Acting in the Aftermath

So, the referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU is over – the result, by a very narrow margin, was for Britain to leave the EU.

And the immediate results were ugly.

A Prime Minister resigning – meaning that people who voted “for democracy”, as well as everyone else, will be stuck with a leader they didn’t choose.

A surge in racist violence, racist language, and racial hatred generally – meaning that British people who were born here with a different skin tone, a different accent, people who have lived and worked here happily for years, who proudly called Britain “home”, are now fearful.

A groundswell of young people talking of emigrating – meaning that the workforce could be decimated, that immigration would HAVE to continue to fill the gap – in a society where people not of white British descent may very well NOT want to come to Britain to take up those jobs, preferring, instead, to go to countries that aren’t publicly and loudly expressing racist views. Meaning that those jobs would go undone – necessary jobs; service sector jobs, healthcare jobs, jobs in the “future industries” of, for example, technology.

And a hell of a lot of anger.

I was one of the people getting angry – very angry, in fact.

The immediate anger was reactionary, dysfunctional, emotional anger – it needed to be expressed, it needed to be acknowledged, both by those who were feeling it, and by those it was directed at, but, by its very nature, it can’t sustain itself for long. It will – is already starting to – burn out, slow down, fizzle to a fade.

What is left – the rose beyond the thorns of all that negative, dysfunctional rage – is the calm, logic-informed, rational, but no less intense, functional anger that gets things done. The anger that says “I will not be cruel, insulting, or dishonest in my anger – but nor will I stand for the continuation of that which made me angry in the first place.” Opposing functional angers can clash, and will cause creative destruction – breaking things, yes, but co-operating in putting the pieces back together in a way that creates something enduring, and acceptable to all parties.

Over at The Writer Cliveson, where I throw up my more personal writing, I discuss a bit about how functional anger relies on knowing what you – you the individual, you the company, you the nation – actually want, rather than simply what you don’t want, and how you have to accept that Utopia probably isn’t possible, but look at it, and through it, to find the parts of it that are achievable.

For me, the “achievable” parts of my Utopia were respect and dialogue. Those are the aims I will channel my (now) functional anger towards.


Failearn (Learning by Failing.)

Caroline Cotto, LinkedIn, “Failing Forward.”

You don’t fail because you are a failure; you fail, typically, because you’re either trying to succeed in the wrong arena (my 5’10”, built like a rugby forward self trying to succeed as a jockey or a ballerina, if you can imagine such a folly – it’s okay, I never actually TRIED to be either of those things, though I’m a moderately competent hacker of big, bad-tempered equines…), or you didn’t learn from your failures.

If you didn’t learn, it’s probably because you’re not negative enough – you’ve bought into the “just move past it, think positively!” hype, and so, rather than looking at your failures analytically, developing and testing hypotheses as to why they might have happened, you happy-happy-joy-joy’d your way through life, grinning inanely and singing “I’ll get there in the end.”

By far the most common reason for failure is that you’re trying to succeed in the wrong arena. Now, that sounds sage, and vaguely self-help guru-y, but is actually a pointless piece of information if you have to claim government welfare support while you’re looking for employment, because you don’t have savings, a supportive family, or a spouse who is earning. In the UK at least, the government don’t like the idea that the people who need welfare support should also have the same right to find a job that works for them, and that is a good fit – they don’t get that, if a job fits, and you fit the culture, you’ll probably stay there, rather than ending up being one of the “revolving door clients” that get moaned about.

So; how to be “positively negative” when faced with a bureaucracy that doesn’t allow for “finding your niche”, personal empowerment, or any of the things that career coaches and the happy-happy-joy-joy brigade will tell you you “should be” doing?

Start with the cliched-but-good “mind maps”: once you’ve identified roles, sectors, etc that would be a good fit for you, and cultures you would be a good fit for, think “outside the box” (see, negative types can use jargon for our purposes, too) – start with the things, companies, skills, roles you feel genuine passion for or about, and move on through stages of separation, until you get the “likely to appear in reasonable enough quantity and frequency to keep bureaucrats happy, but vaguely related to my passion.”  Keep this mind map to hand.  Apply for jobs – a mix of the “outer edge”, vaguely-related roles, those in the middle of the web of relationship, and your core passions.  Try and weight it a little more to the “common jobs, vaguely related” – this fools the bureaucrats into missing the fact that you’re also applying for jobs that, in their view, you’re “not qualified for.”

