the evening before the twins were asleep.  Add into this scenario the fact that Wendy's husband is in his mid 60s and she has ageing parents and it is not difficult to see why she could easily have thought that staying in politics was no longer her main priority in life – particularly when Wendy would admit herself she is more of a policy and ideas person rather than a natural politician.  Nonetheless her resignation was treated by some columnists as if she was some kind of cheat and liar.

And then there is my own recent experience of my morality, rather than my ideas, being called into question. Edinburgh University's Institute of Governance publishes a quarterly journal called Scottish Affairs.  The last edition carries a seven page review essay of my book The Tears that Made the Clyde. The review is more about political and  personal prejudice than evidence or argument and I'm not going to dignify it with a rebuttal.  I wouldn't even be mentioning it if it weren't for the fact that the last page becomes a personal attack on my moral character and integrity – I am, according to the author, Sean Damer,  'guilty of gross bad faith.' In a nutshell I am charged with writing a 'dishonest' book which is nothing more than my attempt 'to drum up' business for myself by making out that the problems in Glasgow are all about psychology thus allowing me to sell happiness and self-esteem.

Those of you who frequently read my blog or visit the website will be astounded by these charges. As so many of my blogs make clear I think the happiness literature useful for individuals but I do not like the politics of happiness. Indeed I wrote a blog recently where I ended arguing that for 'those who genuinely want to change the world (positive psychology) …  research needs to be embedded within a broader framework or movement for social, political and spiritual renewal. Social justice must be at the core.' I also firmly believe that the primary  focus of schools should be education - not health and well-being. And the idea that I'm selling self-esteem is preposterous – I've been the biggest critic in Scotland in recent years.

The great pity about attacking people's morality, rather than analysing their ideas, critiquing their suggestions or confronting the heart of the problem, is that it needlessly polarises people, leads to alienation and stops us from finding creative solutions as they often require the forging of diverse ideas. These personal attacks can also 'caa the feet' from people and encourage them to play safe and conform rather than put their heads above the parapet and say anything different. If we are going to adapt to some of the big changes we face (growing more food locally, being more active, bringing up our children better or confronting inequality or some of the massive social problems in our midst) we need to mend our ways. We need to understand that people are complex and often see the world differently from us and that doesn't make them bad people.

Comment By Comment
Joined: 11/03/2011

Comment Posted: 11/03/2011 15:34
1. I have just read the book, with no preconceptions, and thought it was brilliant. A few minor areas where I would not entirely agree with statements made but in general a great read!
2. I don't know anything about Carol or the Centre so I am just exploring this via the web site and no doubt will be more informed in the coming weeks and months.
3. It does not surprise me that the book has caused vitriolic reactions (and I don't know nor am I interested in the personalities involved). Anything which criticises the 'status quo' in our culture will always be resisted and rebutted; sometimes with good intent and sometimes from a purely self-interested even malicious standpoint.
4. For example, I think that our Glasgow politicians and senior officials have largely failed us in public policy and many (not all) do act out of self-interest and self-preservation. This is not a party political viewpoint, it cuts across all parties. Academics can also act with vested interests and there is no absolute objectivity in acdemic research, any more than in life in general.
5. In summary, I hope that the Centre and Carol will continue with their objectives which I broadly support (no advance blank cheques!). However, this work will inevitably encounter resistance including personal attacks. This is part of our culture, this is what we do to each other. We don't act with kindness, compassion and consideration. We have to work at this every day, on an individual and societal level. I hope this makes some sense!
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Joined: 11/03/2011

Comment Posted: 12/03/2011 11:18
I like to form my own views on things based on my own experience and judgement. Accordingly I have tried without success to access online the critical Sean Damer review article referred to. In the interests of proper debate, would it be possible for the Centre web-site to seek permission from the publisher for this review article to be accessed freely by an on-line link?
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