Positive Language

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” Lou Holtz

This was the first quote I used in my weekly letter, and looking at it again, I can’t think of a better one to start this week’s blog. The theme for this week is Positive Language. As we started embedding Positive Psychology into MCM life, this was the area which I felt could have the most significant impact. If we are committed to a wonderful ethos that focuses on flourishing and encourages people to thrive, then that needs to be evident in everything we do, everything we say. Not just in the headline moments, but in how we deal with the minutiae. To walk it, you need to talk it.

Please don’t be put off, as I will leave the sage advice about manners and finding the positive in every situation to assembly times or when someone has to visit my office to discover that I am ‘very disappointed’ in them; I promise not to use my ‘teacher voice’. I only want to share my excitement about how you can change the way people think, feel, live by word alone. Well, I don’t believe that it is really ‘word alone’, but there was a lovely rhythm there – you see what language can be and do.

So, my dilemma this week, as I am spending much of my time trying to reinforce the message that we shouldn’t be tied to our devices, is that I find myself writing a blog which will be accessed via a screen of some sort. This week’s blog will, therefore, take some of my favourite quotes from this last 18 months – you can dip in and scroll down to the next (I’ve put them in colour so they’re easy to find and you can ignore the waffle in between), or just stick to the first then put your phone away to concentrate on the important issue of who is the Scrabble guru, how can you capture that sunrise or just gazing into space, wondering what you like most about ‘lockdown’ (and desperately hoping that counts as mindfulness – who can really do that?)

If you want happiness for an hour – take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day – go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year – inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime – help someone else.
Chinese Proverb

If lockdown has done nothing else for me, it has shown me how amazingly generous people can be. Life has changed dramatically, families are thrown into a whole new world and yet some people have used that energy to act with incredible charitable intent, whether on a large scale as in the Outreach endeavour or Andrew Mason’s shield making or just sending messages to stay in touch. The power of positive language has come into its own when so much communication has had to be written. I am all for a group FT, family Zoom or seeing friends in House Party, but I don’t think these are the times I’m truly communicating with friends and family, finding out how they really are or sharing.

“Those who are not looking for happiness are the most likely to find it, because those who are searching forget that the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others” Dr Martin Luther King Jr


So how do you maintain perspective when you’re living through a period that is making history? What words do we want to hear that help us get a sense of perspective. I’ve chosen a quote I used from a great British Statesman, flawed, but aren’t we all. In school we often remind children to ‘turn that frown upside down’, and I think that was probably what was in Winston Churchill’s mind when he shared his belief that:

“A pessimist seeks the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”
“The happiness of any society begins with the well-being of the families that live in it”
Kofi Annan

One of the most wonderful aspects of this period has been the focus on family time – some of that of the highest quality, and some most definitely of the bickering version, I am sure. Social media has been flooded with images of people getting on, funny that we don’t see videos of the door slamming or silent moods. I am one of many who haven’t had the joy of my family around (and believe me that has been a challenge), however, technology has helped. But the fact that families are feeling positive about home life is a wonderfully self-fulfilling prophecy; what memories have been created?

“Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where
individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication
is open and rules are flexible – the kind of atmosphere that is
found in a nurturing family”
Virginia Satir

I have selected the next few, without commentary, as they stand on their own, inspiring us all to dig deep so we can be the best versions of ourselves. There are probably as many interpretations as there are readers.

“The secret to happiness is freedom . . . . . . . And the secret to freedom is courage” Thucydides

“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions” Dalai Lama

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”
Nelson Mandela

I was fortunate enough to take a sports tour to South Africa a few years ago and the generosity and genuine warmth in the voices of previous Robben Island inmates as they described their life and belief in a new South Africa was truly inspiring. I do not pretend that their dream is realised yet, and we all still fear the impact of the recent virus on personal, social, medical and economic development around the world. Another modern day saint used the simplest words to powerful effect. She distilled the essence from large beliefs to make sure that we all realised being a better version of ourselves was achievable.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing”
Mother Teresa

However, I will end this blog with a tale that is far more realistic, reflecting a life without any rose tinted lens. It doesn’t matter how positive you try to be, sometimes you get bitten back. My eldest daughter was being (and we can all agree this now) vile. I took a deep breath and summoning all the patience left after a long day being much nicer to other people’s children, I said to her: “Darling, you may not realise it, and I’m sure you don’t mean it, but you’re acting like you’re spoiled.” To which I was put firmly in my place with a phrase that has gone down in family history – “And whose ****** fault is that then?”

The fact that we can all laugh about it now is testament to something. Sometimes we don’t want to say the positive thing, we just want to shout and snipe and blurt out the first thing that comes into our head. Who wants to be a grown up all the time? However, using positive language to describe even the simplest things changes everyone’s perceptions – even our own.

“Today is the start of a new adventure.
New challenges to face, new memories to make
and new obstacles to overcome”
Nishan Panwar

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