For example: Your core passion might be to be a writer and motivational speaker.  The “closely related, but not exactly it” jobs would be things like fundraising roles for third-sector organisations, which will include telling people about the organisation with the aim of motivating them to give money, and writing grant proposals.  The more distantly related jobs will be things like customer service – where your communication will, hopefully, motivate people to purchase the company’s products, and social media marketing, where, again, you have the motivational communication element, but in written form.  The “non-core-passion” jobs are stepping stone roles; aim to stay there between 12-24months (a couple of years – it goes quicker than you think) and engage with the job, and the team, while you’re there. Offer to run “side projects” on your own time, that are related to the core business; you can then put these on your CV, and talk about them at interviews for jobs that are closer to what you actually want.

Positivity would send you further down the same dead-end track you’re already on.

Positive negativity, on the other hand, will divert you onto the road that leads to your preferred destination. It might take longer than expected, you might encounter tailbacks and roadworks, you might need to take a couple of comfort breaks – but you’ll get there eventually. As the opera singer Beverly Sills observed, there is no shortcut to anywhere worth going.

Oh, and my song of the moment? MeatLoaf’s “Blind as a Bat”, because of the line “for reaching out to help me across the bridges that I burned”; it acknowledges that we screw up, often in quite spectacular fashion, but promises redemption, help, and support from others – if we take it when it’s offered. You have to grasp someone’s hand when they reach out for you, after all.


Silence: The Quickest Way to Drain the Charge

If people cannot speak about their affliction they will be destroyed by it, or swallowed up by apathy… (Dorothee Soelle, Suffering)

“If people cannot speak about their affliction they will be destroyed by it…”

We are a social, verbally communicative species – the latter shown in the way we say that those who, for whatever reason, are non-verbal “can’t communicate effectively” – even though they often can – talking about experiences, feelings, and ideas is how we process and assess them. It’s how we seek empathy, understanding, validation, and, most importantly, help.

But, all too often these days, the attitude is “you shouldn’t talk about feeling down, or things going wrong – it just depresses everyone else.”

On the contrary, I find peoples’ joys and successes far more depressing when I’m struggling – but I would never presume to tell them to “stop talking about it”.

There are times I keep things to myself, because I’m dealing with them, and don’t want others to be anxious over my situation, but I often do talk about struggles – firstly, because other people may have suggestions for how to end the struggles that I, caught up in the maelstrom, hadn’t thought of, and secondly because it says to others who are struggling “you’re okay – you’re not alone out here.”  Especially on social media, where everyone seeks to present the “edited highlights” of their life, to convince friends and strangers that everything is, as writer Marian Keyes says., LATT (Lovely All The Time), the dissenters, the disaffected, the hurting and humiliated, need to speak out, need to be heard – the pleasantness of others’ lives is often founded on stones drenched in our blood, or the blood of others very like us.

If you’re always positive, you become what’s known in marketing terms as “bullish” – at risk of holding on to positions, and making trades, that are unwise, and that, if you were in a more balanced frame of mind, you would have abandoned or avoided.

Positivity is what leads to risks being taken – which isn’t, in and of itself, bad; we need to take risks in order to grow and to progress – but they need to be the right risks, at the right time. And negativity is usually best for identifying those.

Returning, briefly, to that initial quote from Dorothee Soelle Dorothee Soelle, Suffering, I find myself wondering what it is that makes people want to shut down “negativity”, and thus drain away the charge of it. I’ve thought about it, and read around it, and come to the conclusion, with the help of Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan’s book What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars, that it’s fear, a fear which arises from our habit of conflating “bad” and “failure” with “wrong”.  No one likes to be punished for being wrong, and, in certain circumstances, we are punished for it. But a failure doesn’t mean you were wrong; after all, in any game, someone has to win, or succeed, and someone has to lose, or fail. The person or team who loses didn’t do anything “wrong” – they just came up against opponents doing the same thing they did, but a little better. When it comes to people “feeling bad”, this conflation leads us, unconsciously, to believe that that person is “a failure”, that they have “done something wrong” – and our inner children shy away, remembering how the whole class could end up getting a detention because of the misbehaviour – the wrong actions, the failure to conform – of one person.  We don’t want to be associated with bad people, with failures. We don’t want to get life wrong.

And so we shut people down, shut them up, and fail in our duty to properly adult, to fully manage the full range of human emotions.

Negative Charge

The day before Good Friday, Thursday, March 24th 2016, I closed the door on the business my wife and I had been running for the last time.

We’d failed. We hadn’t been able to make it work.

