As I write this blog post, I realize I am in an interesting place. During the last few years, I have found myself, as a Jungian analyst, deeply involved with people in the suffering, fear, chaos and uncertainty of these times. I too feel these things, am threatened by them and have felt overwhelmed at times by the anger, anxiety, pain and confusion of the times we are living in. Yet, I am also filled with a profound and abiding gratitude for the life I have, the experiences in my Jungian journey, and being able to help facilitate the journey in other people’s lives. “Gratitude” is a word I cherish along with the word “compassion.” Both of these words help define the foundation of what it means to be human for me. And I believe the meanings of these words are born from the love within our hearts.
We are at a crucial turning point in our history. The core issue challenging our culture is alienation. We see it at the root of decades of increasing violence, in destruction for destruction’s sake in our politics, in too many newscasts, internet communications, and in how we have failed to come together to effectively respond to the pandemic.
It is helpful to remember that the first way to empower ourselves and our future is to confront our reality. Then I think it is helpful to ask ourselves: “What is our legacy going to be? How will future generations remember us?” This period, the days passing right now, are going to be judged and judged severely in practical, spiritual and moral terms by history unless we create fundamental changes in the values our society actually stands for. Our failures in being able to live together in our families, communities, cities, states and nations are challenging our self-delusions of power, success, positive thinking and individualism. We are no longer able to deny that there is so much rage, fear, violence and alienation. As we begin to confront the realities behind our alienation, we should remember that Dr. Jung writes: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
So, what is alienation? Etymologically the word means “estrange.” “It is the state or experience of being isolated from a group or activity to which one should belong or in which one should be involved.”
Most of us have tried to live a good enough life to feel a certain amount of security and self-satisfaction. But, during this time we are living in, our society is like the proverbial frog sitting in a slowly heating pot of water that will eventually boil and kill him. Because the temperature is rising slowly, the frog doesn’t gain the awareness he needs to jump out of the pot. Like the frog, we have lived for decades in a society where the temperature of our toxic stress has been rising. The fear comes from threats to our well-being that seem beyond our control. The threats may be to our security, our identities, our place and value in our culture; losses that can bring shame and threaten our self-worth, our health and even the safety of our loved ones. Like the frog, our lack of realistic awareness has left us trying to adjust to a now dangerous situation that is dehumanizing us and can destroy our lives.
As these threats, stresses and fears dehumanize us they estrange us—they alienate us—from our neighbors, our experience of being a valued citizen and of being a part of a whole nation we feel loyal to. They alienate us from the history of what was once considered our greatest strength: our ability to stand up to any challenge no matter how difficult it was. But, even more important, they alienate us from our hearts, the source of our capacities for courage, love, and compassion.
Well over a half century ago we experienced the first mass shooting of fourteen people at the University of Texas Tower in Austin, by a lone shooter. The shock of this event motivated two of our greatest social psychoanalysts, Dr. Erich Fromm and Dr. Rollo May, to extensively study what was taking place in our society to produce such a horrible event. They asked: what was taking place in our society, not just in the shooter?
Both doctors came to the same conclusion: if we become dehumanized to the point of feeling alienated from self and others, we become filled with profound inner rage and compelled to be destructive. In that state we can easily be manipulated by media and political influences that focus our rage and fear on supposed enemies, personal, political and institutional.
Dehumanization, alienation and rage have been building in our society like the heat being turned up around the frog in the pan. If we, unlike the frog, can wake up we can become aware of our danger, our pain, and the increasing sources of alienation. Pain, challenges and destructive tendencies are not causes we should deny, bemoan or turn away from. They are calling us to awaken to spiritual growth, “…to love our neighbor as ourselves.” We must also remember that hope comes from taking responsibility and being engaged.
As I conclude, I would like to ask you to follow Jung’s advice, to look into your and our darkness through these questions:
What are your thoughts about dehumanization, alienation taking place in our society today, and perhaps in yourself? Are you willing to discuss these powerful emotions and their effects with friends and family members?
Is it easier to deny their existence? How can you accept the challenge to begin the conversation to bring these powerful forces into the light, to turn the heat off on the stove?
How can you, as a human being, be changed by accepting this challenge?
And please remember that knowledge, especially self-knowledge, brings help and hope, the ability to re-imagine ourselves and our futures.
As you face these questions, my prayers are with you.
Go deeper into this and related topics in The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.
art credit: A Grotto in the Gulf of Salernum, with the figure of Julia, banished from Rome, Joseph Wright
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris
, anxiety, being human, citizenship, Elder Wisdom, fear, hope, living authentically, responsibility, shadow work, violence in America
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