Whatever happened to being nice? It’s been replaced, hasn’t it, with being real. Being real has come to mean being raw. Being in somebody’s face. Nothing hidden or held back. You can only be gracious if you are genuinely gracious, and nobody ever is these days. If you are in a vicious mood, tear into ’em. Being real is an excuse to indulge our moods, to say what we feel like saying, to do whatever we please. Road rage is realness in the extreme. Spare me. It is really okay to fake it. No kidding.
Deliver me to those who are working to be gracious, and kind, and decent. Give me over to the decent human beings. Whatever happened to “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, take account of these things”? Oh, TRUE, right, “whatever is TRUE.” So, if it’s TRUE we get to say it, do it, act it out. Right? All in the service of the highest value, being real. Anything less is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is among the lowest of values.
Three things flow from here. One is the idea of the highest (and lowest) value. Thanks to Abraham Maslow, we are convinced there is a “hierarchy of values,” with “self-actualization,” O brother, at the top. Joseph Campbell brings some sanity into the picture when he says that in the grip of a worthy vision everything goes. For example, you don’t care a whet about “self-actualization,” O brother, when you’re in love. You’ll sacrifice all the values in the entire hierarchy of values to be with who, or what, you love. Or, I would add, when we are in fear. (Desire and fear, seem to be the controlling influences which override our values. We do weird things in the grip of desire and fear. Or anger—which arises when something blocks the way to what we desire, or blocks the way from what we fear.)
And, if I am in love with me, then I have to be true to myself at the expense of everyone around me. The family goes, the job goes, the house goes, and I go off chained forever to the truth of my mood of the moment. “Self-actualization,” O brother, feeds our Narcissistic tendency to place ourselves at the top of the hierarchy of values, and justifies our infantile desire to do what we feel like doing when we feel like doing it. When we are being real, we are being Narcissistic.
How does “self-actualization,” O brother, relate to “self-surrender,” and “self-sacrifice”? The most mature people I know spend very little time on themselves, doing what they want to do, like to do, feel like doing. When is the last time you heard Nelson Mandela going off on someone, anyone, in the name of “being real”? Or the Dali Lama? Or Thich Nhat Hanh?
How do “self-actualized,” O brother, individuals orchestrate themselves into community? How does a group of Narcissists create community by “being real” to/about one another? How can vulnerability, and intimacy, and trust exist in an atmosphere in which people are continually exposed to the critique of the heartless and the unmerciful delivered under the guise of “being real”? Realness, in terms of me venting my mood of the moment, is not what it’s “cracked up to be.” Neither is truth. This is the second thing.
Vance Arnold passed along a quote from Jonathan Shay, in his book, Odysseus in America, in which he compares the Odyssey with the experience of combat soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Shay says that the Song of the Sirens, which you know was irresistible and enticing, and drew those who listened inescapably to their death, was nothing other that the promise to get to the bottom of things. Or, as Homer has them say, “For we know all that the Achaeans and Trojans sufferer on the broad plain of Troy by the will of the gods, and we have foreknowledge of all that is going to happen on this fruitful earth.” [The SIRENS to Odysseus. Homer, Odyssey 12.184]. “Come to us,” they say, “and we will disclose to you the secrets of the ages, and tell you how it really is!”
Sound familiar? Garden of Eden? Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? The Original Sin is the search for truth, the desire to know what the deal is, to understand what is going on. The sin is getting to the bottom of the matter. Unveiling the truth. “You shall know the truth,” says the serpent, in a manner of speaking, “and your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” Interesting, don’t you think, that this is the same thing John says Jesus says in John 8:32: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” John puts the serpent’s promise on Jesus’ tongue. In John, Jesus becomes the serpent.
Or, perhaps, John has become the serpent over the two thousand years from the story of Eden to the Gospel of John. Perhaps, we all have. Believing, as we do, in the truth, in knowing the truth, in possessing the truth, and failing to see the emptiness of it all. We cannot see it. We want the truth! Tell the Truth! Find the Truth! Know the Truth! “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” The truth about truth is that it isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. THAT is what sets us free! Free from the burden of having to get to the bottom of things! Shay says, “Complete and final truth is an unachievable, toxic quest, which is different from the quest to create meaning from one’s experience in a coherent narrative.”
