Do not Mess with Mr In Between

It is sensible to travel with people who are going in the same direction. Sensible, but not at all obvious. How often do we join up with people whose objectives, tastes and moods are different to our own? Too often.

The Buddha told his followers to band together, and to avoid anyone who was not similarly seeking nirvana. The same injunction is no doubt made by every forger of a path. In this life, it is all too easy to be discouraged.

It is certainly foolish to live in an environment that is inimical to your own progress. Artists are especially vulnerable. We can only be deeply thankful that Beethoven had the hide of a hippopotamus, otherwise he would have given up early on. Jimi Hendrix was obviously hampered by the lack of support until he came to England in just the same way that Duke Ellington was not. Ellington’s mum told him from birth that he would be a great man, and he most certainly was. Some people say that he is the greatest American composer, and there is every reason to believe it true.

This advice applies quite simply to mood. An optimist will eventually be drowned in the society of pessimists. As H.G. Wells pointed out, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man doesn't actually stand a chance. All of your enthusiasms will be engulfed if you are surrounded by the perpetually anxious and depressed. Your very soul will be leached away. And as Donne so rightly said — no man is an island. They'll get to you in the end. Even a spirit as impervious as Picasso’s would ultimately fade without at least a spot of admiration.

This isn’t to say that anyone should try to fix their mood. As the Buddha also pointed out, we spin on a wheel of suffering. We all need sympathy and support through hard times. But some people work their way continually down, or set about making the rest of us spin faster. If you are a positive person, then you should probably help others who are not so inclined, but you should also seek the company of at least some who can share your mood, and not hitch your star to anyone who will constantly mutilate your dreams and aspirations.

If you are a negative person, then you should work to improve your life, not to drag others down. You may, and probably do, have every reason for your despair, but ultimately it probably won't help you or anyone else. I do not mean that you should put a brave face on it, or stiffen your upper lip — work constructively to improve your environment: enhance and ameliorate. Avoid what makes you sad and add to the store of happiness.

It is amazing that people fill their lives with mournful music, horror stories and bad news, and then wonder why they feel dejected. Catharsis is perfectly fine, but if The Exorcist just gives you nightmares, why bother? It is better to find comedy, uplifting sounds, and dramas that resolve positively. Only when you feel very strong emotionally should you risk Kafka, or Mahler’s Songs for Dead Children.

No need to ban Romeo and Juliet, and we still need Hamlet (though maybe not quite so much of Macbeth), but there is no need to wallow in it by asking Francis Bacon to decorate your bedroom.

My dear brother Andrew lyrically insists on a happy ending ‘with a smile and a song’. So this is for him: the simplest advice came beautifully packaged by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters — You've got to accentuate the positive, elim-i-nate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, do not mess with mister in between.

November 2003