About The Human Shadow

The only devils in the world are those running around in our own hearts. That is where the battle should be fought.
                                                    -Mahatma GhandiYour “shadow” is the repressed, unlived side of your normal daytime personality. It’s the stuff you don’t like about yourself, the stuff you don’t want anyone else to know about you. It’s the opposite of who you like to think you are, the opposite of who you tell others you are. Some parts of ourselves we like to show to others—put out into the light—and some parts of ourselves we like to hide—keep in the dark.

The word “shadow” is a great fit symbolically. Because it can’t be smelled or tasted or touched or felt, but is very firmly hooked to you nonetheless—very firmly attached to all the creases and crevices of your personality. And while other people can see your shadow without much trouble, you usually have to turn your head around to catch a glimpse of it.

There’s also a nifty paradox built into both meanings of the word: whether it’s a shadow cast by light in the natural world, or a shadow cast by your mind, the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. Some of the vilest, most grotesque acts in history have been done—and are still being done right this very minute—in the name of God, which is the brightest light imaginable.

Once you start looking around for the human shadow it doesn’t take you long to find it—in history, in politics, in the news, in the paper, on the web, on television, in your own home, and in your own heart. Nor does it take you long to come to the conclusion that this is not a harmless process that can be easily overlooked among friends. This is killing us.

As Robert Bly put it,

Projection of shadow material causes most of the misery, injustice and warfare in the world.

And as Carl Jung wrote,
Learning to integrate shadow material is the single most important task facing mankind, as failure to do so will lead to the extinction of the human race.

Whoa. What? Extinction of the human race? What in hell is he talking about? Why’d he say that? Because we don’t just project blame individually, we also join into great big groups to do so. Or, Whole Cultures Cast Shadows

A hat that looks really cool in a bar in Wyoming may not look cool at all on Fifth Avenue in New York. There are substantial cultural differences between the Pacific Northwest and the Deep South. Between being German and being Sudanese. Between Chinese and Chilean. We’re not merely playing ego roles and family roles as we go through life; we’re acting in larger social-historical-mythological dramas every day, too. And then we refine our differences even further by only hanging out with people inside our era and area who are the most like us. Red State, Blue State.

As history has shown over and over again, if enough people deny and project the same qualities something really nasty occurs: like witch hunts, or exterminations of native populations, or slavery, or the Third Reich, or Israelis and Palestinians, or Shiites and Sunnis, or genocide, or Corporate America—Where the Rich Get Richer! while the poor get laid off. Massive acts of evil simply could not be perpetrated without massive amounts of denial, projection, and blame.

It’s almost as if human beings were de-volving. Language that George Orwell called “doublethink” and “newspeak” in his famous novel 1984 is just common every day language now. We’ve all become experts at projecting our own shadow material onto others—by name-calling, finger-pointing, fact-twisting, arguing about who’s Godly and who isn’t, projecting blame, and vilifying our opponents.

Rather than using our intelligence to correct whatever we don’t like about ourselves, we now mostly use our intelligence to blame whatever we don’t like about ourselves on someone else. We can all see the mote in our brother’s eye, but none of us can see the beam in our own eye. At personal levels (me versus you), state levels (Red State versus Blue State), and national levels (Our Perpetual War on Something), failure to deal with shadow material causes catastrophic problems.

We need an essentially new way of thinking if mankind is to survive.
–Albert Einstein

Something is seriously amiss. We all know it. And calling it the devil or blaming it on someone else or simply ignoring it while we amuse ourselves with the latest technological gadget is not going to fix it. We’re there. We’ve reached the stage of development where only self-inspection will do. Where only an honest attempt to take full responsibility for our actions, both positive and negative, is going to make a difference.

We are responsible for the effect of our actions, and we are also responsible for becoming as aware as we can of these effects.
–Rollo May

As Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs & Steel) points out in Collapse, How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, any country’s fate is a direct result of the choices that country makes. The range of problems experienced by the USA in the 2000s make it apparent that we’ve been making crazy choices—choices based on power and profit and the shifting of blame rather than the solving of problems—for far too long now. To succeed in the future, the USA will have to start thinking with its heart and its head, not just its bottom line. We will have to start facing our own shadow.

It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events by which the path to success may be realized.
–I Ching