The New York Times reported that in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue this past weekend, Mayor Peduto of Pittsburgh
talked of driving anti-Semites “back to the basement on their computer and away from the open discussions and dialogues around this city, around this state, and around this country.”
This type of reaction is an example of cultural shadow.
The shadow is a term coined by Carl Jung to refer to the parts of ourselves that we suppress or reject. These are the traits that we dislike, often because we believe they are “bad” or “wrong,” or because we were admonished or punished when we exhibited them.
As we reinforced other aspects of ourselves, these disowned parts became incongruent with our perception of who we are, and we continued to suppress them. This shadow is often what’s in our way when we find ourselves engaged in self-sabotage.
Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions. — Carl Jung
What we repress exerts control over us through the unconscious.
Our Collective Shadow
Our experience on the micro level mirrors the macro level; in fact, some parts of our personal shadow are drawn from societal influences.
We want to believe that the United States is a country that tolerates all ideas and viewpoints.
Making room for hate speech feels antithetical to our core cultural values of tolerance and inclusion.
We would rather pretend that people who hold negative beliefs about women, gays, Jews, Muslims, people of color, or other minorities don’t really exist.
To maintain that illusion, we have pushed their opinions to the fringes, the margins, and the basements. We lock ourselves into echo chambers to protect against opinions and viewpoints that conflict with our own. Collectively as well as individually, we are afraid to look at what we don’t like or listen to what we don’t want to hear.
The Effects of Suppressing the Darkness
When we repress our shadow, it becomes destructive. This is true on a personal level and on a collective level.
Stephen Diamond writes that
The shadow is most destructive, insidious and dangerous when habitually repressed and projected….The abject negativity and destructiveness of the shadow is largely a function of the degree to which the individual neglects and refuses to take responsibility for it, only inflaming its ferocity and pernicious power.
By pushing the speech — and speakers — we don’t like to the basements and margins, by failing to make room for them at the table of ideas, we give them more power.
Look at the shootings and bomb mailings last week; look just in this calendar year. In every context, the actors are people who were on the fringe, in the shadows, relegated into the darkness of our collective unconscious. They were the people we didn’t want to hear or see or deal with.
What we ignore doesn’t go away; it grows until it emerges and destroys.
Bringing Hate Into The Light
This is where we are.
A comment to a NY Times article about the increase in anti-semitism since 2017 was particularly on point:
[The current rhetoric] has given license to those who used to live in the shadows with their hate and violence to come forward and feel emboldened to release their innermost demons on the world. — GLevine
We prefer to keep the dark parts of our personalities and of our society in the shadows. We don’t want to see them. We don’t want to hear them. They make us uncomfortable. They shatter our illusion that we are safe.
Mayor Peduto likely spoke for many when he suggested pushing the hate back into the dark corners. When we don’t see the shadows we can pretend they don’t exist. But this is not a way to live.
The way to drive out hate is not by continuing the cycle of suppression and elimination. The only way to tame the hate is to bring it into the light.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable and therefore not popular. — Carl Jung
The hate emerging from the shadows into the light of the mainstream is uncomfortable. We would prefer it remain buried.
Anti-semitism and other forms of hate re-open old wounds. And yet in these wounds lie the gift. As hate emerges from the shadows we have the opportunity to confront the fears and reveal the illusions and stories that lie beneath it.
Hate cannot survive when met with understanding and compassion and embraced by love.
That’s not to say this is easy. I don’t have it entirely figured out yet.
To open with compassion to those who would seek to destroy us is hard work.
This is the work of healing.