Phenomenal Woman

Phenomenal Woman

(Here is Oprah performing Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Women : Choose the Denzil Washington video)

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou

And here is the link to Maya Angelou‘s website and booklist

Courage and mindfulness

Fragilite by alibaba0 via FlickrToday, Paolo Coelho, as ever, said something both wise and challenging.

“Creativity is a courageous act.  Avoid opinions.”

It was certainly challenging to me.  I use this blog as a filing cabinet to keep my notes as I think out the connections between the things I am reading, thinking and doing.

It is a rag bag, yet it has worked out well. A few loyal readers make it sociable too.

But I’ve begun to tire of having opinions partly because I live and work in worlds where opinions are ten a penny (and that is saying something as it is very difficult to buy any thing in UK for less than very many pennies).  Like a toddler grabbing at an animal, we voice our opinions for the pleasure of feeling powerful and with reckless disregard of any damage we might do to anyone else or ourselves.

Courage comes from anticipating consequences.  Courage comes from understanding that to do right we might also do wrong, at least in some parts of our lives and the lives of others.  Courage comes from seeing through whatever we start and working through what we start to its natural end.  And sometimes courage leads us not to start at all, not out of cowardice, but because it is clear our act is just a worthless opinion and as self-indulgent as  a a small child handling an animal roughly.

It’s perhaps a feature of ‘mindfulness’ to be aware of the impact we have on the world and to act connectedly, and sometimes not to act because we realize our act is disconnected and minimally noise and potentially destructive.

Mindfulness and courage.  Do they go together?

Do we have the courage to recognise courage in others?

I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.

Anais Nin

That would be the good way to evaluate any one who will have power over us – do they have the courage to treat us as person with our strengths and weaknesses? Do they have the courage to engage on an equal footing?

What would our relationships look like if we were to make enormous demands on others, if we did not doubt their courage or toughness, if we did not believe they were naïve or innocent?

What would our courage look and feel like?

I think we would enjoy it.

(And when powerful people do not have the courage to treat us as people, do we have the courage to recognize their fear?)

Find the courage to apologise and invite by understanding the deep hurt

When we are outraged, we don’t make a lot of sense

I went to a fairly “diverse” university during a civil war: we had black students, white students, and others!

Life as an “other” was interesting. People who were partisan assumed that you were “for” them, or “against” them, on whatever criteria they thought relevant. It was nothing to do with you exactly ~ you just happened to fit in to some fantasy narrative they had in their heads.

As an “other”, you also spoke to people on both sides and you got to hear what they thought of “the other side”.

Conflicts are deadly. Don’t get me wrong, but if people knew how funny they sounded, maybe they would stop to hear themselves.

I don’t hate you because you are different ~ I make you different so that I can hate you

This is how it went.

Black students said white students were ‘thick’ and white students said white students were ‘thick’

The evidence, on both sides, was that ‘they’ had to work so hard!

I studied psychology and sociology, and even if I didn’t, I would have known that we are ignorant about people we never speak to and that we over-simplify their stories. We also describe common human failings as evil, rather than common human failings.

What was amusing is that both sides perceived working hard as an insult! That was what we all had in common.

Yaz stupid if you have to work hard!

Being lazy wasn’t an insult, but stupid was.

We make people different when we hate them but we are not all the same

Not all cultures believe that being lazy at college is cool. I taught in NZ for a number of years and we had many students from China.  Almost without exception, they would arrive talking about ‘working hard’.  Invariably, by third year, they would be saying, “These Kiwis might have something going here. They don’t do half as much work as I do and they get by”.

So what we value is not universal by any means. Our insults are not universal by any means. Indeed, when our families haven’t spoken for generations, it is a bit of a miracle that we think the same way.

When people don’t ‘like’ us, we make them different

People locked in conflict often do have heaps in common. Most of all, they want attention from the other side.

  • They want to be heard.
  • They want the ‘other side’ to acknowledge them.

Conflict is about status and belonging. We should never forget that.

The conflict spiral is a contorted, complicated process.

It goes like this.

