One thing that I ponder a lot, without being able to come to any conclusion, is why anybody behaves a certain way. What makes us grow up into confident people, or shy dysfunctional people, or whatever permutation thereof?
Director Michael Apted has been documenting the lives of British citizens for many years, in a series of films called The Up Series. He started with a group of 7 year old girls and boys in the 1960's. Now they are all 56 years old. Over the years, the documentary series shows how each person has changed and matured. I wish they would show the entire series here, and make it required viewing for everyone. As I watched Apted interviewed this morning I noted that a number of the folks had been through some really rough patches, but then came out OK. I thought to myself, what's the common thread here?
People who are smarter than me, who understand the human mind a lot better, should study this documentary. There are patterns most of us live, but usually we don't really think about them in the larger framework of how to live our lives.
We live and we learn. That's a cliche but it's true. We stumble. We make mistakes. We do things for stupid reasons.We see our lives veer off-track and we struggle to get back on track.
Most of us recover from those mistakes, but some of us don't.
I suspect the ones who don't recover lack the inner resources to get themselves back on track. You need to feel loved and needed by someone. You need to have some basic self-confidence. You need to have a mind that functions correctly.
Michael and I watch a quirky show on the Travel Channel called Ghost Adventures. These 3 guys go all over the US [and sometimes Europe] and get "locked down" for a night in a supposedly "haunted" location. Then they set up night vision cameras and recording equipment to record sights and sounds of otherworldly spirits who want to communicate. Sometimes I think what we're seeing is real and a lot of the time I think it's merely show business. Regardless, it's fun to watch.
The sad fact, though, is that they often film in abandoned mental institutions.
Most mental health facilities in the USA were terrible places until just recently. Our treatment of mental disorders has lagged far behind our treatment of physical ailments.
Maybe it's good these places were closed down. Many of the "therapies" were simply abusive and ineffective. This article is fascinating reading regarding the history of mental illness and how it's treated.
What I think often happened was that there was a chemical imbalance or brain damage that led to erratic behavior, and then the person was simply locked up in a prison-like environment. Then they truly became insane. Who wouldn't, in such horrible conditions?
Nonetheless, sometimes institutions are necessary. Think how many lives would have been saved if the shooter in the Newtown massacre had been locked up instead of allowed to go free.
Now, I don't advocate abuse. I think a mental hospital should be a place of compassion and healing, not a prison. But in America, now, many homeless people should be in some sort of mental facility, and instead they are on the street. Our prisons are filled with people who could've likely stayed out of jail had they simply been treated appropriately.
Everything I ponder on this subject leads me back to the essential question that nobody can really answer, though, which is WHY. Why do some people overcome a bad childhood and go on to be successful, and some people don't?
If you read even the most cursory biography of Thomas Edison you will encounter the fact that he had a hard time in school as a child. He was hard of hearing and probably ADHD:
"A hyperactive child, prone to distraction, he was deemed “difficult” by his teacher. His mother quickly pulled him from school and taught him at home."
What if his mother hadn't done that? What if she'd had to keep him in school because she had to work? Would we now all be living in darkness?
His mother clearly loved him. She was willing to sacrifice and go against the common wisdom and treat Edison differently.
I think her love saved him.
I remember a professor when I was at UGA saying electricity is something nobody truly understands. He called it "PFM" - Pure F---ing Magic." He said nobody can really understand it, but we can only learn to manage it.
Perhaps the human mind is like that, too. Perhaps we have to accept that, and go about treating people differently.
Scientists would never be willing to accept my theory here, which is this: how successful a person is, in life, depends on how much they are LOVED.
I look at my own children, and marvel at how different they are, although they both had very similar early childhoods. Alesia was with an alcoholic birthmom until age 6, and then went to the orphanage. She had been abused and starved half to death. Michael was with his birthmom until age 8 - also abused, starved, and additionally he was the caretaker of his severely alcoholic birthmom. They both went to orphanages. They both had to learn to survive in very tough conditions.
Now, Michael is on his way to becoming an independent, self-sufficient young man, despite the missing hand. Alesia has dropped out of school and lives with a man with no job. She is smart and pretty, and has no future with him. (I feel this way for a lot of reasons but I can't discuss them here.) She has made some really poor life choices.
Michael went to a party last night. I was happy for him to go, and be with other teens in a supervised environment, among people I like and trust. When he came home, however, he said he really didn't hang out with the other teens. They all decided to sit outside, and he didn't want to sit outside. So he stayed inside.
Alesia would've gone outside, regardless of how she felt about it. Michael is strong enough to not "go along with the crowd."
Why are they so alike, and yet so different? I don't know the answer to that. I suspect that Alesia's 6 years in the orphanage, in contrast to Michael's two years, has a lot to do with it. She also has a learning disability and PTSD. I also don't know if she ever really believed me when I told her she was loved. In her childhood, adults were always lying to her.
However, although she is making bad choices right now, I will never give up on Alesia. Whatever else may have happened to her, while she lived with me she was loved and cared for, and nothing can take that away from her.
Michael knows he is loved. He trusts me. He loves his grandmother and his uncle. He has graciously accepted love from us, friends, teachers and coaches.
Maybe you have to teach a child from infancy not only how to love, but how to accept it from others.
I think where love exists - the real sort of love not infatuation or superficial love - that love can drive out darkness and lead to breakthroughs in treating mental illness. It can rescue us from loneliness and despair. It can give us hope. Nobody heals without hope, in my opinion.
Maybe love is, more than electricity, real PFM.
Maybe all my theories are wrong. All I can really do is speculate.
Then again, maybe the Beatles were right when they said "All you need is love."