The following is the Introduction to my new book, The Midnight Hour: A Jungian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment, which will be published in early February, 2020.
This is the third edition in which I discuss our country’s current political situation. This unfolding thought process examines the chaotic political period we are experiencing as a nation and how to understand it, the effect our political choices today will have on our future, and how personal and political ideals are tightly bound in American society. Building on my earlier editions, in this volume I seek to create order out of chaos and develop a vision for the future in the crucible of my own understanding.
Welcome to the Challenges of Change
It always strikes me with awe that whether in nature, in my personal experience, or in our collective experience, life is continuously in a state of becoming. The metaphor for this process in myth and religion is life, death, and rebirth. Plants die and grow again. So do the cells in my body. The seed must die for the plant to break free and begin to sprout. Psychologically, I meet that cycle in my progressing life by going through the emotional challenges and often the pain of dying to my comfortable way of life. This may include giving up my old perspectives or my old expectations, and may require questioning my value system and the obligations it supports. Meanwhile I am caught betwixt and between while the future is invading my life. It can be scary and threatening to be in the process of becoming a new self and creating a new story or narrative that expands me, brings together my disparate parts into a cohesive whole, and gives me a new stake in life.
The reality of always becoming, always facing change hasn’t fit in very well with either my ideals or plans for the future, so I have the difficult choice of either living this reality, as the great German poet Goethe wrote:
And so long as you haven’t experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.
Or rejecting it. However, rejecting it often means rigidifying, denying being fully alive, and at a profound level closing my heart to greater loves and creative potentials.
* * * *
Most of you are well aware that the future will invade our lives with crises or turning points many times. Every significant crisis is a turning point, a moment of truth for us to face. Every such turning point requires us to make personal changes in order to resolve it satisfactorily. Successful outcomes require acceptance of our situation, self-examination, courage, a new creative vision, and action. Our country also has a national character, a social character that faces similar crises and turning points.
Because our country’s social character is a combination of the personalities of all of its citizens, each one of us contributes to how the crises develop, how we face and understand them, and how they are resolved. To think otherwise is to abandon the value of our citizenship in this democracy, to become subject to the forces dominating our government. If we abandon the responsibility of our citizenship, whether through frustration or through lethargy, we are abandoning the soul of our nation as it was expressed in our Declaration of Independence.
To show how our personal psychology and our social character are intertwined in the development of the crises/turning points in our nation, I will use stories from my own and others’ personal experiences. I will also be using the Jungian perspective that our symptoms—the chaos, anger, and divisions we are experiencing—are symptoms from the suffering soul of our nation. These symptoms churn in our national shadow and demand that attention be paid to the harmful activities that wound our national character. Anger and pain are symptoms that call for healing and action. They are a wake-up call from our national soul that is trying to renew our relationship and commitment to the deep truths our country was founded upon.
* * * *
The Jungian approach to healing divisions begins with confronting ourselves and our shadows, the realities, thoughts, and emotions we have denied and repressed. On a national level, facing our reality means that in spite of the statistics of economic success and low unemployment, too many of us are living in ways that leave our deepest needs denied and unsatisfied. Robert Kennedy summed up these points beautifully when he said, “…the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
In other words, too many of us see our desire for personal and economic safety, as well as our hopes and dreams, slipping beyond the horizon. So, the crisis we are in is not just a political one. While the political one is crucially important, it is in reality the severe symptoms of a much deeper “dis-ease” swimming below the surface of our apparent affluence like a great white shark. This shark is ripping us apart from within. It is a cold devouring power and greed-driven force that has no empathy for our wellbeing. It dismisses imagination, thought, and foresight. It brands the passion for truth, knowledge, and civility as irrelevant.
As I ask myself how to explain this chaos and our challenge, I know I cannot just do it as an observer because I am a participant in this drama, whether I like it or not. My religion and my profession tell me there is a structural process for confronting myself, accepting reality, taking self-responsibility, and reconciling within myself and with my fellow citizens. The same process works for groups. It begins when I carefully search into my emotions, review my history and take responsibility for what I have felt, what I have done, what I have failed to do, and how I have not allowed my emotions to inform me of the reality in which I am participating. Then I must promise to do my best not to do injuries again; I must not fail to prevent them or fail to be aware of the injuries happening around me. This process is a demanding one that I kept in mind as I wrote this book.