  • I do something (following my imaginary but highly valued story in my head).
  • In that story, I am somebody.
  • My actions set up a relationship with you (good, bad or indifferent).
  • My actions may give you pride of place (or take away your status).
  • If I have taken away your status, you have a choice of reactions.
  • If I am very powerful relative to you and I have many resources that I could share with you, you might choose to go along with my abrogation of your status.
  • If I have power but I lack anything that you really want and can only get from me, you are more likely to react.
      • You might react angrily. In which case of course, my status is threatened and a new process begins. If I have more power than you and very little social sense, I will probably hurt you.
      • You might have great social skills and make a joke which would allow me to apologise quickly, should I be so inclined.
      • The culture that we share might have other solutions. There might be ways that I can “pay you back” that are understood and accepted. Irony is one such leveller.
      • The culture might have solutions that allow me to pay you back in ways that you don’t know about ~ you spit in my tea, for example.
      • Or you might choose to seek redress in other ways. The most likely way is that I lose status in your eyes. You stop believing that the status that comes with my power is legitimate.

In the short term, I might never notice nor care. I have the power, right?  Why should I care?

But I no longer have your respect. In time, you will slowly start to make me the mirror of all you worry about in yourself. If you think that working too hard is a sign that you are no intellectually-equipped to be at university, that will be what is wrong with me too. Not because it is true, but because I don’t talk to you any way. As I don’t talk to you anyway, you might as well be the place where I “dump” all that worries me about the world!  You make me different (in a way that is intelligible to you) to explain why I don’t like you!

And as our relationship descends in to one based only on power, I will be able to live out my fantasy narrative without worrying about how it affects you.

We are on a one-way hiding to nowhere!

So how could we have resolved the conflicts at my university?

We were in the middle of a war and on the whole, the university did a pretty good job of keeping things moving.

  • We were open and we were studying. Under the circumstances, that was pretty good going.
  • We did have a class of “others”. Some of us were crossing the divide and learning a little. Painfully, sometimes. But stripping away generations of animosity has got to be more painful than removing a sticking plaster, right?
  • We did have tutors who held up mirrors to our interaction. Social science lecturers often drew a map of where we sat and showed in other ways how we thought and behaved.

We needed more though. The trouble is that in a civil war, the attitudes of young people reflect the attitudes of their elders and who was going to do ‘more’?

What we learn from communities who’ve lived through intense conflict

The message for those of us not living in communities torn apart by strife is this.

Don’t go there! Don’t move along that path!

When you are ‘dissed’ by someone .  . .

.  .  .you will be angry, disappointed, powerless and dejected.   You will want to retaliate.  You should remember that your ultimate weapon is contempt. By diminishing your status, they have lost status too. The have last status enormously, actually, because the only way to regain that status is with your good will which is not available right now.

Maybe when they insulted you, they meant to be aggressive. It is possible.  Maybe they have got carried away with their fantasy world. We may be want to head that off gently!  Or, maybe their lack of sensitivity to us was caused because we were insensitive in some way to them. Maybe, we did something to inadvertently kick off the spiral of contempt and conflict?

The first possibility to avoiding ridiculous conflict

When we are over our initial irritation (which we feel like it or not), our first possibility is to attempt to restore their status. Just gently. Invite and apologize.

When you have power (and you may have more than you think) .  .  .

.  .  . you will probably be thinking something like “I am right”.  You will be justifying your actions to yourself.  That is a good sign that you are riding roughshod over someone.  Watch yourself!  Remember it is easy to do because it is easy to do.  When you have power, it is oh, so easy.  You more than anyone must bring to a halt this one way hiding to no where.  When you leave people with no alternative but to think “He, or she, has behaved badly.  I have to pretend to offer respect but that is all it will be.”  Then the spiral begins, so slowly that you may not notice at first.

When you notice the spiral, stop.  Don’t worry where it began.  Don’t worry who began.  Just stop and say to yourself.  My loyalty to this person is worth more than anything else.  I can absorb a little irritation.  I can absorb a relationship where I don’t throw my weight around quite so much.  Let me acknowledge that they want my respect as I want theirs.

Let me just stop and show my respect.  Apologize and invite, as Ben Zander says.

Apologize and invite, no matter who is right and who is wrong.  Anything to avoid getting into deep conflicts where we make each other the bad guy to cover up our hurt.

 

Do you hate your job? Can we swap!

Hating our jobs .  .  . let’s do some extreme living!

You are in good company, aren’t you? Most of us hate our jobs. And it would be cool to have a job exchange.

I have another idea though. I found it on a list of unusual things to do before you die. It’s a kind of “extreme living”. The idea is this : very deliberately find a job that you hate, and do it. There!

