In the early hours of Tuesday May 27, 2003, BBC Radio Five Live played host to a titanic clash of ideologies. In the bright, shiny red corner: Janice Hathy, stress management counsellor and instigator of 'The Great American Grump Out', the annual event in which Americans are urged to lighten up, hide their unhappiness and give the world a grin, preferably whilst also giving money to charity.
And in the shadowy dark blue corner: h2g2's very own P.U.D.D.I.N.G. (People United in Defence of Depression, Irritability
and Natural Grumpiness), represented by me. We'd been brought together by Five Live's Up All Night programme on the eve of the latest 'Grump Out', because it was a report of the launch of the first 'Grump Out' that first brought P.U.D.D.I.N.G. grumbling into life.
As you can see from the transcript below, Ms Hathy claims that the report that caused the first stirrings of P.U.D.D.I.N.G. was inaccurate. She denies that she ever meant to persecute the grumpy in the way that was suggested. I have already amended the P.U.D.D.I.N.G. page to reflect that. Hey, we may be grumpy, but we're reasonable... sometimes.
Curiously, the BBC Radio Five Live team rejected the opportunity to plug BBCi's h2g2. The location of P.U.D.D.I.N.G. was never mentioned, although Five Live were certainly aware of it; I'd e-mailed them the URL of the page that very day. I was introduced under my RL name. But since many of you know me as Ormondroyd, that's what I'll call myself in the following transcript.
The interview was pre-recorded just under two hours before transmission. Perhaps the Five Live folks feared that the air might turn blue when I clashed with Ms Hathy - especially as I'd only been told a matter of seconds before the recording that she was also going to be involved in the discussion.
The daunting task of mediating in the confrontation fell to Up All Night presenter Richard Dallyn, and it was he who got the whole thing under way.
Dallyn: Well, it'll either make you laugh or cry. Tomorrow, in the States, a group calling itself Smile Mania is staging 'The Great American Grump Out'. It will mount 'Grump Patrols',
don clown noses, blow bubbles and hand out bananas in an attempt to cheer up millions. I spoke with Janice Hathy, the organiser of 'The Great American Grump Out' - but, to balance all this happiness out, I was also joined by Dave Jennings, the founder of P.U.D.D.I.N.G., or People United in Defence of Depression, Irritability and Natural Grumpiness. I began by asking Janice whether she and her group were trying to force happiness on us?
Hathy: Is that what you believe? Do you believe you're being forced? That something - it's like being a hostage, if there's a gun held to your head or something? No. It's all about free choice. And since stress is America's number one health problem, the goals of Smile Mania and the 'Grump Out' are to help people better understand the connection between negative attitudes, stress and the health problems we have today.
Dallyn: Do you think that Americans, or maybe even the rest of us, need this kind or cheering-up session? We're in a bad way, are we, at the moment?
Hathy: Well, there's always been something that's been happening with our country. But since there's more people in the population of the world today, there seems to be more of it because there's more people. However, I just know that if you're dealing with health, it's a way to promote health. And humour, joy, enthusiasm are one of the 11 nourishing elements that stimulate a human being's immune system, whereas anger, fear, worry and things like that deplete the immune system.
That's basically what it's about. It's an effort to be able to promote peace and harmony, especially after the 9/11 events in New York City and with the Pentagon. So that's just it. I'm just inviting people. It's always up to them. Life is about choice, so they can choose to do what they want. I'm not against grumpiness. All I'm asking is for 24 hours, you know, that you might want to say 'What pushes my buttons?' and 'Is there a different way to handle that same situation today without being grumpy?'
Dallyn: Well, you know, I think that Dave Jennings, who I'm going to introduce to you now - you may get on better than I thought you would!
[Ormondroyd and Hathy laugh]
Dallyn: Dave -
Dallyn: Hello. Your organisation has the initials P.U.D.D.I.N.G., doesn't it?
Ormondroyd: That's right, yes.
Dallyn: Which means what?
Ormondroyd: People United in Defence of Depression, Irritability and Natural Grumpiness.
Dallyn: What do you make of what Janice is planning, then?
Ormondroyd: Well, I'm curious about this, actually, because P.U.D.D.I.N.G. was set up online as a kind of reaction to what I understood 'The Great American Grump Out' to be about. I understood that there were elements of people being basically ridiculed if they were grumpy and just kind of told to cheer up. I seem to remember that it was about being - that one of the things they did was make people wear special hats if they were 'caught' being grumpy. There was even talk of fines for being grumpy. And you know - I do find that really rather oppressive.
Dallyn: Well, Janice, is that what will happen?
Hathy: Well, what happened is that, number one, nobody ever... There was an article written up that was on the Internet that I pulled off, and then there was of course P.U.D.D.I.N.G. that was set up in defence of this. And nobody ever interviewed me, nobody ever asked what the specifics were, and so what happened is there was a lot of information that got put on the Internet that was based on misinformation. Nobody was ever forced to have grumpiness banned. People... part of the suggestion of a fun thing to raise money for charity [sic] because a lot of the stuff we're going to be doing this Wednesday will be for Alzheimer's and for the National Diabetes Association.
But nobody was forced to wear special hats, nobody was oppressed, nobody was forced to smile - this was the way things were interpreted. And this is where I get real concerned with the news media, because...
Dallyn: I think you're getting grumpy, if I might say so!
Hathy: Oh yeah! And you know, thank you for calling today, because if you called Wednesday, I could be grumpy!
Dallyn: You couldn't! You couldn't! Dave, I...
Hathy: There's nothing wrong with grumps! I love grumps! I'm a grump!
Ormondroyd: Terrific! Perhaps you could join P.U.D.D.I.N.G.!
