America’s like that couple at the dinner party. You know the ones — you’ve connected with the wife immediately, she’s gregarious, pretty, intelligent, and charismatic — but, the husband you’re not so sure about. He seems nice, sure he’s quiet, but most are when they meet new people. You’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, accepting his introversion.
As the night progresses, you begin to notice that the husband has dropped a few questionable comments, he’s smirked and shifted at some inappropriate times, like when racism or immigration is being discussed. You’ve given him a few sideways glances, truly not sure where he’s coming from, because he simply will not voice his opinion thoroughly. But, there’s an air, you know? Something’s off…
The husband in this analogy represents the underbelly or unrecognized aspects of the country: covert, uncultured, emotionally inarticulate — truly the shadow of the nation. The wife represents the status quo; the collective, appropriate, and accepted persona of the country, domestically and to a superficial degree (what we see when we meet a fellow like-minded individual). She also represents the face we would wish to show the world on an international scale. If we can — no matter the situation at home — put on a confident face and smile, the world believes everything’s okay.
As the party progresses, you’re finishing up the second course, sitting back satisfied, full, a bit euphoric and content. And as soon as the clock strikes 2016, the husband drops a horrible, gut-wrenching racial slur! You freeze, feeling the collective swell of the room, petrified in silence. He smiles awkwardly, laughing a bit at his slip, trying to reconcile the parting of paradigms as the room instantly splits in two.
At this point, even the wife turns to him and sneers. His loose lips let slip the truth about his character, much like certain segments of the nation let slip last year their true feelings about politics, religion, and race. Diametrical opposition to the very notion of bigotry is the instant cringe response in a well-adjusted individual who supports unity among mankind. So naturally, the room (or in this analogy, the majority of the nation and world) responds with disgust, indifference, and reproach.
Why did this opinion spring forth? Why did this man feel the need to interject his hateful ideals into the peaceful revelry? And, why now is the nation doing the same? Well, to understand this phenomenon, we must first examine the archetypal notions of the trickster and the shadow.
Cunning, covert, belligerent when cornered, self-interested, and a gifted speaker of lies, the trickster archetype in myth is vilified and immortalized as the secret doer of destruction in civilized culture. And, interestingly enough, we now have one running our country.
A trickster archetype can run rampant when given power, as its interest in self-preservation and reverence is palpably present. But let’s pause for a moment and recognize that, when dealing with a trickster, nothing is as it seems. Is it possible that this aspect of Trump is really so unfortunate? What if this blundering fool is somehow (rather unintentionally) the agent of change our country needs in this particular era of growth and self-discovery? Sure, his appointments are bigots and anti-intellectuals, and his executive orders could only be described as ‘detrimental to humankind at large’. But, let’s look at the broader scope of what’s occurring: Trump has successfully teased out of the country its own shadow; an ugly but very present part of itself that lingered just beneath the surface which, to a certain degree, has gone unseen while affecting control over the direction of our culture.
Our favorite psychologist and mystic Carl Jung writes, “The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.” [Aion (1951). CW 9, Part II: P.14]
We can see in the concept of the shadow that psychologically within an individual, one can remain unaware of their darkness only until the point that the process of true inner growth illuminates it. This revelation is a natural and absolutely vital part of the growth of the individual self. One must come to understand, accept, and truly learn to love their sub-personalities in order to constitute themselves as a spiritually outperforming, optimally-functioning Self. If we then apply this understanding to a society or culture as a whole, we can see that these disparate aspects of a cultural personality, or sub-cultures, can be categorized as known and unknown, or revealed and hidden. Thusly, an unrecognized or unfavorable portion of a culture, like racist groups that contend with an already established and ‘acceptable’ social context, could be seen as the ‘shadow’ of a culture. Sure, we knew these groups existed, but thanks to mister Trump, we‘re now certain of their presence in our culture.
Okay, so we’ve established that the shadow of the country has been delivered to the light of observance by the trickster entity known as Trump. What are the implications of such a development? Let’s return to the analogy. Imagine you’re at the dinner table, the racial epithet having just been uttered — welcome to 2017. What happens next?
Is it possible to see ignorance yet hear pain in an individual who has not fully matured? Pausing for a moment and acknowledging this pain reveals the source within him as a hurt little boy, unable to keep his head held high, perhaps abused and abandoned, left frozen in time, lamenting from within the body of this bigot. How can you not love that child? Instead of reacting with disgust and immediate recoil, perhaps the pain from which this man speaks can be met with an open heart. Pausing, accepting this possible truth, and starting a heart-felt conversation with the man may help you ascertain his true beliefs — and maybe, just maybe, you can steer him toward compassion.
Now, am I still talking of the man at the table or of Trump himself? You be the judge; thus is the nature of the shape-shifting trickster.
What if choosing love over fear masked by disgust is truly the transformative force which can transmute these darker energies of the shadow?
Moving forward we must recognize that we have been given a chance to explore a new awakening of experience as a collective. We can only heal what has been revealed. And, as Jung so eloquently put it, “…no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort.…this act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.” We, as a nation, and to a larger extent, a human race, have the unique opportunity at this particular nexus to choose love over fear. Trump can appoint who he wants, try to order what he chooses and sees fit from his distorted, scared, and repressed point of view, spewing his hurt around the world, but let’s remember that something larger is at play here. Soon enough, that individual choice of love over fear inspires more and more of the same choices to be made until the darkness of the shadow is truly illuminated and — in time — truly healed. This shockwave of enlightenment is what’s at stake.
Perhaps you can take a moment right now to choose love over fear, to replace division in your heart with collection. We’re all in this together. We must not let a divisive ideology such as racism infect our sense of compassion and continuity of humanity. To paraphrase the words of my colleague Dr. Karafiath, perhaps we can all take a moment and send some love to the wounded child within Trump, helping that little guy heal. Think for a moment that all great change is preceded by times of unrest and the harbinger of this great awakening might be the trickster who’s teased to the light the darkness of our culture. A darkness that can now be healed, forgiven, and embraced once and for all.
Whether you feel compelled to write your senator, protest on the street corner, or speak out against this ignorance in whichever way you see fit, remember to come only from a place of supreme and unconditional love for humankind. Let not these divisive mechanisms divide your heart at the risk of becoming exactly what you oppose.
Stand firmly in love, for it is our only hope.