Everyone loves a hero. The one who sacrifices their comfy spot on the couch to go on some wild adventure and defeats the bad guy in order to win the love of their life and country (whether that be an actual person or just a really good pair of shoes-I’m not going to judge). We love it when Luke finally wins Darth Vader back to the light and when Katniss drives her arrow through President Snow, ending reigns of terror. When Harry finally overcomes Voldy, and The Dark Lord dissipates into a cloud of ash.
Oops, spoiler alert.
The thing is, we don’t really stop to consider why the bad guys do what they do. We just want to the hero to take them out so we can cheer and go home knowing our world is safe from what Buffy and the Scoobies call The Big Bad.
This weekend, I have been doing a lot of Shadow work in my Mythological Studies program, which seems relevant to the goings on this past week, and I wanted to document this paradigm shift in the hopes that it might help someone else struggling with Darkness.
Carl Jung was a psychologist who observed different but repeating patterns of thought in people no matter the culture, country, or continent. He called these images Archetypes. These images are more than cultural stereotypes; rather, these images permeate a person’s psyche (Greek word for soul) and can be recognized in every other person on the planet. For example, a woman that feeds, protects, and loves would be recognized in every culture as the Mother archetype, regardless of clothing or choice of pearl necklace. June Cleaver is the same archetype as Hera which is the same as Mrs. Incredible which is the same as the Victorian Angel of the House and so on… The local manifestation changes the costumes, but the essence is the same.
One such Archetype Jung identified is The Shadow, that which lives in the subconscious, symbolized by darkness because our consciousness, or Ego, can’t or won’t see it. This shadow aspect of ourselves tends to be the parts that we shove away because we either can’t or don’t want to recognize it in ourselves because they are too frightening. They may go against societal expectations or break the familial or religious laws we are expected to keep. Most likely, they are aspects of ourselves that make us feel vulnerable. And because we don’t like to feel that way, we deny it in our conscious selves and call it “The Other.”
This is the important part: Because we can’t claim it in our own persona, we project it on to other people, places, and objects. The person you are attracted to might have a characteristic of a memory in your subconscious that makes you feel safe and loved. Or that person you see everyday that bothers you for reasons you can’t explain? What is bothering you is really a part of yourself or a subconscious memory you haven’t yet come to terms with. I know, heavy stuff.
Unfortunately, there is no escaping our Shadow Self. When we deny it, it will manifest in other ways, through dreams, false friendships, or even political candidates.
By day, I teach high school and junior college English in a socioeconomic diverse area. The majority of my students look to me and their other teachers to figure out what is happening in today’s world and how they fit in to today’s political climate. The short answer is… I don’t know. What I do know is too many middle and lower-class White people feel they haven’t been heard, and our President-Elect has given them a voice. Their Shadow has been recognized and is begging for attention.
For those of you that identify with being marginalized, this may come as an overwhelming shock to you. And I get it; I really do. A bunch of White folks say they’ve been left out and they FINALLY get to be heard. Novel (insert sarcastic tone here). But here’s the thing. They’re right. And so are you. The difference is theirs is an economic point of view, while for the rest of us, it is a social one.
I will never know what it is to be a Person of Color or have a same sex orientation. But you know what? I don’t need to. All I need to know is that ANY BODY, no matter the skin tone or sexual identity, needs to be heard. And respected. Because no one else knows what it is to be who they are. The trouble is, they aren’t always heard. Or respected.
Our President-Elect said things during his campaign that incited the worst of America. His outbursts signaled to those that felt trapped by today’s equality lens that they, too, could cite racial bias and mock the disabled. That they could marginalize women and feel vindicated in their actions. Because, why not? The guy at the podium did and he made millions. Has a hot wife and kids that idolize him. Talk about projection…
Here’s the hard part.
The people we don’t like usually represent something that we reject in ourselves. Our Shadow Self. And that’s a tough pill to swallow. I’m not saying that if you hate Trump, you secretly want to be him. I’m saying that it would do all of us good to figure out what it is about him that represents the part of ourselves that we are afraid of. I will use myself as the sacrificial example.
I have never personally hated a president before. I have disagreed with their politics, but never at a personal level. But this man. He has so many times represented the polar opposite of what I believe in. He consistently berates the female sex. He mocked a disabled reporter. He marginalized President Obama based on skin color and birthright, even though his claims were unfounded many times over. As a student of rhetoric, I find his verbiage to be vague. He over uses pronouns and leaves off the ends of sentences, allowing his listeners to finish his thought process with their own.
Here is where the Shadow comes in.
When he says “many people” and “a lot of things,” we can only fill in those vague references with our own experiences. Arguably, my experiences are vastly different than other people listening to the same speech. I, like everyone else, have to fill in those blanks based on my own experiences. And as a middle-class White woman, my interpretation of his remarks will be vastly different than an upper-class black man, or lower-middle class Hispanic female, and so on and so forth. We all fill in those blanks with our own experiences. For me, his “many people” become misogynists or people with power I don’t perceive myself to have. I become afraid. I imagine this is what most people are feeling when they project their own experiences into his lack of clarifying words.
There is a darkness that needs to be examined in America. A Shadow projection that needs to be reconciled to the collective Ego system that is America’s identity.
Until that happens, and I have hope that it can, we have to be our own hero-reconcile our own Shadow in the way Luke brought his father back from the Dark Side. Perhaps, if we keep our Shadow from seeping into the dark places, we can keep our fears and unspoken desires from manifesting into what we identify as evil.
What’s that old song lyric? “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me…”
I guess we have four years to figure it out.