Dallyn: I think you're both singing from the same hymn sheet, pretty well, aren't you?
Ormondroyd: Possibly. But there is a serious point that I would like to make, really, which is that I really do find... You know, perhaps we have misjudged Janice. I'm quite willing to take that on board. But I really do feel that there is no more infuriating phrase in the English language than 'Cheer up, it might never happen'. Or, you know, 'Turn that frown upside down'. It is really annoying and upsetting if you're already kind of stressed and things are going badly for you, to have someone come up and basically suggest that there is something wrong with you because you are sad or irritable...
Dallyn: Sometimes you do need to be snapped out of your misery, don't you?
Hathy: You can either hang on to it...
Ormondroyd: Well, I certainly can't say that I've ever found it helpful, if I'm having a bad time, to have someone come up and order me to cheer up. That's really what it comes down to. I don't think people should ever be, kind of, told their mood is inappropriate.
Dallyn: Janice, what do you want to say to Dave?
Hathy: Well, it goes back to a choice. It's sort of like somebody's come to help you through. I mean, all of our feelings are very, very valid. If you choose to be grumpy, great. If you choose to be able to have someone help and support you to get through that grumpiness, that's great too. It's like both sides of the same coin. You know, you have the heads and you have the tails. You can either choose to look at a situation and find the humour and find the positive side of it, or you can spend your time on the other side of the coin in misery and wallow and have that woe.
Again, I don't have anything against... I mean, I suffer from depression. I work every day to keep my head above water so that I can function. I have found the tools so that my health has improved 99 per cent. 99 per cent of my health expenses have gone down, so I don't spend what I did and my life is much better. So because of that, I choose to be able to say 'Here's what can be done'. You can either have part of it, and share with it, or you can not. That's up to you. It's your choice.
Dallyn: Dave, it sounds very reasonable, doesn't it?
Ormondroyd: Put that way, I really can't argue. But I do think, though, that there is a kind of cultural thing going on - and I have to say it appears to me that a great deal of this does emanate from America - there is the tendency to treat sadness as if it is some kind of illness...
Dallyn: You're going to be anti-American here, are you?
Ormondroyd: The point is that there are times in your life when it's a perfectly natural and healthy reaction, and I don't think that...
Hathy: But there's a difference between sadness and grumpiness. You're talking about grumpiness and irritability and depression. Depression is a clinical thing. There's a difference between depression and the blues.
Ormondroyd: Yes - I mean the title of the web page, which is what we're talking about, is fairly flippant. The fact that the acronym is P.U.D.D.I.N.G., I think gives you, tips you the wink that there is a fairly large element of humour in this...
Hathy: Some people don't understand that, and are very easily influenced, and I know... I can give you an example of that. A smile may seem, you know, wishy-washy or Pollyanna-ish, but when I was teaching in a high school years ago, there was a gentleman who had given a talk to other high school teachers about suicide prevention. He said when he was in a high school, he was walking down the stairwell and he ran across a note that was on the stairway. He picked it up, and the note read: 'If just one person notices me or smiles at me today, I won't kill myself.'
And he said, 'You know, I smiled at every single student and faculty member for the rest of the day. Because you never know what little tiny gesture might influence positively a person's life or even save their life.'
Dallyn: Final word to you, Dave.
Ormondroyd: I am all in favour of people being warm and kind to one another, and trying to help each other through their depression. But I frankly think that if I went out tomorrow and walked around the streets of Bradford beaming at everyone just in case they might be depressed, it's more likely that I'd get hit than that I would save a life!
That was how the broadcast version ended, and pretty much how the conversation ended, although I remember Janice Hathy saying something like 'It takes all sorts to make a world' as we parted. And amen to that.
But afterwards, I felt a bit worried and a bit manipulated. I wished I'd made it clearer that, of course, I hoped that Janice and Smile Mania succeeded in raising lots of money for charity. I also hoped that some of the humour of P.U.D.D.I.N.G. had come across.
Above all, though, I wished I'd been forewarned that I was going to be put head-to-head with Ms Hathy, so that I could have been better prepared. Her insistence that she'd been grossly misrepresented in the media put me on the defensive from the start.
It was only later that I was able to take a look at the Smile Mania website for myself, and see what they actually get up to in 'The Great American Grump Out'. And there I found some interesting stuff. Janice seemed outraged when I mentioned the reports of special 'grumpy' hats and the fines for grumpiness. But there they are: items eight and 13 on Smile Mania's page of suggestions for 'Grump Out' day. Ms Hathy, I'm sure, would reply that no-one is forced to join in. But if your coworkers, or your management, decree that you're going to take part in 'Grump Out Day', what choice to you really have?
The crux of my argument with Janice is encapsulated in the blurb for Smile Mania's 'crab hat'. 'It is the perfect gift for stressed out friends or coworkers', their website says. I respectfully disagree. The perfect gift for stressed out friends or coworkers would be a less stressful regime in their workplaces.
The problem with events like 'The Great American Grump Out' is the same as the problem with the whole 'stress management' industry that Ms Hathy represents: it treats the symptoms and not the disease. The reason why stress-related illness is such a major problem these days is simple: too many employees are put under intolerable stress.
Employers 'downsize' their workforces until everyone's doing the work of two or three people. Whatever results are achieved, the company keeps wanting more. Then, when people start to crack under the pressure, they're offered 'stress counselling' by the same employers who are putting them under all the stress. It's rather as if cigarette manufacturers were giving away free cough syrup and asthma inhalers with their products. And it's that inhumane, insane workplace culture that really needs to change, not the expressions on the employees' faces.
Then again, perhaps I'm just being grumpy.