Attila the Hun and a wet kipper: good for morale

Who’d have imagined that writing a blog post about the origins of the world “morale” could end up becoming in itself a morale-boosting exercise?

Hopefully you caught last week’s post. Besides being fun to research and write, it inspired a number of thoughtful reflections from readers, as a result of which I’m pleased to report that I felt quite uplifted. Thank you.

But I think this little demonstration aptly shows that having our morale boosted isn’t always exactly the same as being made happy.

Sure, I was indeed both uplifted and made happier, but although morale and happiness seem to overlap to some extent, morale somehow seems a far richer descriptor.

Continuing the research I started last week, therefore, I figured it might be rewarding to explore what others in psychology have done in terms of measuring morale.

It wasn’t easy. If you search for “morale test” in Google, for example, most of the top results are about war games, generally played by spotty teenagers on tabletop battlefields with miniature figures. Apparently part of the process of playing a war game involves taking account of your army’s morale.

Believe it or not, I was both a wargamer and a spotty teenager for a few brief months.

Adolescence didn’t last long in my day, and hobbies, too, were often short-lived.

But war game morale wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.

Nor was I really interested in employee morale, which popped up a lot in Google, although I can understand why employers would be keen to survey and boost this. Good morale in a company probably leads to higher productivity and better employee retention, among many other desirable outcomes.

However, it wasn’t until I recalled that psychologists have often historically chosen to view the world through morose-tinted glasses, that I discovered (much) more work on measuring demoralisation than in exploring whatever its opposite is.

Actually, before we head down this demoralisation corridor – and don’t worry, I’ll do my best not to let this bring us down – it’s worth pointing out that Dutch researchers from Radboud University came up with what they called a “remoralisation scale” in 2010.


It’s a neat play on words of course, I suppose meaning the opposite of demoralisation.

The Dutch researchers, though, really planned their test to be used by people in self-rating the effectiveness of their psychotherapy, which I guess means they wished it to show how “un-demoralised” someone had become.

Sadly, for me at least, the word remoralisation falls foul of the “morale/moral” trap we mentioned last week, so I find it hard not to incorrectly think of remoralisation as somehow meaning the process of restoring a sense of right and wrong to someone who has gone off the moral rails.

It brings to mind Monty Python’s unforgettable Remoralisation Sketch, when Attila the Hun, played by Terry Jones, is strapped to a chair as John Cleese slaps him round the face with a wet kipper, yelling “Who’s been a naughty, naughty boy, then?”

Pause for a moment to summon that image to your mind, then tell me it didn’t bring a slight smile to your face.

Jokes aside, however, the thinking behind the remoralisation scale seems to me somewhat along the right lines, but it produced an instrument that’s not perhaps as sensitive as I’d like it to be for our purposes.

One of its twelve items, for example, asks how much you agree with the statement “Right now, I see myself as being pretty successful,” which feels a bit awkward and uncomfortable somehow.

OK for Simon Cowell, perhaps, but not necessarily for the likes of the average psychotherapy client.

The response scale seems also rather coarse-grained to my eye. For each statement you only get four possible answers: Totally disagree, Disagree a lot, Agree a lot, or Totally agree.

From the work that readers have helped me with in the past, we know many are disinclined to choose extreme answers, in general favouring more shades of grey between a scale’s black and white ends.

Moving on, though, where do we go when we venture into that aforementioned Demoralisation Corridor?

In 2004, Professor David Kissane and colleagues in Melbourne, Australia, conducted important research with cancer patients, with a view to enabling them to rate their degree of demoralisation.

This entirely worthy work resulted in a Demoralisation Scale which, not surprisingly, focuses on a spectrum spanning disheartenment, despondency, and profound despair.

Indeed, many of its questions revolve around the end of life.

I know, I know. I said I’d do my best not to bring us down, so perhaps we should agree to move thoughtfully on, while gratefully acknowledging the value that this kind of work has brought to the world of palliative care.

Frankly, though, if our end game is to find a way to rate and track our own morale, we might need to start afresh, rather than trying to adapt a measure designed for use by patients with terminal cancer.

Last week I mentioned Professor Jerome Frank, an eminent psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Medical School, who in 1974 wrote that the main aim for all types of psychotherapy should be to restore a patient’s morale.

He helpfully went on to itemise a dozen markers of demoralisation, such as impotence, isolation, disconnection, and despair.

Taking Frank’s negatives one-by-one, I trawled the antonym sections of a range, selection, and assortment of thesauri to identify 12 characteristics of higher morale on which we therefore might focus:

  • Self-confidence
  • Connectedness
  • Hopefulness/optimism
  • Self-respect
  • Acceptance by others
  • Purpose and meaning
  • Resilience
  • Sense of achievement
  • Deservingness
  • Self forgiveness
  • Self-reliance
  • Freedom from anxiety

I may have overlooked others, but the list above seems a reasonable place for us to begin.

Next week, I plan to walk us through these items in slightly greater detail, and also to ask for your assistance in completing a very early prototype of a “morale measurer” based on them.

In the meantime, though, I leave you once again with that image of Attila the Hun, John Cleese and the wet kipper.

You know, they don’t write them like that anymore.

In fact, sadly, they never did.

More reading:

Development of the Remoralization Scale – An Extension of Contemporary Psychotherapy Outcome Measurement

The Demoralization Scale – a Report of Its Development and Preliminary Validation

One thought on “Attila the Hun and a wet kipper: good for morale

  1. Thank you for my first laugh of the day! I love the visual of Atila the Hun being smacked by a wet kipper!

    I think the list you provided. Looks like a pretty comprehensive one and I look forward to hearing more!


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