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The Dilemma of Taking Our Imagined Fears as Real

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Summer 2013)


The cultivation of an inner symbolic life helps bridge the pole between two realities, the world about us and other people in it, and our internal subjective reality, what Jung termed the objective psyche. As we engage other people we are faced constantly with the question of who do we see, the reality of the other person, or our fantasies about them. This element of our relationships is captured succinctly in the Bruce Springsteen lyric "Is that you baby, or just a brilliant disguise" (from his song "Brilliant Disguise").

In a recently published book, The Question of Psychological Types, the correspondence between C. G. Jung and Hans Schmid, these two early pioneers of depth psychology discuss the differences between extraverts and introverts. They wondered if the extravert, with a disposition to engage with other people was motivated by love (Eros), and the introvert, more inclined towards reflection was motivated more by fear (Phobos) when it came to relating to other people.

Jung introduces the "subjective" factor of his psychology to the discourse. He as an introvert finds it helpful that he understand what the other person carries for him, what he projects on to him or her, so that the relationship can be more open and honest. If we are more candid with ourselves then we can be more sincere with the other person. Schmid as an extravert wonders that if this is the case, whether Jung would be relating to him, Schmid, or just what he fantasizes about Schmid. Schmid also felt it was important to "feel into" the other person. These are fundamental relationship issues.

Anyone who goes deeply into Jung's work on typology realizes that it was not just the individual components that concerned him, but the collective ones as well. We have all been deeply confronted with this with the recent verdict at the George Zimmerman trial. We saw the problem begin with an individual, but escalate to a collective level. Depending on one's race, personal experience and preconceptions what happened that night during which Zimmerman confronted Trayvon Martin, the trial that followed, and the verdict that ensued are seen differently by different people.

Clearly the problem began with what Zimmerman imagined about Trayvon Martin that rainy night in Florida. What he imagined stirred up fear--certainly not love--and he acted accordingly (against advice). His fantasy and his fear drove him--personal and collective unconscious elements that had nothing to do with the man he encountered. What was he afraid of?

This question is really the question for all of us. What are we afraid of? What do we imagine the other to be due to race, gender, sexual preference, social standing? The subjective factor that Jung elucidates implies that what we imagine, and often fear, has much more to do with us than it does with the other person. How do we hold ourselves accountable for this? The horror in such encounters is that fantasy is taken as fact.

Jung suggests that we can each do our individual work, and this will help. In fact this is needed since collective solutions can only do so much. Amidst these recent events I was struck by the theme of two movies that came out in the past year which related to the deeply seated problem of race relations in this country. In the film "Lincoln" we see the courageous efforts of probably our greatest president to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and the efforts of many others to bring this to fruition. I was struck in the film that when it came to the time to vote, Lincoln became involved in a very personal way with key members of congress.

The law sets a groundwork for society, but, as Jung would suggest, while we abolish slavery, we would also have to evaluate what it is in ourselves that created it in the first place. The personal subjective question would be: what do we enslave and mistreat in ourselves? Without this psychological effort the law is not enough.

In the movie "42," the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black man to play major league baseball, we see once again the personal dilemmas individuals must face, both Jackie and his teammates, to confront racism. The other players ultimately embrace the man, and overcome the still deep seated collective projections, and this at a time some eighty years after the Constitution was amended. Curiously this event happens because the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers at that time, Branch Rickey, wished to preserve the integrity of the game of baseball. We also learn that earlier in his life he had failed to stand up for a black man, and this moral failure has haunted him ever since.

We see that it takes character and integrity to effect change and to overcome fear with compassion. The effort begins with the ongoing ethical development of each of us as individuals, understanding the difference between our own symbolic reality and the reality of another. Clearly there is more work for all of us to do.

Editor: Steve Galipeau

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