Now why would we do that? Why deliberately find and do a job that we hate!

Because we can. Be. . . cause . . . we . . . can.

No, don’t walk away. Of course it is daft to do something unpleasant.

It’s enough trouble escaping what we hate. Why do more?

Because . . . well, you know what I am going to say. Because – we – can.

You dread your job because you are not in control and you think you will never be in control.

There are lots of times in you life that you are not in control.

But you can practice being in situations when you are not in control.

  • When I was a graduate student, I very deliberately went to movies on my own. Other people went in groups. It looked odd for a young person to go on their own. So I did. Until I stopped being uncomfortable.
  • A bit older, I spent three months traveling from city to city in Europe very deliberately arriving at midnight with no accommodation. Until I stopped being scared of finding myself with no where safe, dry and warm to sleep. Or rather until I learned how to find somewhere to sleep no matte where I am. You can imagine I traveled a lot more extensively because of the self-designed training course that I gave myself aged 25.
  • A bit older, I decided to overcome my fear of speaking in public by presenting a public talk every month for a year. I did. Many times, hardly anyone came. But I wrote a new paper (a proper academic paper) and presented it.  For 12 months in a row! I learned the art of getting on with it! And I stopped wasting time on anxiety.

So get over you dread of jobs you hate by deliberately taking a job that you hate!

Bet you learn a lot. Bet you come out the end knowing you can survive any job.

And there are many other things better faced head on.

Part of life is dealing with the dross.  There is no better way than giving yourself a crash course.

Do it over and over again until you are good at it!

 

P.S.  Great way to apply for a job. “I am applying for a job because I expect I will hate it  .  .  .”  That made you smile.

Do you have the courage NOT to be happy?

If you came here saying “Yes!”, you probably also sat up straighter, jutted out your jaw just a little, and felt more determined.

We need one defensive pessimist on every team

You are probably what psychologists call a ‘defensive pessimist’.  You are essential to business and family life.  You think ahead and make sure things get done!

But do you really dare not to be happy?

What if I told you that happiness lights up different parts of your brain?  And in your steely resolve, you are shutting down processing power that you need, badly?

In short, you are running, well limping, like a computer that needs to be cleaned out sooner rather than later.

An organized person finds time to be happy

If you really are as organized and determined as you say, then you WILL find 5 minutes at night for some quiet time to reflect on the day.  You will have time to tick off everything that went well and you will have time to ask yourself a simple question: Why did I do so well?

So often, you’ve done well because you think ahead, because you are reliable and because you are persistent.  Carry on doing that!

Be organized.  We need you.  And be happy too.

Ask “Why did I do so well?” and marvel at how much better you sleep, how much you begin to enjoy hearing the birds sing, how much your appetite levels off (not too big or too small), how much you don’t have to push so hard but you get things done anyway.

You don’t believe me?

I thought you were the thoughtful one!  You can’t tell me I am wrong until you have tried.

Leading with psychology: belonging is the first competence

We can only change successfully when we belong

As a young work psychologist, I was lucky. I graduated just as Zimbabwe achieved Independence and I joined the work force when investment was high and change was rapid, far-reaching and positive.  Everything was being turned inside-out and upside-down, but in an climate of hope & expectation.

The business conditions of today are not that different – except that there is little hope & expectation. Other than Barack Obama, we don’t have leaders who are able to point us in a general direction and say “that way guys”.   And we don’t have investment flooding in. Times are tough. Failure and blame are in the air.

This bring us to a little-talked-about issue in change management. We can only change successfully when we belong.

Rethinking the work of managers

This week, McKinsey published a report on re-energizing senior managers. I almost didn’t read it. Why do I care about senior managers who created this mess, I thought?

That is precisely the point. They can’t think straight when no-one cares about them.

  • Yes, it is clear they made the mess. They know that.
  • Yes, it is clear that whatever business models they used in the past must be wrong. They know that.

But, they can only “step-up-to-the-plate” and help us work out the new rules when they know that we will accept them as they are – not all-knowing.

Remember for a long time we’ve treated managers as if they are all-knowing. We’ve given them conspicuous lifestyles because we wanted to reward this all-knowing.   And now they are not all-knowing, who are they?  What do they contribute? How are they supposed to function?

They are paralyzed.  The only way to unlock the paralysis, the only way to gain access to the skills and know-how that they do have, is to give them permission to be sort-of-knowing.  They cannot function unless we show them as they belong – as they are.

