If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all – Daphne Sandford
Kath was a tonic, a boost in times of need. On nervous first nights, it was her reaction we sought out, knowing she’d always say something constructive.
Weren’t they marvellous? she would beam, eyes glistening with joy. All of them!
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Somehow, Kath excluded anything unfavourable from her outlook. She had the happiest disposition I’ve ever known. She saw only good in everyone and everything.
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Should we instead have gone to the sternest person in the audience, a sceptic or even a cynic? After all, nothing’s perfect; judgement depends on selecting bad from good.
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between!
Kath’s enthusiasm had an infectious power. At early, tender moments we need positivity to nourish, comfort and hearten us.
Smile and the world smiles with you. This homily was sorely tested when we visited Moscow to see our son, who was teaching there.
Dad, stop smiling, he urged. The Russians will think you’re a simpleton.
How right he was. We saw not a single happy expression in the week we were there.
It became clear why: there’s never been anything to smile about. On the contrary, gloom has been the order of the day throughout the entire Tsarist, Soviet and present experience.
Experience, of course, is what really shapes our dispositions. It would be daft to expect ecstasy, elation and euphoria from a people as downtrodden as the Russians.
But some, with less cruel but still harsh backgrounds, have achieved the alchemy of turning past dross into a golden, cheery present. One such is our very own dear, green city.
The 1970’s. Glasgow hadn’t just been through the mill. It was beyond the mill, the workshop and the forge. The fifties and sixties had not been kind. Shipyards became graveyards, factories fields.
Then came the post-industrial 1980’s. Glasgow Smiles Better adorned shops, T-shirts, even – until Auld Reekie banned Mr Happy – Edinburgh buses.
What turned it around? A corny graphic, an excruciating pun and a questionable assertion?
It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. Somehow Glaswegians’ inner warmth found its way on to people’s outer appearance. Against the odds, Glasgow really did smile better.
We blasted the stour off our facades and the scowls off our faces.
Within a few years we were garlanded with not just smiles, but a Garden Festival too. Shedloads of season tickets sold in advance.
And, by the end of the decade, we were European. Capital. Of Culture! Tourists came; restaurants, galleries, shops and cafes too.
Now the slogan is People Make Glasgow. What if the city had never lost its industrial glory and the slogan was Glasgow Makes Ships? Would Glasgow have flourished anyway?
We’ll never know.
Don’t a place and its people need smiles, comfort and joy?
Remember Orson Welles’s shameless insertion into Graham Greene’s screenplay for The Third Man:
In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock!
It’s a crowd-pleaser of a line. Though, right now, I think I might go for the five hundred years of democracy and peace.
Not many people are like Kath and, thankfully, the opposite type – cynics – are as few in number. Most of us, I suspect, mess with Mister In-Between: we are sceptical but with a flexible disposition, meaning we could be happier if we tried.
Though moulded by our experience, we still have a fair degree of choice as to how exactly we tune our character and actions – grumpy or genial?
For a period, at work, I adopted a policy of being unfailingly positive. It didn’t always come easy, zipping the mouth whenever a negative thought began its journey to my lips. Laying on praise, encouragement and constructive comments.
I think – though you can’t measure these things – it worked. Over time, people seemed to react more positively than if I hadn’t made the effort.
There were problems, like the colleague who behaved, regardless, unpleasantly. All I can say is I managed to avoid rising to the bait.
I hope it improved the working experience – for my workmates a bit, perhaps, but certainly for me. It felt to be a helpful discipline, like going on a diet.
I wonder if it also meant – maybe – a slight diminution of ego in favour of others? If not alchemy, then a hint of altruism?
Does it follow that negatively inclined people are somehow selfish?
You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment!
Most research suggests that happy people outlive gloomsters. Maybe if you’re miserable, you don’t want to prolong the misery!
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith, or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
There’s one area where, I suggest, there should be no messing with Mr In-Between, no curbing positivity with judgemental restraint.
For this particular activity – perhaps the most vital of human relations – I believe our natures should conquer Lady Macbeth’s fear and instead be full of the milk of human kindness.
The raising of children.
If a parent can nourish, nurture, nurse, succour, sustain, strengthen, support, comfort, encourage, reassure, inspire, cherish, foster, treasure and love, then there’s not much time left for carping, censure and stricture.
Praise your child, then praise them some more. React positively, warmly and fondly to everything they do.
Of course, this benign approach doesn’t always survive a Monday morning struggle to school, nor a Friday evening traipse round the supermarket. But the drive to be as loving as possible is what counts; children respond to aspirations and can accept if they sometimes fall short.
Unstinting generosity of spirit is not the same as limitless liberalism, setting no boundaries at all. Saying ‘No’, meaning it and sticking to it, while remaining comforting, friendly and non-punitive – well, that’s the hardest job of all.
This is only my point of view, the alternative to the old ‘spare the rod and spare the child’ I was brought up on. But, in helping to raise our 4 children and now 2 young grandchildren, I’ve come to learn the advantages of positivity, the benefits of approval and the efficacy of praise.
Unfailingly positive. Even though you might feel shite inside, give it a try.
To illustrate this last remark:
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do?
Just when everything looked so dark
Man they said we better accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative…
by Paul Bassett, Glasgow, September 2019.
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