This morning a friend shared with me that she felt like the world has drastically changed for the worse. I have heard this comment a lot lately and tended to agree with it. But, as I have been reflecting on New Year’s Eve I realize that I don’t agree at all.
I’ve been in this world for over eight decades. I was born in the midst of our Great Depression, when one of our strongest presidents reminded us, “that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. The great depression morphed into a great world war. As the war ended history flowed into the Cold War, the threat of the Berlin airlift, the Korean War, and almost two decades of nuclear terror. Then the sixties arrived with the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of our visionary and moral leaders, riots in our streets, cities burning, a skyrocketing murder rate, drugs and seeming lawlessness.
At this point in our traumatic history, 1968, we as a country, our social character, turned out of fear to what Dr. Jung called the “regressive restoration of the persona” (CW. vol.7, p.168.) This idea means we elected a president we thought could help us return to the stability and values of our past – the stability and values which were actually the persona of our past that masked plenty of denied darkness. We all know the darkness of our social character had its share of pain, injustices and repressed rage. Dr. Jung points out that choosing this course of trying to adapt – attempting to restore a regressive persona – is an evasion of our reality, challenges and potentials. It results in a growing cost of “neurotic sickliness.” Choosing this path immediately begins to override the values of our hearts that ultimately make life worth living. We chose the path of regression out of our fear of facing the future and the chaos that was challenging us to face ourselves. We chose this path to avoid righting old wrongs, helping old structures die, and midwifing the birth of a new spirit and values.
In choosing the path of regression we began to lose our souls and the soul of our nation. We began to live in denial of our realities and began creating a societal shadow in our social character that dehumanizes us, seeks power and fosters greed producing anxiety and self-interest. “Neurotic sickliness” is a mild term for the course we have been on since the 1970s that has resulted in deep problems in our society. Serious problems that have generated layers of anger, rage, despair and divisiveness. In my books America Now and Students Under Siege I explore how we, in fact, have become the most heartless and cruelest of all the developed nations in how we care for ourselves and each other. As a healing path I focus on the creative power in facing ourselves and reclaiming the heart of our democracy. Our collective loss of soul has left us living on top of layers of anxiety and depression – layers we are skilled at denying. Our own history tells us we can do better than this.
It is crucial that we understand that we are in the midst of a transformational time in history. History is demanding that we change, that we give up old destructive social actualities and our blindness to their effects. Being in a historical period of transformation—one that demands change, healing, and new visions for the future—means we face a pivotal choice. We can choose regression out of fear or we can commit ourselves to do the work required to make this a change for the better and a new, expanded social reality. Both of my books America Now and Students Under Siege present my ideas for guiding us through this second choice.
It is so important to understand that if we fail to make a choice this failure is a choice for regression that will result in our collective suffering becoming much worse. I hope for all of us that beginning a new year will renew our determination to refuse choosing the paths of fear and denial. Traditionally, starting a new year is a time for us to renew our sense of self-responsibility and spirit. Ultimately, our individual spirits determine our national spirit.
We have seen signs that our spirit is not dead. The refusal of the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to respond to their tragedy as victims is a sign of awakening. The wave of youth, femininity and ethnicity that has retaken the Congress show a new vibrant spirit. That Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gellum and Beto O’Rourke lost their elections but won victories for our national soul electrified both a new generation of voters and many of us older ones. Here we see a powerful statement from our national soul that youth generating new life is not a matter of age but our state of mind. A youthful state of mind at any age welcomes the challenges of life with openness, a spirit of adventure, strength and courage. In a youthful state of mind, one that isn’t afraid, we can recognize the pain and chaos of today as our neurotic sickliness in its death throes while a renewed national spirit is struggling to be born.
Making the needed changes in our country requires a long term, and steadfast commitment. But as a first step we must look in the mirror, see the roots of our problems clearly and begin the journey of transforming them. Doing so is joining the strengths of the generations before us that had the ability to stand up to any challenge, no matter how difficult or daunting.
This is an important time to remember the soul of our heritage. Our heritage is founded on the reality that every person is sacred and deserves the chance for life, liberty and equality of opportunity. These are not cliches. They are values of the soul, the American heritage, that has inspired the world. This is the heritage of my parents, the greatest generation that stood up to tyranny and rebuilt their world. I pray that we can remember we have the power to restore our image as the leading good guys in the world who inspire the world to become better.
Our history and destiny are shaping a turning point that is a challenge to us and an opportunity for us to decide the future of our national heritage.
Can you join me in refusing to take the path of regression, fear and denial?
art credit: Capricorn, Nicholas Roerich
Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris
, 2019, authenticity, fear, hope, Jungian psychology