The following is a continuation of my blog series based on my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment. If you are just now picking up on the series, you might start with the Introduction: Welcome to the Challenges of Change.
I hope that it will help you, as writing it has helped me, to find a candle to contribute to your light.
Whether you agree with me or not, I hope my work helps you clarify your own position, both within and to the chaotic times surrounding us. Above all, I hope it helps you create a new vision of the future and a new hope that draws you to commit to it.
Asheville, North Carolina
The Midnight Hour:
A Jungian Perspective on America’s Pivotal Moment
Chapter 8: Daring to Wake Up: Purpose-Driven Help Where It Is Needed
There was a revolutionary called Jesus who taught us the value in our lives of love, justice, healing the sick, and helping the poor. We are worse off because out of our fear we stubbornly do not live what he came to teach us. We need to learn how to be helpful to the poor and to each other. Pity frequently isn’t helpful, and compassion may not be much better. Handouts are necessary in the case of the absolutely helpless, but they should be given so that a very sick, aged, or disabled person can live in dignity. We must give from our concern for a suffering fellow human being. Being judgmental is of no value. Condemning the poor, the semi-poor, and others of us who are struggling with personal failures or failing at being individually responsible is arrogantly defensive on our part and may be a purposeful misunderstanding of the entire situation. A helping hand and the realization that we are all part of the human family and citizens of a country that considers every person sacred are what is needed now.
Isn’t it time that we remember and learn from our own history? Didn’t President Franklin Roosevelt give a helping hand—not a hand-out mind you—to the largest number of people in our history in the New Deal? His programs taught to men and women, who were sinking for the third time, character structure, life skills, job skills, how to see themselves working in the future, and how to live in a new level of society that many of them had never been exposed to.
In today’s world we need to re-focus on living with an attitude that reflects caring, purpose, self-respect, meaning, and valuing each other. We also need to regain the value of working together for our common good. The New Deal programs taught people the value of community and of service to it.
In the atmosphere of today’s world, it seems increasingly hard to teach the values that make our lives worth living; such values as seeing our work as meaningful, our relationships as treasures, our families as potential for fulfillment rather than as mere obligation, our educational systems as sources of a rich life, and our homes as a place to rest our heads. We need to return our government’s focus to supporting the values that make life worthwhile, to be of the people, by the people, and for the people.
We are led to a better way when we remember that character structure, work ethics, healthy ambition, and civility are values and skills that must be learned. And if they must be learned, we must be able to also teach them. (U.S. Senator Ben Sasse has a lot to add to this topic in his book The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.)
The grounded New Deal approach provided adults, young and older, a practical, mature entrance into a new life of meaning and satisfaction in contrast to our current greater culture’s fantasy of achieving fame and super-earnings while fulfilling one’s potential or dreams. Young adults and older ones who have the foundation of their lives shaken or never formed need a hand up. Believe me, I know; I’ve been there. Finding my own version of the New Deal approach after finishing college, in a way that did nothing to help me into adulthood, created a foundation for my life that enabled me to live creatively while also facing many hardships and challenges over the years.
The New Deal programs opened their participants’ eyes to a broader vision of life, they approached them as the Marines approached J. D. Vance. In both cases, they engaged participants and recruits as if they knew nothing in terms of life skills. Both programs realized the students needed to unlearn weak attitudes and habits. And as they taught them how to have a new vision of themselves in life, they also taught them how to pursue this vision through action, purpose, self-discipline, and commitment.
In the New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided work and purpose to more than three million young men before it was over. The CCC was devoted to reclaiming our forest lands and our environment. Reserve army officers were called back into service to oversee the project. The well-known historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her book Leadership in Turbulent Times, gives a moving and dramatic history of the New Deal in chapter eleven, “Turnaround Leadership, Franklin Roosevelt and the Hundred Days.” I hope you and every candidate for office will read this book.
The Public Works Administration was meant to encourage private enterprise to build immense projects to benefit our society and that would endure. The author above lists the Bonneville Dam, the Lincoln Tunnel, La Guardia Airport, and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as examples of their work.
The Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration mobilized community-centered projects that included building hundreds of schools, libraries, fire stations, playgrounds, skating rinks, and swimming pools.
The Federal Arts Projects sponsored murals for public buildings. The Federal Theatre Project enabled the performance of classical works to reach people in remote areas. The benefits of education, arts, and culture were a serious part of renewing and encouraging the members of our society.
This dynamic administration’s chief aide believed… “that direct help in the form of a dole undermined character and independence and that men and women desperately wanted and needed the dignity of work and the discipline labor gave to one’s life.” I agree. It is clear that President Roosevelt believed giving a helping hand is a duty, not charity. That work must be done from the bottom up, not the top down, and that creativity, direct feedback, and flexibility were fundamental in administering these programs. He was also quick to cut the ones that didn’t work.
