One of the best things about the Olympics was the regular positivity it bought to every day conversations. I first realised quite how far this had filtered through the nation’s psyche when I read the comments after this Charlie Brooker article in the Guardian. The space ‘below the line’ on newspaper websites is normally a dark underworld inhabited by the most cynical of trolls and naysayers. But on this occasion pessimistic sports haters were lining up to publicly confess their enjoyment – yes pure, happy enjoyment of this global spectacle.
The thing is us Brits have always bonded with each other by being negative with each other. As one of the Charlie Brooker commentors wrote ‘Help, I don’t know how to relate to other people without being cynical!’. Whether it be a moan about the boss, politicans, the weather, the traffic, the binmen or the TV schedule we know we’ll get a sympathetic nod and easy small talk if we world wearily pick on the little annoyances of life. Most of our most popular comedy is based on it (think Have I Got News For You, Mock the Week), it’s our newspapers’ bitter bread and butter and Radio 5 Live even has a weekly ‘moan-in’.
And it’s almost impossible to overestimate the corrosive effect of the ‘To Hell in a Handcart’ attitude of the Daily Mail and Express dropping a daily drip-drip of deathly hopelessness into our national discourse.
The inability to converse positively about the small and bigger things is more than a harmless inconvienience. Over time this atmosphere puts a slow puncture into our ideas and dreams, our ability to encourage one another and even inherent self worth. If bright ideas are accompanied by a world weary sigh and a knowing wry comment then the people that are able to pursue their vision will continue to be the exception rather than the regular successes to be held up and praised.
Will it last?
So will it last, people ask. Inevitably the star dust will fade somewhat, but now we’ve got a taste for positive small talk it would be a shame to lose it. National cultures can and do change and there’s nothing wrong with agreeing that we’d like to develop and deliberately do things a bit differently.
National No Negativity Day
So I’d like to propose a National No Negativity Day one weekday each November when we all consciously make the effort to talk first about the best bits of our day when we arrive at work (“The kids made me smile last night”). When we enjoy the good things for what they are, not add a sliding negative note of knowledge at the end of the sentence. (“I don’t suppose the sunshine will last” or worse “dismal summer isn’t it; mind you, can’t stand the heat today”). When we seek ways to recongise and bond over positive (“I’m loving the job they’ve done with the flowers on the way in”).
Giving up unnecessary negativity is going to take practice, but I’m up for giving it a go – care to join me?