Monday, September 29, 2008

Negative messages, positive messages

Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic Monthly asks people to find someone named Jeffrey Goldberg on the Web who isn't either a.)him b.)a lawyer or c.)a doctor.

Out of curiosity, I tried, by putting the State of Maine in the search parameters. I figured there must be some Jeffrey Goldberg who was an underachiever somewhere in this State. But if there is, he's not advertising himself on line.

This brings me to a subject I was thinking about last night. I was watching (yes, another violent) movie last night, "American Gangster". It was a surprisingly slow, but fascinating movie about Frank Lucas, the biggest heroin dealer in Harlem during the late 60's and 70's and the cop who brought him down.

While watching this film, I found myself feeling quite sad. As I've mentioned, I watch a lot of disturbing movies, but I soon realized that it wasn't the movie, per se, that was bothering me. It was the soundtrack and the recreation of New York past. I was not watching this film as a person who is living in 2008, but a person who was alive in 1968, and that person was one very unhappy child.

Music can have that effect upon a person. It brings us back to times past much in the same way as smell - no thoughts, just raw bodily feelings that we may not even be aware of (no wonder couples pick such awful songs for their weddings).

I've been skimming the book, "The Mindful Way Through Depression" in the last two days, and now understand a bit more about why I can slip into a depression so easily. And yes, this does relate to watching the film.

When I hear the music of my early childhood, a part of me is still there, fixed in time. It doesn't matter how much I talk about it and think I've "resolved those issues". In some way, they are unresolvable. They can only be managed. It's like having post traumatic stress disorder (which, to tell you the truth, I've been diagnosed with, though I don't quite buy it).

One can't undo the past. One can only learn to live with it better.

In last night's thoughts, I had a silent wish for all parents: tell your kids that they can be anything they want. Tell your kids that they are beautiful. Tell them they are smart. Tell them they are special.

I was thinking on Obama and his smile. During the debate on Friday, in the midst of such seriousness, he would occasionally smile. His smile is dazzling and open. His eyes gleam merrily. Dick and I went to a small Chinese restaurant on Saturday night, where our waiter was a young man from China who was obviously just starting to master English. I asked him to read us the words on the back of the fortune cookie slips. This seemed to make this kid so happy! Someone wanted his expertise, and he laughed as I pathetically tried to pronounce the Chinese word for "today". I enjoyed his open laugh and smile, and then I thought about Obama.

How in the world did this man develop into someone so open and so full of optimism? He was born to a white single mother. His father left him. Just those three facts alone would, I'd imagine, statistically set him up for failure. But no, he grew up to be who we see now, a smart, self-assured and positive person.

We now know that genetics do play a role in these things, but nurture is still winning over nature in this debate. One thing we know about Obama is that his mother and grandparents gave him absolutely unconditional love and a deep, abiding respect for others. They also told him that he could be anything, with no reservations. They also gave him a deep trust in the power of education. And so, here he is today. Like him or not, one has to see that ones' upbringing can make all the difference in the world.

Obama could have been a deeply alienated and angry young man.

When I hear the music of the sixties, I am filled with a sense of creeping dread. That's because I have so few happy memories from that time. What kind of messages was I brought up with? They certainly weren't the ones that Obama's family gave him!

I learned these: There will probably be a nuclear disaster of major propertions in my lifetime. People are mean and stupid. There may be another Holocaust for the Jews. It's doubtful that you'll succeed in anything. The cards are stacked against you. Love is an illusion. Life is essentially meaningless. . .

I could go on, ad nauseum. It's a wonder I made it to the age of 16 with these ideas burned into my brain. I've spent my lifetime fighting the weight of all these negative messages. It takes up a lot of my energy and that energy could have been used for so many better things.

What has this to do with Jeffrey Goldberg? Give a bit of thought.

Painting note: Brueghel a detail of "Children's Games" 1560
According to the Elliott Avendon Museum and Archive of Games, there are over 200 children childen playing 80 different games in this painting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've started thinking about the way I've been brought up after I got married. I just never gave it that much thought until I observed different reactions to the same events that me and my husband have not in small part due to how each one of us was brought up. I'd say that roughly 70% of out behaviour is determined by what out parents put into us. I know, it's hard to change yourself this late in life and model your behavior "against" many things that you were brought up with (shame, low self-esteem, anger to name a few)but that seems the only way... I think maybe I've been really unjust to someone in my previous life to deserve parents that just passed down the same bad teachings to me that were passed down to them. It's a vicious cycle, it seems. But at least I see it and am willing to stop it. Hopefully my children will have a better time of it...