Where does belonging begin?

McKinsey write their report for CEO’s which leaves a second point unspoken. These are hierarchical organizations. The junior people do not decide who belongs and who does not. We don’t give permission to anyone to be anything.

In hierarchical organizations, the process of signallng belonging begins with the Board, goes through the CEO, through the senior managers to the managers and, only then, to the front-line.  Of course, this begs the question of who soothes the Board.  Well, we’ve hit on the fundamental weakness of hierarchical organizations.

Until we have sorted that out, the lesson for senior managers and change management scholars is that change will never happen unless everyone feels they belong. The first competency required of managers in a hierarchical organization is signaling that belonging. I have never seen that competency in an assessment center. It should be there.

How do we communicate belonging?

The American psychologist, Baumeister, can demonstrate in a lab that we are all up-ended rather easily.  He asks people to play a computer game.  Half are treated nicely by the computer.  Half get snubbed.  Those who are snubbed don’t look in a mirror as they leave.  We are that sensitive!

Should we develop thick skins?  I haven’t seen any experimental work but I’d be willing to bet that ‘thick-skinned’ people feel snubs more deeply.  They just pretend to themselves that they don’t and become even more boorish.  We’ll let the lab rats test that for us.

The point is that in give-and-take of life, we do get ‘up-ended’; we do get snubbed.  Our internal equilibrium is upset.  At that moment, reassurances that we belong are invaluable.  Leaders who can accept our misery for what it is, without making it worse by threatening us with expulsion, are invaluable.  From that starting point, we can figure out what to do next, and spread the sense of belonging along to the next person.

How can develop resilience?

Not by being thick-skinned, that’s for certain!

Probably in three ways:

1.  Understand our deep fear of being ‘cast-out’.

People who need to cast-out others are deeply worried about their own status.  We need to reassure them of their worth before they will be more compassionate towards others.

In plain language:  Ask, why is this person being such an [insert your favourite word here]?  What is s/he worried about?

2.  Work with others

We are human!  When we have had enough of someone’s carping & complaining, get people who believe in the person to work closely with them.  Build the teams that form naturally and step-back to make the links between the groups.

“To be clear”, as politicians seem to have become fond of saying, I am not advocating you put up with bad behavior or subject yourself to hours with someone who depresses you.  I am suggesting proactively putting together those people who reassure each. Then when the group is positive, link it to another positive group.  In that way, you remove yourself from provocation and provide positive alternatives.

In plain language:  When you cannot deal with someone, find someone who can.  What counts is getting along, not demonstrating our right to a temper tantrum.  Indeed, when you throw a temper tantrum, we have to ask the question under #1 – what are you afraid of?

3.  Take casting-out very seriously

We aren’t running a TV reality show.  We should only cast someone out when it is very clear that we will really be able to achieve a positive state and knowing that once the positive state is achieved, that we can invite them back in.  Tough criteria but the only criteria that tests whether or not we just throwing a self-indulgent wobbly.

We should make casting-out such a serious event.  We should document it and hold people accountable for getting it right.  I once taught with a Professor from West Point. He told me that if a student there fails, there is a full scale inquiry. The students are bright.  The Professors are good. They have the resources they need.   System fail – what went wrong?  The ethos, I was told, is that you don’t choose who you go to war with.

When we make casting-out difficult, then we are motivated to find other solutions and we may be well pleased with what we find.

In plain language:  Make casting-out rare and hard, so you can’t treat it as a cop-out.

4.  Look after your ‘interiority’

We have to keep ourselves emotionally fit.  Just as we eat, sleep, wash and exercise [do you?], we need to keep ourselves in emotional balance.  It sounds silly to say that our first job is to be happy.  The truth is that emotion is contagious.  When we are miserable, we make everyone around us miserable.  When we are in a good mood, we much more able to make space for others and much more likely to find unusual ways to get along – even if we don’t like each other very much.

But happiness takes hard work, and ironically, discipline.  We are happier when we take time to reflect on the day and get to the point that we are summing up and thinking about what went well and what we should do more of. We are happier when we spend some time in the morning thinking about what is important in life and allowing the pressures of the day find their smaller place under the greater umbrella.

In plain language: We are much more likely to be knocked off-balance when we are too busy to find the time to be happy.

