The Glass is Half-Empty
Isn’t it hard to be objective about our own country? We British tend towards a glass half-empty view of our nation, and sometimes even to a glass almost-empty view. Our wonderful media (plus some politicians too) find that it sticks better to come up with catchy emotive phrases, rather than to examine the facts. According to them, Britain has been variously, ‘Going to the Dogs’, ‘Broken Britain’, or at ‘Breaking Point.’ I’m convinced we need a more balanced view about Britain.
How positive or negative do you feel about Britain in general if you had to rate it on an online survey? Of course the mood changes and how we as a whole tend to feel about our country and its prospects, does fluctuate.
Losing our Religion
The NHS is a good example of glass almost-empty. The NHS is often spoken of as the closest thing to a national religion that we have left in Britain. But if so, then we are losing our religion. The media gives us a daily drip feed of tales of the NHS collapsing, being ineffective, making dangerous mistakes, and it taking ever longer to get appointments. Exposed to this relentless barrage, you might think it’s safer not to go to an NHS hospital at all; like in Victorian days when your survival prospects could be diminished by hospital treatment – the surgeons wearing their infection-spreading blood-stiffened aprons as a badge of honour.
Of course it’s right to highlight faults and negligence, but to put these very real troubles in perspective, the NHS is by far the largest employer in the country, with 1.7 million employees. Yet such is our general pessimism regarding this much maligned national organisation, that it is hard to let in that the NHS is ranked by independent international surveys as the number one best health care system in the world; and also the most efficient health care system. Doesn’t compute in the British brain, does it?
Going to the Dogs
There are underlying currents of semiconscious sentiment that get passed down generationally and are absorbed osmotically. To take an example, the 1970s were hard economically in Britain (as they were all over the West – though we don’t take that into account). Our general sentiment in those times became very pessimistic, and I am convinced still carries over to this day. This was the time of the ‘Winter of Discontent’, the 3 day week, a sense of general decline, and Britain as the ‘sick man of Europe.’
Here’s what the then Prime Minister Jim Callaghan had to say in 1974, (from historian Dominic Sandbrook):
‘Even Callaghan himself seemed to have little faith in his native land. In November 1974 he told his colleagues, “Our place in the world is shrinking: our economic comparisons grow worse, long-term political influence depends on economic strength – and that is running out. And,” he went on, “If I were a young man, I should emigrate.” ’
If even the Prime Minister himself had such a view of his own country, it shows just how deep the currents of negativity and cynicism had begun to run in Britain.
Never had it so good?
And interestingly, although times have changed since back then, we’ve never quite got over that glass half-empty mindset. Because despite continuing poverty for some, and even widening inequality, it is a fact that most people in Britain are better off, are healthier, have longer life spans, more opportunities, better safeguarded rights and more leisure time than ever before in the whole of recorded history; and far in excess of that available to the great majority of the world’s population today.
Do we feel fortunate? Rarely, for most of us, most of the time, if we’re honest. That’s part of why I feel that as a nation, we need to come to a more balanced view of ourselves: a healthier national psyche.