I have listed what impressed me the most about these programs, which were aimed at developing individual character and dignity while working for the common good:
They taught life skills.
They taught fundamental health and hygiene skills.
They taught social skills—how to live and work with a variety of other people.
They taught practical skills, like how to handle one’s money responsibly, to budget and support one’s family or one’s self.
They taught respect for work and a spirit for working for goals beyond one’s personal gain.
They taught job skills.
These programs were considered an investment in our future, individually and collectively. In fact, they were an investment in our national character structure. As a boy I knew a number of men and women who had participated in some of these programs. They all considered them life-changing, often life-saving experiences, and they left them with a renewed sense of self-confidence and pride. They remembered them with gratitude and fondness.
In our country’s history we have the model for how to give a hand up to our poor, support to people where jobs are in transition, and for a dynamic approach to challenges like global warming. But we must have the courage to renew this model in our times.
Unfortunately, the requirements for any program may seem too much for some people. There is a lesson for all of us in this reality. There never will be a helping-hand program that can change everyone. We must focus on helping and teaching the most people we can and understand our limits. Plus, no program can be put in place and then left unattended. All these types of programs are visions that must be lived into. They must be designed to evolve, to be re-imagined and changed with experience, as our society and workplace are changing over time.
* * * *
Becoming a responsible citizen means learning how to face challenges and bounce back from stumbles and failures. It means learning how to become self-confident and self-disciplined and to delay self-gratification. Developing a basic sense of self-confidence comes from having goals, achieving them, and having that noticed. The combination of toughness, discipline, and support in the New Deal programs created a climate of enthusiasm, engagement, and the desire to be able to shape, direct, and improve one’s life. We need to be teaching the people to whom we are giving a hand up today the competence and strength of character they need to become responsible adults and citizens. I can’t help but think—wouldn’t it be better if we focused as much on becoming responsible citizens as we do on the rights of citizens?
Most of us have heard the old fable that says if you give a person a fish, you feed them for a day. If you teach a person to fish, they can feed themselves for a lifetime. It occurred to me when I was reading about the New Deal that while I am sure the Roosevelt administration faced many challenges and struggles, they were teaching their participants how to fish. Memories from my earlier years of working in the inner city came back to me while I was reading about those programs. Tears slowly filled my eyes. Tears of hope. During those violent, desperate years in my past, we were trying as hard as we could, and yet hope seemed beyond the horizon.
* * * *
We who have been living in the more affluent bubble the last few decades seem caught in a double bind. On the one hand, we want to be compassionate, or at least seem that way. On the other hand, we are afraid of and want to defend ourselves against the people, the culture, and the communities caught in the clutches of drastic economic hardships. We fear them as if we are being threatened by foreigners. We fear their crudeness, their potential violence, their anger, their drug use, their failure to know and respect our rules; most of all, far too many of us fear how much it might really cost to give them a helping hand. Well, all I can say is that, if we have learned anything at all from our history at home and abroad since World War II, it should be that whenever we allow ourselves to be driven down the path of fear, we are on a direct road to disaster. This is a time for us to help each other without fear and to invest in our country with creativity to rebuild the structure of our democracy, beginning with its human infrastructure.
* * * *
Inspired by the New Deal example from our history, I have to ask:
Wouldn’t it be better if we used this model on a larger scale to develop a program of teaching people to fish similar to the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps we had during the Great Depression?
Wouldn’t it be better if today’s programs were founded on the development of character and resilience as well as job training?
Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a backbone in this program of trainers and teachers who were retired SEALs and the equivalent from other services—men and women who have learned to walk the walk of earning and living these values?
Wouldn’t it be helpful if these programs teach life skills, as the Marines taught them to J. D. Vance? This means to help one learn how to navigate in job markets, personal banking and shopping markets, the health care market, the insurance market, and others.
Wouldn’t it be better if today’s programs include the basics of personal hygiene, nutrition, communication skills, and the need to understand and resist the fight-or-flight syndrome?
Wouldn’t it be better for us to realize that in today’s world our programs must go beyond job training? Learning self-discipline, self-respect and self-responsibility teaches us to value ourselves and see our potentials. It also becomes the foundation that can support us in a rapidly changing world of jobs and economics.
Wouldn’t it be better if we devote a significant effort to develop the resources in our human infrastructure? These workers could revitalize our material infrastructure, work to conserve our natural resources, and work to boost our renewable energy industry. We would be lifting our ability to care for each other to a new level while at the same time fueling our economic engine.
This idea reminds me of Robert F. Kennedy’s challenge to us in his great lecture on humanity: “We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous, although it is; not because the laws of God command it, although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do.”
The above is Chapter 8 of my book The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.
Book Excerpts and Resources
, 2021, America, being human, capitalism, citizenship, Elder Wisdom, fear, hope, living authentically, poverty
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