5.  Build a strong positive network

And we do need to remember that we are all sensitive to rejection.  We need to cherish the social support that we get.

A neat trick that most people don’t know is that giving support is almost as good as getting support.   So when your support networks are thin, help others.

Help the person who is obviously stressed-out-of-their-heads at the airport or railway station.  Smile at the rude guy in a paroxysm of road rage (while you are wondering why his wife stays married to him).  Fake like they are human, as the saying goes.  You feel better.  And they calm down.

In plain language:  Don’t network for gain.  Network because it is fun.

Belonging in plain words

We can only function when we belong.  We can only lead positive change in awkward times when we like the people we lead. Sometimes they can be hard to like.  So our friends help us out and work more closely with the people they can bond with and we can’t.   Then we can link positive groups to each other.

We have always known this, but it takes the ‘crisis of capitalism’ and a ‘McKinsey report’ to bring it all home.  Remember that senior manager may still have a big car, but he (or she) no longer knows whether s/he are coming or going.  Someone has to settle them down.

In the meantime, connect with people who are positive.  Connect people to each other.

We will succeed in direct proportion to the amount that we trust each other.

CMT? Compulsive mind tidying!

Mind tidying

When you were a kid, did you clamor for the responsibility of untangling a ball of string, or a skein of wool?  I did. I always sort out computer cables too.  Do you?

It is not surprising, then, that I like coding. I like sorting out the logical flow behind a computer program.

The trouble, I find though, is that I can’t multi-task when I am writing a program   Trivial tasks can fit into breaks.  But “the balls of muddled kitchen string” begin to pile up.  I don’t have time to follow through and sort out the good ideas that are sparked by feeds and conversations.  Good ideas clutter my mind jostling for attention, and my brain becomes as jumbled as a kitchen drawer.  I begin to feel quite antsy.  I may have a whiz-bang computer program but the rest of my head is in a mess.

I need several hours a day to think and write.  I can’t live without it.  Even writing this has cleared my head.  Another good idea on the scrap pad beside me!  It may used. It may not.  I will only know when I’ve played with it a bit more.

How much time do you devote to writing each day? How much time do you need to keep your head clear?

Essential HR in the recession

The Recession: How big is the problem?

Six years ago, before I left Zimbabwe, I did some work for the UNDP in Harare. Their Representative, whom you might think of as the UN Ambassador, was, as you might expect calm, multilingual, knowledgeable, worldly, and very experienced. He said something to me that was memorable, as I am sure he intended it to be.  He said:

Right now you are in a tunnel, and you cannot see the light at the end. But you will pass through the tunnel and see light at the end again one day.

As it happened, I left Zimbabwe, as have three to four million others, and I have found myself in the ‘West’ in the middle of the financial crisis, experiencing deja vu.

Where are we in our understanding?

The stage theory of bereavement is often criticized, but is nonetheless useful for thinking in an organized way, about catastrophic events.  We aren’t in a deep dark tunnel, as we were in Zimbabwe, and as Zimbabwe still is.  We are in the very early phase of denial.  After this will come anger, then bargaining and at the every last, accommodation.

At the moment, we are still trying to fix things, to make them stay the same. We lop off a few workers here, and cut back on some expenditure there.   And in the process, in all likelihood, we make the recession worse!  We retreat into what we know, or into the laager as they say in South Africa, and cut off all possible creative and generative engagement with the unknown.

But if we don’t take immediate action to retrench and downsize, will we survive?  Won’t we just be overrun, and go out of business?

What is the alternative?

Situations like these are exactly what positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship address. Our dread of the tunnel does not make the tunnel go away. And sadly, our dread of the tunnel leads us to do things that feel so right, yet could be so deadly. For example, is it a good idea to conserve the batteries on our torch?  It is?  When we don’t know how long the tunnel is going to be?  Maybe we need a fresher look at what it happening.

The principle of positive human sciences, whether we are looking at psychology generally, or ‘organizational scholarship’, is to identify the processes that have led to our strengths.   As we have no idea what the future holds, we don’t want to squander those strengths, and more importantly, we don’t want to destroy the processes that generated those strengths, and that will sustain and regenerate them.  It is not just the strength we look for, in other words, it is the process that generated the strength that we seek.

Capital we have seen is as volatile as pure alcohol – it evaporates in a flash.  It is part of the business package.  We need it.  But it is not dependable.

