Reflections on Charlottesville — Is this who we really are?

14 Aug

As I reflect on yesterday’s events in Charlottesville I am reminded of something a young man in an election’s focus group said back in November— “My biggest fear is that these candidates are not a mistake, that the American people have elected the future of America — what we aspire to be and what we are deep down inside.”

I remember watching that 60 minute segment and realizing for the first time that a huge part of the population was bubbling over with fear and hatred. As much as I wanted to reject it and label it “those people” I knew in my heart that it went much deeper than Trump and Trump supporters. There was something in those emotions that was part and parcel of the American psyche. We were all infected.

Jung wrote that what is true of humanity in general is also true of each individual. If humanity suffers from violence, from prejudice, from senseless and brutal acts, then each individual suffers from them as well. Alan Briskin in The Stirring of the Soul in the Workplace talks about how our natural inclination when something horrific happens is to condemn those responsible and quickly set ourselves apart as we search for ways to “fix” the deviance.

We function as if there is no collective shadow that we must share responsibility for. There is only individual evil to be eliminated. The result is the need for more repressive policies, more prisons, and further applications of a moral varnish to rough planks of human nature. Yet civilization cannot be held together by moral injunction and social repression. Rather, we must comprehend the cruelty within ourselves and the social conditions that give rise to such horror.

So what are the social conditions that give rise to this particular horror? Fear? Uncertainty? Loss of purpose, sense of self, community? How might we use this event and others like it to better understand how we get here, begin to deal with the unresolved issues of the past, accept our shadow selves, learn from our shadow selves and figure out how to heal as individuals and as a nation.

It’s easy to condemn, easy to take the moral high ground and separate ourselves from the evils associated with some distant group. What isn’t easy, but what may be the only way out of this, is empathy and the recognition that we are all in some way responsible for what we have become.

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