Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Shadow Politics (or, the gospel according to Britta)

Everyone has a darker side, whether we want to or not. This “shadow side” of human nature, described by the psychologist Carl Jung, emerges most prominently when we ignore it. While our human nature under comfortable conditions is loving, communal, and accepting, the shadow can emerge when we are vulnerable- when we are stressed but cannot identify the source of our stress. A shadow has emerged in many Americans today. The success of Donald Trump as a viable presidential candidate has fueled the shadow in many of us, with brazen sexist, racist, poverty-ignorant, and socially-ignorant propaganda. 

Why has this happened? Why are so many Americans ignoring the emergence of the shadow? It’s an anomaly that I will call “shadow politics”. This may have already been coined by someone else, but I haven’t found it on the internet yet. The shadow has emerged due to strained and difficult life circumstances- low wages, lack of access to services, our needs not being met, rising civil unrest. Furthermore, it has come about because over the past 50 years we have lost what it feels like to participate in government. 

We live in a reported democracy, but we are unable to make our voices heard by anyone in power. The current political system is anything but democratic. Our own laws have made it possible for the wealthy to be in power regardless of their knowledge, background, or values, and everyone else is left feeling that they have no voice. Because they don’t. We also live stressed lives; we are unable to critically think because we don’t have time and we’re too tired. 

So what happens? The shadow emerges. Everyone has those days when you haven’t gotten enough sleep, you’re on the verge of a cold, and everything sets you off. You aren’t as kind as you could be on those days. You end up screaming at someone when you don’t mean to, and you’re “at the end of your rope” by the end of the day. What happens if you start to feel like this everyday? You become anxious, depressed, and more vulnerable to the shadow’s comments and ideas. 

When our shadow is reflected in the ideology of a person in power (ex. Donald Trump), it fuels the shadow’s fire. It suddenly becomes okay that we have these racist, sexist, ignorant thoughts, because “that person does too”. Where is our human moral compass at this point? I don’t practice any religion, but because most people do I’ll say this: all world religions are based on love and acceptance. Why? Because then we don’t run ourselves into the ground. 

For example, in the true spirit of irony, Bernie Sanders speaks to improving the social and economic conditions that fuel the shadows of Americans, while simultaneously being slammed by the shadow side of these citizens. He is attempting to reverse the exact condition that is fueling his opponent’s campaign. Regardless of our political or religious affiliation, at our core we all believe that we deserve the best. And the best isn’t ignoring our neighbor and gathering wealth in seclusion. We know that the best means our ability to live fulfilled lives, in community, making lasting relationships and helping others when they are in need.  

Though I mention political candidates, this writing is not intended to sell any one political candidate, or push any political agenda. This writing is intended to critically assess our human condition. But…what can we do about shadow politics during this time in our country? I’m ending with some suggestions, but I also acknowledge that I have a very difficult time with some of them. I’m human too, and sometimes it is really hard to sit in discomfort. It’s a lot easier to jump to the black or white, than to swim around in the grey-ness of it all! Ultimately though, we are all human, and we all want to grow and strive to be better than we are.

  1. Accept that there is a shadow side in each of us. Identify the areas in our lives where our dark side emerges: perhaps while driving, at the grocery store, etc. Where do we become the most judgemental and unkind, unaccepting? 
  2. Challenge ourselves to notice when the shadow emerges, and counteract the rush to judgement. Being mindful of our thoughts and their true source can help us to better manage our reactions. 
  3. Listen- truly listen with undistracted, open ears- to those friends and family members whose ideologies differ from our own. Ask questions. Be open to their freedom of expression. Listen for their shadows and their morals. 
  4. Continue to have conversation. Even when it’s hard, or painful, and especially when it makes us uncomfortable. Speak to our shadows, and be vulnerable with others. We’re not perfect, and acknowledging that their are parts of ourselves that we don’t like fosters acceptance in ourselves and others.