We cannot get to the bottom of it. There is no bottom to get to. The search for absolute truth is a black hole, and a waste of time. More than a waste of time, a toxic, poisonous, deadly, preoccupation. We kill the Jews because we are the truly superior race and they are a threat to the gene pool. We kill the witches and the infidel because we have the Truth and they are besmirching it with their unbelieving presence. The myth of absolute truth creates hell. The search for absolute truth is a black hole to hell. And, on that day when all is revealed, what will be revealed is the wonderful convoluted nature of our mixed motives, and miscommunications, and missteps, and poor judgment, and bad guesses. There is no plan. There never was one. It is a complete mess all the way around. And, it is wonderful, just as it is. This is the third thing.
The good does not cancel out the bad. The bad does not cancel out the good. That’s what I like best about life, about my life. The things I love are the things I hate. That’s great. The things I hate are not necessarily the things I love. That’s also great. It’s so great that you can’t draw it up in some neat little formula, and put it in a box, wrap it with paper and ribbon, stick a bow on it and hand it to me with a note that says “The secret to happiness.”
Unhappiness is part of the package! Understanding that is the real secret to happiness! You’re going to be unhappy! It’s no big deal! It’s only a matter of time before you will be happy again. But, that’s no big deal either, because it’s only a matter of time before you are unhappy again. It doesn’t matter how you feel because your feelings are going to change, for no apparent reason.
It’s like this. I love my computer and I hate my computer. Truly. You know I’ve dealt with two complete crashes over the last six months. Had to replace the hard drives the first time and had to replace everything on the hard drives the second time. Well. This past week the power supply went out. Only it took calling the fire department to realize it was the power supply. There was just a significant odor of electrical over-heating in the air. In the air some distance from the computer. But, I cut the computer off when I called the fire department, and, by the time they left shaking their heads because they couldn’t find the source of the odor, and telling me to up-grade our smoke alarms, and asking if there is a window we could get out of in the bedroom if we had to, the odor had diminished considerably. Aha! So, out with the old power supply, in with the new.
I hate doing that kind of thing. Screws and switches and plugs and wires. I hate the mechanical side of computering. And I love it. I know what to do. I can do it. Couple of hours later and I’m back in business. And the business I do, the writing and the photography-ing could not be done without my computer, any more than plowing in the 1850’s could have been done without a horse or a mule. And, the degree to which I hate computers pales in comparison to the degree to which I detest fooling with horses and mules. But, it’s wonderful. It is absolutely wonderful that we can do what we can do with the mechanical side of computering or with the care and feeding and working of horses and mules. And, I hate it.
The truth is that both things are true, at the same time. It doesn’t get any truer than that. But, we think opposite things can’t be true. One has to be truer than the other. “How do you REALLY feel?” “Do you REALLY love me? If you REALLY loved me, you would like Brussels sprouts (or horses, or mules, or the mechanical side of computering).” “No, I wouldn’t!” I can REALLY love you and hate the stuff you REALLY love. I can really love the stuff you really love AND really hate the stuff you really love. So can you.
We’ve spent some time here, back and forth, over the four years we have been together, talking about “the Shadow.” There is the Ego, we say, and the Shadow. The Shadow represents the repressed side of the Ego, the part of us that we wish wasn’t there. We want to present a certain persona to the world, create a particular impression, be seen in a certain way. But, that is never the whole story. There is always more to us than meets the eye. The psychological law at work seems to be that whoever and however we most don’t want to be is who and how we also are. And the more we deny it and pretend it is not so, the more apparent it is to others. This “other side” is the Shadow.
The concept of the Shadow is a beautiful rendition of the opposites that are work within us. Dr. Jekyll is Mr. Hyde. Neither is how you REALLY are. BOTH are how you REALLY are. No wonder we are ambivalent, torn, conflicted about nearly, practically, everything! We ARE ambivalent, torn, conflicted! We love what we hate!
The solution, of course, is not psychotherapy wherein we dig down to the real truth and become who we really are. The truth is that there is no truth greater than the truth of our conflict within. We love what we hate. That’s the truth. The solution, of course, is to love it. And hate it.