Shiny Happy People

28 01 2010

Pretending that everyone can get what they want so long as they believe in it enough is not only nonsense but potentially damaging.

It absolves us all from tackling the injustice, inequality and unfairness that still exist in our societies.

It places the responsibility for failure entirely with the failed individual and fails to acknowledge the part others may have played in individual success.

Surely there is a debate to be had about how much individuals are responsible for creating the good life and how much is down to us all. Or as Margeret Thatcher would have had us believe, is there no such thing as society?

There is a balance to be had between, for example, providing uplifting articles about how to find time to build a businees from home while juggling the conflicting demand of business/hom,e/family and obliging us all to lobby for decent maternity/paternity leave and payments.

Please don’t misunderstand, I think that we should celebrate success, after all the3rdi magazine which I co-founded and edit, is full of inspirational stories from magnificent women, but my concerns are threefold

1) that because obstacles have been overcome by one individual in order to achieve success we as a society are tacitly given permission to ignore the persistence and even the very existence of those obstacles. For example a black man is now president of the United States of America and rather than this being an opportunity to look more closely at the obstacles that have kept black people away from high office for so long it has allowed America to continue to turn a blind eye to inequality…if Obama can do it any black man can and, more worryingly, anyone who can’t must be stupid or lazy or both. In this way predudice is reinforced.

And as President Obama, the YES WE CAN president is himself finding out, at least in Minn??, No you can’t or at least not all of the time.

2) We undervalue the success for real stars. If all that is needed to succeed is to offer up your desires to the universe and the universe will deliver the positive attributes also needed to succeed, such as hard work and perseverance are undermined.

At the risk of offending the hundreds of self-styled patriots that have sprung up recently, our soldiers are not all heroes. Most of them are just young men whose job it is to be part of the army. Some of them behave appallingly and there are many cases of torture by British troops of the citizens of Iraq under investigation. Most do the job that they are paid for without incident and some do something heroic. They undertake an act of selfless bravery above that which is required or expected as part of that job. To call all soldiers heroes is inaccurate but worse it undervalues the actions of the real heroes amongst them.

3) It assigns those in society who are not at the very top, who are not shiny, happy people to the eternal role as second class citizens and makes it their own fault. Surely this cannot be right.

And so much of the tyranny of the positive soundbite socity is that it smacks of the celebrity obsession that pervades our whole society. I dream a dream is all well and good and it is fantastic to see the success of Susan Brown, but it also spawns Jedward, where fame and fortune are entirely uncoupled from talent.

Neither am I advocating a Victor Meldrew style pessimism and curmudgeonism that holds sway in a some parts of British society. What I am proposing is a return to reason.

A positive attitude may be a better starting point from which to change your life for the better than determined defeatism but it should not be used as an excuse not to tackle the basic inequalities that do still exist in our society.

You cannot reverse the effects of climate change, for example, simply by thinking positively about the problem. A positive attitude may allow you to believe that it is worth the effort of trying to make a difference but it is the action that we take that will actually make the difference.

And finally, it is all relative. I might look at any of the fine yachts in Inverkip harbour and think that it is big. Roman Abramovich would look at the same yacht and, in all likelihood, think it small. It is only when we get out a tape measure and see just how big it is that the yacht is removed from the subjective to the actual. We have restored some reason. And it is only when we look at the job we need that yacht to do, sail the high seas or manoeuvre through the twist and turns of the Crinan Canal that the value of each yacht is revealed!