Mood is a mysterious subject. We have already seen that humans at times have little insight into why they act the way they do, although virtually all of us are pretty good with the rationales. We do things for reasons, almost never without one we can swing like a cudgel or use as a shield, if it comes to it. Sometimes the reason we do or don’t do things is strictly our mood. We are all capable of amazing things when in a buoyant mood, it’s difficult to do even basic things when a hopeless mood descends. Those with an abundance of what scientists call “the happiness gene”, which I always think of as the fucking happiness gene, may more often do things in a practical, rational, positive way. There are no demons dragging them away from right actions, the things anyone would do if not hobbled by one mood or another. For the rest of us, moods exert an influence as strong and invisible as the moon on the tides, the stars on the fortunes of the least lucky of Shakespeare’s characters.
I have been good friends over many years with people I now see as remarkably negative characters. We had in common traumatic childhoods that did terrible damage. They were raised by monsters, abused, molested, neglected, had to parent themselves as best they could. That kind of upbringing leaves scars that are not always easy to overcome. Being your own parent is a hard job, I can tell you from experience. The first thing a parent must do for the child is not blame others for the situation the parent and child are in. The parent must model resilience, and care, and healthy choices, must model problem-solving and transmit a love of the things in life worth loving.
I remember my poor father on his death bed, trying to apologize for what a poor father he’d been, telling me poignantly he’d had no model for showing affection, he’d never seen it done in his childhood, by anyone. “I had no idea how it was done,” he sighed. He was being too hard on himself, he managed to instill a love of animals, soul music, social responsibility and other things in my sister and me.
The mood will be on the adult, like PTSD, when the child is challenging them– a flash of the coarse cord whipped across the face, the sting, the betrayal, the look of hatred in the mother’s eyes. In the adult, like a cliche, the unjustly persecuted child cries out, and the parent may struggle not to react in rage. I have seen it, felt it, been on the other side of it many times. It leaves fingerprints on the young soul, without a doubt. As Dr. Nadine Burke Harris pointed out in her wonderful TED talk (see block quote at the bottom of this post), repeated fear and trauma lead to the production of adrenaline and cortisol in amounts that do damage to the body, actually change the DNA.
You may live in a beautiful mansion, be well-loved and respected at work, laugh a lot in your personal life, have an otherwise fabulous life, and, as in that wonderful Yiddish curse, the devil may also be chasing you from room to room in your mansion of a hundred rooms. You may have the very best of intentions, and do little good for anyone, or yourself. There are endless variations on this horrible theme and millions struggle the very struggle I am struggling to describe. Rage, disguised as hopelessness, or terror, or Terror, disguised as pride, or anger, or other sneaky, powerful forces that sometimes bring a person to do stupid things, or cruel things, or senseless things. Then there are also the extremes of this, full-blown mental illnesses and difficult to control mood disorders.
I think of a witty man I know who always smiles, always, always, ALWAYS has the very best of intentions. He is a great humanist, a sensitive man, a great and humble soul, a soulful singer, a lover of children, a protector of the weak. This creative fellow with a thousand professional contacts always wants to know what he can do to help, will be in touch to apologize for not helping, ask again what he can do, be told again, not do it.
“He’s insane,” my sister says after, months of his broken promises have passed, “you have to forget about him. He’s not going to help you. Next!” Good advice, truly. Believe people’s actions, not their rationales, not their intentions, not what they say they want to do. What stops us from taking right action? Mood.
Some people find the support they need to help them over moments of doubt in difficult undertakings. Having a positive person to bounce ideas off, to get a bit of courage from, is a great help in any endeavor. Not everyone has these people in their lives. Lacking these lucky contacts, with only those who may wish well but watch with fear, one must persist alone and take much longer to do difficult things.
The thing I am trying to do, the program elements now largely worked out, extensively field tested, an almost perfect machine for the job it sets out to do, is enormously difficult, maybe impossible for one person to do alone. I may have almost all of the skills needed to do it, the question is will and the ability to conquer the mood when hopelessness descends. Call a friend? My friends are all concerned, none have any real idea how to help, if they were inclined to spend the time. It is a subject better avoided. It seems to them, as far as I can tell, that I have already failed to build this ambitious cathedral to my ideals, it’s three years already and instead of funding and real results I am gamely showing pictures of my dead baby as though the kid is doing wonderfully in pre-school, already headed to an elite private elementary school and on the way to Harvard. It is mood, only mood, that stays me in my tracks most days. The opinions of those who have no way to understand what I am trying to do, what I have already done, should not have any effect on me.
On the days the benefits of what I’m working on emerge to me unclouded, benefits for myself and the children whose talents I am hoping to showcase simple to see, I move resolutely and joyfully forward. That I am often discouraged by the incremental nature of my forward progress, only a mood. It behooves one not to be a moody bastard, particularly when engaged in a long-haul project that, no matter how helpful and close to completion it is, may well be impossible to carry out. Then again, how not to be a moody bastard is a ticklish question I have not learned a very good answer to so far.