As you read, please join me in my efforts, whether you agree with me or not. If you don’t agree with me, I hope my explanations will help you clarify your own thoughts. Unless we, as citizens, marshal the courage and humility to carry out this process of reconciliation and renewal, take action, and live in a new way, we will continue to live in denial. And to live in denial is to live a lie.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. We have known at some level for decades the times in which we live have been becoming more difficult. In fact, they have been getting more difficult than many of us would like to admit. For several generations it has been hard for too many of us to talk about or even admit to ourselves the truly threatening problems in our society, institutions, and structures. We even dance around our problems at family gatherings and friendly social events because so much fear and anger are often close to the surface—closer than how to restore hope in our collective future.
We don’t even have to take off our rose-colored glasses to see that anxiety, depression, addictions, divorces, and other symptoms of our stress-driven lives have become epidemic. No matter how high the stock market goes or how low the unemployment rate drops we know somewhere deep in our souls we are failing to cope with the fragmentations and fear permeating our existence. Imagine, though, that these symptoms represent our future challenging us to wake up and face the sources of this pain in our society. That is, the sources of the pain that causes the despair, anger, fear, violence, and divisions in our country.
Shouldn’t waking up lead us into the healing process of reconciliation with ourselves and our fellow citizens? Don’t we know the future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard on it? Isn’t this the path for re-creating our lives, restoring our faith in ourselves, and renewing the values our country was founded upon—freedom, equality and opportunity for all?
The Choice is Ours
The harsh truth is that one of our greatest difficulties is being able to look beyond our economic achievements and material success and to look inward and ask ourselves how satisfying our lives really are. We have repressed, and I think actually
fear, the capacity to look at ourselves and our society with emotional honesty. By refusing to look beneath the surface in our lives we are avoiding more than our potential pain. We are also denying history’s challenge to change, to allow the old ideals of the “good life” and its outlived identity structures to die while facing the struggles, commitments, and creative demands of helping new ideals form. We have reached the point where changing ourselves individually is only the beginning.
It is time for us to face these challenges and turn aside from the search for easy answers. The answers needed today require our change and growth. We must come together for the sake of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to change our world for the better. Because we have been on the wrong path too long, gradual or incremental changes are not enough. Now is the time to make fundamental, creative, and well-thought-out changes in our political and social structures to reflect how we respect and care for each other.
The dark angel of our future has seized us, just as Jacob was seized when he was forced to struggle throughout the night in the Old Testament story. Well, that dark angel has grabbed me now, and my struggle and its results are in the following pages. It has also grasped us all, whether we like to admit it or not. And, as I am a participant in our larger drama, I will face intense amounts of my own and our collective fear, anger, and frustration before seeking solutions to them as I write. Dr. Jung, who was a very thoughtful man, reminded us that, “There is no birth of consciousness without pain.” And, “Emotion is the chief source of consciousness. There is no change from the darkness to light or from inertia to movement without emotion.” We are all challenged, and every voice must count. Will we remember that, like Jacob, we are fighting for our lives and the future?
* * * *
Freedom from fear comes when we fully invest ourselves in the national culture, which ultimately is the foundation for our identities, finding our meaning or life purpose, and our sense of community. Writing this message-driven memoir shares my shocks, my rage, and my pain. The depth of those emotions comes from confronting my shadow as a contributing participant in our great political drama as it unfolds around us. It also led me back into our history, helping me realize the potentials for facing the future that are in our heritage.
Confronting my shadow has been intense work because I have been peeling back the layers of my own feelings, seeking the deeper truths about who I am. The harsh reality is that it took the shock of national politics in 2016 – 2017 to break through the surface crust of my indoctrination of being positive and thinking the best decisions are made when emotions are suppressed. But a boil must be lanced and the infection drained in order for healing to begin. In addition, it turns out that our emotions are crucial factors if we are to make decisions about pursuing actions based on our values.
They inform us about what we really value. So, it is better for us to be fully aware of them than to repress them. I was surprised at the strength of the emotions I uncovered. And, just to note, we become vulnerable to fanaticism, ideologies, and scapegoating when our emotions are repressed and denied enough that we are blind to them, and the values they are crying out for us to acknowledge.
The only sure road into a positive, life-giving future is to accept our reality and our failures today, and to face the challenges they reveal. The good news is that entering fully into that arena creates a culture that supports and fosters life instead of smothering it with fear, stress, and resentment. This is worth our dedication.
The above is the Introduction to my book The Midnight Hour: A Jugian Perspective on America’s Current Pivotal Moment.
Book Excerpts and Resources
, 2020, America, citizenship, living authentically
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