Since then,  I’ve “not been doing anything” – or, as I see it, I’ve been doing everything – everything that  needs to be done to restore my equilibrium, my sense of self, so that, whatever I choose to do next at the very least won’t fail because I’m still in the same mindset I was when I left a business I loved, and had done everything in my power to avoid losing.

I have a set of cards by Eckhart Tolle, with “inspirational quotes” on each. The card I pulled just now, at random, reads

“Whenever you notice that some form of negativity has arisen within you, look on it not as a failure, but as a helpful signal that is telling you ‘wake up. Get out of your mind. Be present.’ ”

It often takes a “failure” of some kind to wake us up to what we were doing wrong – it takes the negative charge of the emotional exhaustion that comes in the wake of a loss, any kind of loss, to reveal the core emotions, energy, and strength that will lead us, eventually, to success. That’s why it’s so important to take that time – however long you need – after a loss, of whatever scale, to just be, to let the wheels of your mind spin, recover your self – the strengths, energy, and emotions that will bring you success, and to identify the sphere in which you will succeed.

Zen and the Art of Negativity

If you’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you’ll know there isn’t a particularly happy ending – at best, it’s…ominous. The narrator, who has some form of mental illness, as we discover through the text (my guess is schizophrenia – it haunts the brightest and the best, although it doesn’t discriminate, and, as a merely mediocre landlord to the beast, I could see certain similarities – the book was clearly either well-researched, or, more likely, written from personal experience.)

You’ll also be aware that negativity – John’s refusal to engage with “technology”, Chris’s refusal – or inability, since it’s suggested he’s displaying the same precursors to schizophrenia as were missed in my adolescence – to settle down and “behave”, the narrator’s absent past – frames everything of importance in the book, and also provides its backdrop – the “negativity” of the world above the timber line – snow, ice, cold, and short, sharp days. The high country of the mind, the wilds of intellectual pursuit. The boundaries of madness.

It’s the negativity of the book – the refusals, the failures, the ominous ending – that make it so compelling, so memorable.

The narrator doesn’t flinch from his condition, from the condition his son likely shares – schizophrenia is known to be inherited – he just sits with it.

That is the essence of Zen – that we do not deny feelings, but “just sit with” them; we don’t shriek “no negativity!” as we fling up our arms in horror – we sit with negativity, until the urge to run feels more like an old, favourite dressing gown – and then we look at what’s going on behind the feeling.

But the point is, we have to feel negativity before we can understand it, and we have to understand it before we can move on from it.


I recently found six books in a series by Dana Stabenow in a charity shop; I already have, and have read, the first three books.

Stabenow writes murder mysteries set in the Alaskan interior – the “last great wilderness”.

In order to survive in any wilderness, be it Alaska, the desert, or merely an isolated, remote, rural village, you HAVE to be negative – you’re not going to “beat” nature, you’re not going to have anything more than a subsistence lifestyle if you’re living off the land, and the sooner you acknowledge that, the quicker you’ll be living a peaceful, satisfying life.

The positive people, the dreamers and the innocents, end up broken – wildernesses are hard, they’re unforgiving, and they don’t cut slack.

It’s why the negative types among us like them so much – we grok them, in a way positive people never can. We know we’re not going to make it out alive, but we’ll enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.

And that’s what negative people see when they enter a wilderness – a ride, not a battle. Positive people are the ones who talk about battles; with the wilderness, with their own inner nature, with terminal illnesses.

They talk of battles, and they break when they lose.

Negative people know we’re beaten, but, until the death-blow comes, we’ll play the game, have a little fun before we die.


Functionalities, Not Polarities.

People will queue round the block to tell you how “dysfunctional” and “toxic” negativity is – they’ll drown you in studies that “prove” that negativity shortens your life, that it leads to obesity, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and whatever the terrifyingly fatal illness du jour is.

People are wrong. Negativity isn’t “toxic.” It is not harmful to be a negative person – it is harmful, however, to be a dysfunctional person.

Negativity, in the right hands, and as a natural attitude, can be completely functional.

An example of functional negativity:

“I’m no good at sales – I’m more of an ideas person. A retail job wouldn’t really work for me.”

This is functional because it identifies a problem – the person’s lack of sales skills. It identifies an area of strength (ideas.) it acknowledges a truth, that a retail environment probably isn’t the best fit for this person, and leads to a logical process from which to come to a decision (the person has stated they are better at ideas, therefore, they can focus their energies on finding opportunities to be paid for having ideas – marketing, advertising, writing, creativity consultancy, business development, etc.  The negativity of “I’m no good at sales” clears the mental decks of a whole raft of careers that would have been unfulfilling for this person, thus freeing space for them to play around with careers that might work out.

