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Babies and bathwater

posted 10 May 2015, 10:06 by Fran Brady   [ updated 10 May 2015, 10:10 ]
I recently entered a blog competition, the subject for which was: 'One Thing I would Change about Scotland'. Given the seismic change that has just happened in the Scottish political landscape, this seems quite ironic but the competition setters (Scottish Christian Writers were as unaware as any of us, when they set the title last November, what lay ahead for Scotland in six months time.
Anyway, I got second prize for this entry, entitled 'Babies and Bathwater':

  ‘Your mother is so proud of you.’

   I stared at the speaker, a friend of my parents, in disbelief. I was just about to graduate at a time when degrees were quite rare and there were only four universities in Scotland. I was quite proud of myself but the idea that this satisfied glow extended to my mother was ridiculous. The friend insisted: my mother had apparently been blowing my trumpet since I was five. To others, perhaps, but never to me.

   I grew up to the mantras: ‘go to the top of the class but don’t take your books, you’ll be back’ (any success is a mere flash in the pan) and ‘for a clever lassie, you’re remarkably stupid’ (brainy but useless). To this day, I remain plagued with a sense of never having done anything well or useful. What Mother would say about my present attempts to write fiction, I shudder to think!

   If you had asked me forty years ago what I would change about Scotland – indeed what my generation DID change - I would have said: we must not belittle our children’s efforts and achievements; we must praise and celebrate everything they do; we must give them – that modern holy grail - self-esteem. The mantras my three children grew up to were: ‘you can do anything you set your mind to’ and – echoing a catchphrase of that era - ‘didn’t you do well!’ Even when they clearly had not.

   Now, with the next generation, we see the long-term effects of the praise-everything culture. I happily expected these young people would be the culmination of the great change my generation had begun: full of self-esteem, fulfilling potential, unburdened by adult denigration.

   But ask me now what I would change about Scotland and I think of our ‘broken society’ that venerates youth. Whatever age we are, we are urged to pursue youthful looks and behaviour, as if there is something disgusting in the natural process of ageing. As a result, heroes and role-models are made out of callow pop singers and dissolute football players whose celebrity will be short, no matter how much cosmetic surgery they have.

   Shakespeare’s never wrong: there are seven ages of man; youth’s a stuff will not endure.

   Yes, the old culture of denigration needed changing, but I have a sneaking feeling that we may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.