Cultural differences are a great thing. In fact, I moved over to this country because of many values I believe represent me better than those of my home country, and cultural elements that make living here a lot easier than living elsewhere. For example, I like how people here are more out than they would dare be in different places around the world and how your sexual tendencies are not seen as showing your moral worth as much as in other places.
However, I’m not going to talk about the things that work today. I see a big problem in the UK that is called positive thinking. When I moved over I found it so refreshing how people were not complaining all the time, I really admired the positive outlook on life. When you said you wanted to do something that seemed to be a leap from where you were at the time I was impressed by them saying “That’s great” or even just nodding and agreeing, like they meant “Of course you want that. It’s a good thing. And of course you can get there”. Much better than getting a snort, a look of disbelief or, even, a look that says “That’s dangerous, you’re crazy”, which is what I had grown accustomed to. What I discovered when I started working was that this branched out. I remember being confused when people gave me nervous laughter or weird looks when I said I was feeling tired or dopey or that the day felt long. I soon realised you weren’t supposed to say that. You are supposed to smile, look at the positive aspects and only discuss negative things in a balanced, objective way. And the object of your criticism must be work or organisation, always with a constructive edge. With friends, I’ve discovered something similar, though to a lesser extent. There seems to be a deep discomfort in hearing bad news or about how someone is feeling other than great. Ranting, complaining, etc. are things that nobody wants to deal with for more than a couple of minutes. By contrast I remember having hour-long conversations in which I would complain about my boss, my friends would complain about theirs and we would just laugh over beers. Complaining here seems… dangerous. It’s like your complaining might tear through the fabric of the screen to show how behind the flashy young professional look there hides a discomfort, a deep dissatisfaction with life, with waking up early, going to the office in your dry cleaned clothes, all that travel, the way you only know how to talk about work now. They think if you complain they will be forced to take a hard look at their own lives at have a nagging suspicion – no, they actually know they won’t like what they see. I much prefer the southern european version of “we all complain, it’s crap, but that’s fine.”. The core difference is that in Southern Europe we know it’s not about us. We know that if we are unhappy it’s not because we’re losers. We assign the situation some responsibility. The downside is that sometimes we assign too much, leaving people feeling stuck and powerless. Precisely what I was running away from. So, what is to be done when neither are good options?
I believe we have come too far down the path of individualism. If there is no community, no doing things for others even if it is not good for you in the short-term, who will take care of children, the sick or support others when they are unemployed or difficult things happen? Or even when they want to take a leap forward and need support in doing so? I have come to realise that individualism is only sustainable if only men hold it. It was never meant to be for women. And I see people in individualistic societies crying out for communal living arrangements. I think we need some middle ground. We need it so that we can do away with the power of gender and so that people can decide about their own lives and feel their power while also being able to express their feelings, which might not always be hunky-dory. Being able to live out your potential and being able to express your feelings and have them accepted are basic for mental health and wellbeing.
To finish, I leave you with a video on positive thinking as an ideology that serves power. It does a better job of explaining how it works in the context of the whole social system than I do. I know positive thinking has some good aspects, but I think it’s about time we looked the bad aspects in the face.