Dysfunctional negativity, on the other hand, is often directed at others in an attempt to shield the self; for example:

“You’ll never get a job if you go around thinking you’re better than everyone else.”

Actual meaning: “I don’t think I’m even as good as anyone else; I’m worried I won’t make progress with my own career because I don’t know how to talk about my achievements – I don’t want to sound arrogant, or make people think I’m boasting -and how dare X person not feel awkward and embarrassed about being out of work?”

Of course you’ll get a job by “thinking you’re better than everyone else” – that’s how getting jobs works. You go into an interview room, or you approach a recruiter or manager, with the attitude that “I’m the best person you’re going to stumble across this decade, pal” – and you tell them why you, rather than the other 10 folks waiting out there, or the other 110 sending speculative applications, should be given a salary, desk space, and the various perks of employment. They’re not going to give you those things because you’re a nice person who makes good cups of tea. (Unless being nice and making cups of tea are the actual main parts of the job.)

A negative (but functional) job seeker is in a good position: they’re quickly able to identify what they don’t want, what won’t work for them, and focus on what will be a good and rewarding fit.  A positive job seeker, on the other hand, will yap on endlessly about how “committed to the process” they are, and how they’re “sure the right job is out there”, and all the happy-de-do-dahs they can “offer” a potential employer – and get overlooked, because you’re not meant to be “offering” employers anything – you’re meant to be telling them that they need the skills, knowledge and abilities you have, and that they’d be a damn fool to try and pretend they don’t. And you can only do that if you’ve first been negative enough to dismiss the things that don’t work for you.

Focus on your weaknesses – they’re the things you need to kick out the door.


Moving on Because of Negativity, Not Moving on From Negativity

People talk about how we “need to move on from negativity.”

But, the thing is, we don’t need to move on from it – we’re already moving on because of it.

Negativity is dissatisfaction. And dissatisfaction drives progress, and always has done.

If we’d never been “negative”, we wouldn’t have decided that we needed central heating, electric lighting, cars, or the internet. We wouldn’t be looking at a future where tax is submitted online, where Amazon allows account access by selfie. We wouldn’t have created smartphones, with calculators, calendars, address books, cameras, and internet capability all in one device. We would never have come up with contactless payments.

If we weren’t “negative”, we wouldn’t care whether or not our hotel rooms were en-suite, whether or not they had televisions.  If we weren’t “negative”, we wouldn’t have moved to package holidays abroad, because we wouldn’t have noticed that other countries had better weather than the UK.

If we were never “negative”, we wouldn’t have seen the improvements and achievements in medical care that we have. We wouldn’t see more people looking to own property, rather than rent. We wouldn’t see people thinking it was “normal” and “automatic” to have cars, rather than use public transport.

Negativity is what drives us.  It is positivity that holds us back.

Sunday Supplement

The next time someone tells you “don’t be negative”, ask them if they put on a jumper, or turn up the heating, when they feel cold.

If they answer “yes”, or variants thereof – congratulations! They’ve “been negative”!

Feeling “cold” is  a negation – it is an absence of warmth. Addressing feeling cold by taking steps to counter it is admitting you don’t like the sensation of being cold – hence, you are “being negative”. (You are “not warm”, and you are voicing that.)

Taoism holds that it is negative emotions that lead to positive ones – it is only through feeling pain that you can work to relieve it.

Imagine all the things that would never have been invented if no one had ever acknowledged being dissatisfied? Aeroplane travel, central heating, electricity, smartphones, computers, cars – the list is endless. The best things come from looking the worst feelings squarely in the face, admitting to them, talking about them, and doing something in response to them.

Purple Success

…”in previous times, to call someone “successful” was as nonsensical as calling them purple.” (Jacques Ellul, quoting Eric Fromm in “New Philosopher, Feb-Apr 2016)

Success. Everyone wants it, we’ll pay to learn how to (potentially) get it, we’re mocked if we don’t have it – but it’s an illusion, an invention. It’s not a part of some undeniable “natural order”, it’s not “inherent to the human condition.” It doesn’t really exist at all – but we allow the pretence of it to make us feel bad, to make us feel less than human, to tell us that we’re not good enough. To tell us we “can’t be negative.”

The thing is, success is a sociologically-constructed state. Negativity is feelings. And, although they can’t be analysed, put under a microscope, cut up, poked and prodded, feelings are real. Sociologically-constructed states are not.

Stop worrying that you’re not some artificial state. Start enjoying the fact that you’re feelings, that you’re real.