MERCURIAL: fickle, flighty, erratic


The vocabulary of psychology has become so familiar in this country, that we are prone to using psychological terms freely.   Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we’re way off target.

I think, for instance, of the term ADHD, an authentic category of adolescent behavior which has a clinical component to it.  It can be attributed to a young person who is “off the wall” at times.   However, every kid that is lively and outgoing does not have ADHD.  Some kids are just wired that way, and love to jump out of trees, or race around the house frantically.

So it is with the term “Bi-Polar.”   It is a psychological term used to identify a person’s behavior that jumps back and forth between really, really high moments and moments that are dark and dreary.  But again, everyone who switches between these places is not bi-polar.   They may just have a mercurial quality to their personality.

It’s not at all unusual for someone to complain about a supervisor or boss whose demeanor is flighty at times and somber and nasty at others. Or a kid who complains about a teacher whose mood takes such flights.   Or a judge who on some occasions is generous and compassionate, and will suddenly be harsh and strict.

Some say the word mercurial has to do with the influence of the plant Mercury on someone.   They will say that the person is born during the period of the prominence of Mercury in the sky.  Or their actions are a response to the nearness of Mercury to the Earth.  Astrology has formulas which define the affect of solar places on the way in which people act.  Moods and behavior are seen as directly caused by the movement of the solar system and the ways in which various solar entities intersect or interact.   In astrology, Mercury is believe to be invested with creativity and flights of fancy.

People who are flighty or erratic are difficult to read.  It is best to spend some time around them before dumping a new idea or a problem on their desk.   If they are mellow, it can be wonderful.  If not, it can be a disaster.  That is where a lot of energy and creative enterprise gets sacrificed in a work setting where the boss is mercurial.  It can be draining for the employees.


Quote Credit:  Julia Cameron

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