How can we explain the current upheaval in our society and indeed around the world? There are far more good people on the earth than bad so why does it seem like the forces of evil are winning? Why are bigotry, racism, misogyny and xenophobia apparently gaining ground? Why do potential leaders who espouse these values attract so many followers?
It is as though something in our collective psyche has broken loose. From the depths of the calm and civilized surface of our communal pond a monster has erupted, breathing fire and destroying everything in its path. Deepak Chopra has identified it, correctly I believe, as an aspect of the human psyche of which we are embarrassed and ashamed but one that is powerful nonetheless. Psychologist Carl Jung named it the shadow and Freud explored it further as the unconscious mind which, in his view, is sharply divided from the conscious mind. It is the secret side of human nature.
Deepak Chopra goes on to describe it as follows:
The shadow compounds all the dark impulses—hatred, aggression, sadism, selfishness, jealousy, resentment, sexual transgression—that are hidden out of sight…The rise of civilization is a tribute to how well we obey our conscious mind and suppress our unconscious side. But what hides in the shadows will out. When it does, societies that look well-ordered and rational, fair and just, cultured and refined, suddenly erupt in horrible displays of everything they are not about: violence, prejudice, chaos, and ungovernable irrationality. In fact, the tragic irony is that the worst eruptions of the shadow occur in societies that on the surface have the least to worry about. www.twitter.com/DeepakChopra (6/06/2016)
He is saying that the dark side of human nature cannot be contained for too long and I agree. It inevitably makes its presence known. It appears on the Internet where people can anonymously discharge those impulses that they might be embarrassed to reveal to those close to them. It is expressed in the billion-dollar porn industry where one can fulfill fantasies that would otherwise never see the light of day. The point to remember is that we all have a dark side. We are closer to those who publicly acknowledge their lawlessness than we like to admit. The potential leaders who can make that side legitimate will inevitably attract a following.
But if we follow the course of history, civilization invariably rights itself. Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It is a comforting thought and I believe it is also true. Human beings have an innately good side that they are also timid about showing. People are embarrassed when others praise their goodness, their heroism and their sacrifice. If we doubt our natural goodness we need only look to our children. Their eyes grow wide in disbelief when those in authority espouse racism and bigotry in any form. As the song goes, “You’ve got to be taught; To hate and fear… You’ve got to be carefully taught.” (South Pacific)
In these perilous times we must believe that goodness will win, that there are more of us who try to be loving and compassionate, at least most of the time. Just look at the outpouring of support for the Muslim/American family whose son died in a heroic effort to save his comrades. But at the same time we cannot retreat to our own “moral superiority.” We must acknowledge that we all struggle with the dark side, the shadow that threatens to overtake us from time to time. The trick is to empower the good in ourselves, teach it to our children by precept and example and allow the blazing sun of compassion to outshine the shadow of hate.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.