State of the Nation Address: What Kenny should say

“The Taoiseach’s first task is to provide a convincing framework of meaning around what the Government is proposing to do. He needs to set out a realistically optimistic framework. Let me define realistic optimism: the belief that with effort, and despite set-backs, and with no guarantees, good outcomes are possible and worth fighting for.

“Every word of that definition counts . . . Psychological science can help him here. If you study the brain activity of people who can maintain optimism in the face of threat, you will see that they react swiftly to threat and the part of the brain that generates possible bad outcomes is very active. But interestingly the part of the brain that generates possible good outcomes is equally busy . . . So it’s crucial that he not just set out grave imperatives that are facing us and the possible negative outcomes but also the possible positive outcomes – and that must be done in a psychologically convincing and motivating way. Facts convince us but it is emotions that motivate us.

“So his emotional tone will count. At least 75 per cent of his message will be judged not on content (people will wait for the budget for that) but on its emotional tone. Any forced optimism or forced ‘Grim Reaper’ tone will be disregarded. He is well placed to get the tone right. I judge him to be a naturally optimistic person and he clearly loves his job – which counts. But he also has had personal experience of pretty severe setbacks. If he stays emotionally connected to both these sides of his experience he could pull this off.”

Originally quoted in The Irish Times. 

Posted: 30 November 2011