The distinct role and contribution of HRM

Our job in HRM during the recession, is to focus our attention on our human strengths, and on the value of our relationships with each other.  It is tough to do this when people are in a panic.  They want relief from the terror of the tunnel.  And they want relief now.

Calming the panic is our first duty.   When the Chief Executive, to the high school student on-work-attachment, are calm, they bring their technical knowledge to bear, and find innovative solutions that last week, we didn’t know were possible. They turn the tunnel from an object of dread, and real danger, into a place of opportunity and growth.

We also need to remember that some people don’t show their panic.  So we have to judge their mood by their activity.  Are they suggesting solutions, or is their very lack of complaint, suggestive of loss of efficacy?  Calming different personalities, from the voluble executive to the quiet person who falls into passive-aggression, calls on our unique technical training.

Our chances

Will we always succeed?  No of course not.  In business, winning is not a given.  But, if we do not believe that our people are capable of working constructively and together, on the challenges we face, then we can be sure of one thing.  We will communicate our doubt.  And our doubt contributes to a downward spiral of self-efficacy and collective efficacy.  We become part of the problem.

Our ethical responsibility, when we don’t believe in our company and more importantly, its people, is to resign, and make way for someone who can work with them, to find the sweet spot where they will surge ahead.

Sadly, when we take short term actions to ‘feel safe’, we may experience the satisfaction of immediate relief.  We might feel less exposed, temporarily, until our customers and suppliers are in trouble, as has happened in the financial sector.  It is a case of making haste and less speed.

To quote @Pistachio of yesterday.

The world seems to run on courage.  When mine falters, things get so stuck and difficult.  When it flows, things start to flow also.


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Recommended reading:  David Whyte, British-born corporate poet now living in Seattle has a marvellous CD, Mid-Life and the Great Unknown, available through Amazon.

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The way ahead at John Lewis, a British department store where the staff are shareholders in the business.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.



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The limits of positive psychology? Stopping the past leak into your heart.

Can we really be positive in bad situations?

I have never been totally happy, no pun intended, with positive psychology’s approach to objectively bad situations.  I am totally persuaded by our ability to make the best of good situation.  I am persuaded by our contribution to sort-of-bad situations.  I am persuaded that in a terminal situation, we may as well be happy.  I can also  point you towards little experiments that cost you nothing but your time and that you can try on your own.

Where positive psychology might have little to offer

But there are three situations where I am not persuaded positive psychology can help us much, though in truth, nothing much helps in these situations.

First, when you are in a bad situation alone, and I mean socially alone.  I haven’t looked closely at being physically alone.

Second, when other people will harm you, unless you harm them first.

Third, when you have experienced sustained social abuse and your fight/flight mechanism is on a hair trigger.

Thinking about tragedy with movies

I watched a Scottish movie over the weekend, 16 Years of Alcohol, that illustrated a combination of these three situations.  The protagonist grew up with an alcoholic father and joined a gang.  While he was generally terrorizing the neighborhood, he met a girl and was motivated to change his life.  The story is about his intelligent and thoughtful attempts and ultimately his death on the streets.

We can compare this story to Goodbye Mr Chips, which I watched last weekend, and the well known movie about hope, Shawshank Redemption.  In Shawshank, we have a protagonist who out-thinks and outwits people and is able to leave the situation by tunneling out of the jail.  In Goodbye Mr Chips, the protagonist has a mentor who is slightly above the situation and he is able to grow himself and ultimately change the environment around him.   Put this starkly, I think you already see the shape of my point.

In 16 Years of Alcohol, the agent of change, a young woman, was a resource but not sufficient to change the situation for the protagonist.  And  importantly, he did not exit the situation.  I’m afraid he should have left town!

Where is hope in a hopeless place?

The protagonist asks himself at one point: where is hope in a hopeless place?  There was an excellent line though where the young lady suggests to the protagonist that the past does not come looking for him – that he went looking for the past.  And he talks about stopping the past leaking into your heart.  These are good points – with slightly more resources and slightly less stress, he might have made it.

Extreme hardship and an abiding memory of struggle and courage

This is a realistic account of dealing with extreme hardship.  If you are interested in using positive psychology to move on from bad places, you should have a look.  Though a tragedy and not a feel good movie, you are left with an abiding memory of struggle and courage.  It is a respectful account of people brought up in the hardest places in our society.