“We allow ourselves the most amazing illusions about ourselves and think other people take us seriously. It is as if I should have the illusion that I am only five feet tall—just mad! This is no more absurd than people who want to make us believe that they are very moral and respectable. It isn’t true, and how can you establish a real relation unless people are real, as they really are? We know that people, instead of being respectable and moral, are just hopelessly blind. How can you establish an individual relationship with such a creature? One gets seasick, it is nauseating. I would far rather have an individual relationship to a dog, who doesn’t assume he is a respectable dog…” 1
I tend to think that part of what makes a person a genius is his or her ability to perceive and communicate truth. Whereas most people speak (and possibly even think) in platitudes, the great person simply speaks the truth, even when it’s startling.
This past weekend at a Jungian Studies seminar, I had the privilege of witnessing a courageous confrontation. In this situation, although many of us had felt uncomfortable and even disturbed by behaviors going on in the classroom between two fellow students, no one had mustered the courage to say anything, myself included. Finally, though, one of us grew impatient with herself for only talking about the problem and decided to try to solve it.
Witnessing my friend’s courage was a stunning experience and had the effect of bringing me back to a part of myself that I’d been pushing aside. This part is the part that rewards bad behavior with silence, with looking away. I pretended, with everyone else, that the rudeness going on under our noses wasn’t rude at all. We moved our chairs, we looked away, we talked about it afterward, we griped–but nobody confronted the behaviors.
Why do we fail to confront? Many times it’s because we’re fearful, but other times it’s because we think a confrontation is useless: the person is so unconscious or so far gone that they won’t change. “What’s the point?” we ask. Seeing someone take responsibility as my friend did caused me to look into this type of reasoning, though. I thought about adoption, and how when you adopt an older child who comes from a damaging environment, a culture clash occurs. The adoptive family’s nurturing culture is foreign to the newly-adopted child. The child, accustomed to abuse, neglect, and cruelty, doesn’t know how to handle love. He can’t live in a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. He’s used to having adrenaline pumping through his body, supporting his survival, and doesn’t know how to live in a nurturing environment because there’s not nearly as much adrenaline in the quietly nurturing home.
Skilled foster and adoptive parents know that they must help the new child adjust to their culture, and they try to help by assisting the child as he recognizes and grieves losses. After this, they teach new skills of living within a nurturing family; and, finally, they teach the child how to give back. We’re here to do more than receive, we teach: we’re here to give something to the universe.
Sometimes people never do learn that they’re here to give back. Sometimes people become black holes of humanity who only take and take and take. They pretend they’re not sucking the life out of others or the universe by saying all the right things. They tell us they are good and loving and generous. They may even volunteer to feed the hungry, or work at the hospice, or be helping professionals or good mothers, attending little league games and ballet recitals.
However, what Jung is saying here is just what Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” He’s saying that if you meet a person who claims to be good, they’re lying. Nobody really is. This is why the most religious people, such as pastors and preachers and priests, can be some of the worst offenders. We’re still surprised when we read that yet another so-called spiritual leader has molested a child, or embezzled church money, or run off with the choir director. Why are we surprised, though? The whole congregation is sitting there, too, and they will tell you how good they are. Even though they have hurt their friends, cheated their family member, lied to their employers, pilfered at work, offended someone without apologizing, they will still tell you how good they are, and how much they love God or how enlightened they are.
People show us who they are through their actions. Words are nearly meaningless unless accompanied by action. This is why the person who says he is a good person can’t be believed as long as he says or does cruel things. All he is saying is that the mask he shows himself is called “Good Person.” All he is saying is that he is blind to his shadow.
Last week when my friend confronted mean-spiritedness, she was doing us all a service and acting out of goodness, yet she would never say that she’s a good person. Ironically, that’s what makes her one.
1 Jung, C. G. Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930. (1984). (Bollingen Series XCIX). 2 vols. William McGuire, Ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 68.