Taming the shadow

Recognize it and bring it home
Bring it home

These tumultuous days, as I was glued to Twitter, reading Facebook comments, listening to opinions on the street, and watching the students debate on CNNE, I  finally “understood” Venezuela’s deep polarization.

After 15 years of war speech, we have become two distinct countries, two societies that haven’t been able to reconcile in more than a decade. It’s not merely that we can’t see eye to eye. It goes beyond that.

We are two sides, each projecting their darkest traits upon the other.

Carl Gustav Jung defined the shadow as the dark and unconscious aspect of the personality, the counterpart of the conscious ego. Although it is most often associated with negative aspects such as envy, greed, or lust, it can also encompass positive aspects, ones which the ego may not recognize as “good.”

The psychologist Sam Keen describes in his book Faces of the Enemy the social and personal process through which we create our enemies by projecting this shadow unto others whom we consider inferior by reasons not well known. We dehumanize our enemy in several ways – sometimes we portray them as monsters of epic proportions and equally epic evilness; other times as unholy people in acts of validation to our God; and sometimes we strip them of our common humanity altogether, and render them simple pests to be exterminated.

The creation of the enemy has paved the way for ethnic cleansings, witch hunts, and holy wars. We transfer onto others behaviors or aspects that we do not want to recognize in ourselves. And in doing so, we become the opposite, the good, the just, the right, the hero, the knight in shining armor. The other becomes the unjust, the wrong, the vile, the dragon that must be slayed. There is no middle ground – it either is, or it isn’t, it’s black or white.

With this in mind, and in the midst of these recent protests, the words of Colette Capriles struck a chord in me:

The political effectiveness of the protest, so as not to be solely “vindicating” but transformative, will come rather, from the dissolution of the identity Berlin Wall that has marked this society for the past 15 years. When the idea of “the other” disappears.

The “other”, the enemy. The polarized country that cannot engage with itself. The wall appears to be insurmountable. And herein lies the frustration of the opposition.  If we are right and we are the virtuous, why haven’t we been able to convert more Chavistas to our righteous cause?

Could it be that half of the country is evil, or maybe morally inferior? Maybe they just want free plasma TVs and washing machines. They don’t care about this country, but I do. They can be bought for pennies, but no one can buy me. They are uneducated, but we have frigging PhD’s.

You have heard all of this. You have thought all of this. And the “other” has thought their share of evil and vile things about you, too.

But if the opposition truly considers itself the solution, then it needs to strive for a new social dynamic. If we are to move forward, we must reunite. And in order to do that, we need to stop projecting our shadow onto others, retake our shadow and integrate it, individually and collectively, back into ourselves.