A recent, massive book entitled Behavioral Health, which contains 95 articles written by 143 authors and which encompasses over 1200 pages, demonstrates, among many other things, that which even some of the ancient Greeks knew: What a person thinks and how a person acts can have a great affect on that person's health (or lack thereof), and on the health of those people close to the person.
My reading of the book followed rather closely on the "heels" of my re-reading of a children's classic. Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read both books because of my interest in behavioral health.
In my opinion, Little Lord Fauntleroy is a classic literary case of behavioral health. I believe this, even though the book is, at least on the surface, a children's book, and even though it was written in the 1880's, long before the term "behavioral health" was coined. The book does a rather good lob of presenting the central themes of modern behavioral health, through the story it presents. Seriously!
Let me make my case by relating some of the details of the story and by connecting these to behavioral health as a discipline, generally, and to the book. Behavioral Health, specifically.
Little Lord Fauntleroy is a book about a young boy, his mother and his grandfather. The boy's late father was the youngest son of a famous and powerful English family. When the boy's father married a young, beautiful, loving, but poor American girl, he was disowned by his father, the powerful Earl, and ordered never to write to or to visit the family.
Because of the untimely deaths of his own father and of his two uncles, the small boy, age eight, becomes the heir to the titles, estates and fortunes of his elderly, infirm grandfather, whom the boy has never seen and about whom the boy knows almost nothing.
The grandfather, who is an extremely proud old man, wants the family's titles, estates and fortunes, which he holds, to pass to someone of whom he can be proud, someone who is, by virtue of appearance, personality and training, prepared to carry forward with the family name and to bring credit to that name. He wants someone who is trained to be an English aristocrat of the highest station.
Since the boy is now the legal heir, and since the old man, by law, can do nothing about that, he sends his lawyer to America to work out an agreement with the mother. In the agreement, both the boy and the mother will live in England, even though the old, ill Earl detests the very thought of the American woman who "stole" his youngest son from him.
The boy's mother decides to accept the offer, because she feels it would fulfill her husband's wishes, even though she suspects how the Earl truly feels about her. Also, she feels accepting the Earl's offer would be best for her son.
Thus, an eight year old boy, who is thoroughly American by virtue of birth and early experience, journeys to England to live on a great estate and in a grand castle. He becomes an English Lord, one who will become an Earl when the grandfather dies. While the boy lives with the grandfather, the mother lives near the castle in a comfortable house. The boy will be permitted to see his mother on a daily basis, but the old Earl refuses to see the mother, or to even mention her name.
The friendship with the grocer has given the boy ample experience in talking with an adult on "equal" terms: man-to-man, so to speak. In fact, the two have discussed politics. the daily news and a variety of other topics over a period of time, perhaps several years. The boy is also a precocious reader and is quite interested in long words. Thus, while he certainly has many boyish characteristics, interests and activities, and has played with children his own age, he also has established more mature relationships with several adults, especially with his mother and the grocer.
The old Earl is genuinely interested in determining what sort of boy the new, little Lord Fauntleroy is. More importantly, he wants to see whether the boy, by his looks and by his potential for education, could come to fulfill the old man's hopes for the future. The Earl does not believe that a boy raised in the United States as an American, by an American mother, could be of much account or hold much promise for the future. He fears the boy will be stubborn and headstrong, and that he will be inclined to look and to act like the Earl's two dead, older sons.
The old Earl is thus in great mental conflict when the time to meet the young boy is at hand. Hope, fear, pride and prejudice are at work, all powerfully so. These emotions fill his thoughts; they intrude at every moment, affecting his very behavior. A powerful array of physical and psychological forces are set in motion. The old Earl hardly dares to look at the boy at their first meeting, lest his disappointment be too great to bear.
For his part, the young Lord is extremely curious to meet his grandfather. The grandfather had instructed the lawyer to lavish gifts on the boy, especially money, in hopes of winning the good opinion of the boy, even before they meet. Coupled with the boy's curiosity is his natural friendliness, he is disposed to think the best of people and to establish and maintain cordial relations with everyone he meets. Quite the opposite of the old man. Finally, the boy is fearless in meeting new people and in experiencing the novel. He is well-bred, handsome, well-formed, healthy, strong and hardy, for his age. Altogether, he is a winning, friendly and outgoing child. He could not think that he would not please the old Earl, or that they would not get along on the best of terms.
As it turned out, the boy's appearance, his personality and his manner are tailor-made to please the old man, to more than fulfill the old gentleman's wildest hopes, to overfill his pride. The boy's ability to approach the old man without fear and to talk with him without deference adds yet another powerful "plus" to their relationship from the very first meeting.
During their first meeting, the Earl asks probing questions of the little boy, questions designed to see what sort of person the young boy is. The boy answers the questions in a forthright and a friendly way. The Earl is astonished to discover that Fauntleroy constantly thinks of others and that he had spent most of the money provided by the lawyer helping those less fortunate than himself. Obviously the boy has a very different personality than the selfish, old Earl.
In the days and weeks following that first meeting, the boy-through his conversations and his actions, "excites, stimulates, startles, dumbfounds, entertains, moves, amuses and puzzles" the old man. The Earl feels love, pride and joy. He is pleased. He begins to smile and to laugh.
He begins to treat those around him differently, partly so Fauntleroy will not think him cruel, unkind and disagreeable. He is forced to do some "hard thinking" about his life. He is brought face-to-face with what he has become, and why and with what the boy is, and why. He likes everything he sees about the boy and very, very little of what he is forced to see that is ugly and unwholesome about hisself and his past life.
The Earl is no longer bored. He is no longer "locked" into thinking only about himself and his painful, gouty foot. He no longer dwells on his antipathy toward his family, people in general, and the world. He no longer rages, or shouts or complains. He becomes almost gentle, civil and positive.
The Earl is caught up in a flurry of activity. He and the boy play games. They talk and walk, short distances at first because of the gouty foot. The Earl takes the boy to church to "show him off." He buys the boy a pony and they ride together when the Earl's gouty foot improves enough to permit that.
The Earl begins to enjoy life as he never has in his long life. He is totally involved with the young, dynamic, positive boy. The old man's love, ambition, pride and joy grow and flourish, and his love and devotion are returned by the boy. Interest in others develops as does a willingness to help those in need, greatly fostered by the boy's examples, to be sure.
The Earl becomes less self-centered, less selfish and more humane.In short, the old man starts to become a human being, in the very best sense of that term. Just as the Earl's early life had formed his personality and had led to his (mis)behaviors, so too, has his new life with Lord Fauntleroy begun to change the old man's personality and behaviors.
The above changes occur because the old man's experiences with the boy are powerful enough to transcend the cumulative effects of a lifetime devoted to negative thinking and to selfish acts. The old man develops a positive outlook, for himself and toward others. He establishes effective patterns of interpersonal relations. His entire quality of life and the quality of the lives of those around him changes, all for the better. As the quality of the old man's thoughts and of his behaviors changes, so does his health.
All of the above is exactly what modern behavioral health is all about. Scientific evidence for the changes similar to those seen in the old man in this fictional account exist today. Yesterday's fiction has become today's scientific reality.
The Burnett book reflects, in fictional terms, much of what is to be found in the 95 articles in the modern book. Behavioral Health. Truly, Little Lord Fauntleroy is a literary case history of behavioral health, and a very good example, to say the least!