Carol S. Pearson's Posts (38)

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The Power of Leadership Narrative Intelligence (NQ)

I’m inspired by Quakers who call on one another to answer the question: “What is mine to do?” They ask this not just once, but in an ongoing way. As we reenter the post-pandemic world, how can we be optimally responsive to the crucial match between outer needs and our authentic motivations? What is ours to do?

 

The theme of this year’s International Leadership Association (ILA) global conference calls us to reimagine leadership for our time. For me, this is also a call to reimagine one’s own leadership. A psychodynamic approach can encourage us to reflect and then act from the inside out. If we don’t, and we come up with abstract ideas only, we may fail to embody them—just like New Year’s resolutions or organizational visioning processes that end up in a drawer, accomplishing nothing.

This is the second of two blogs that explore the role of archetypal narrative intelligence (NQ) in linking motivation, action, and leadership outcomes.

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Blog Two: Fueling Leadership Authenticity, Situational Flexibility, Cognitive Complexity

 

 Authentic Leadership and Personae Development

Leadership literature tells us that authentic leaders tend to be successful because people trust them enough to follow them. Authenticity is supported when we act in ways congruent with our most active archetypes. Ultimately, our authenticity arises from our essence, and in a Jungian frame, from our deeper self. Archetypal stories provide ways to express who we are by embodying our own versions of these universal characters and living their many plotlines. If you take the PMAI® assessment, your results will identify your three most active archetypes, making these conscious. The more aware we are of which archetypes are most available to us, the more choice we have in how we live their narratives. The more we trust and express who we are, the clearer our sense of purpose can be and the more likely we will contribute what we are uniquely qualified to do.

 

Jung’s work on persona development emphasizes that we are not islands who can be totally authentic all the time. Good persona development—or, for leader, personal branding—is interactive. A discovery process is needed to recognize what part of ourselves can be welcomed and be effective in each environment in which we find ourselves. Effective leadership can require a persona that shows the parts of you that others can hear, which can also lead to effective communication.

 

While some assume that leaders have a set style, psychodynamic theory related to archetypes says yes and no. Yes, we may have a core archetypal story, but people change over time, and cultures do too, although generally a bit more slowly. This means that just about the time we get comfortable being ourselves in an organizational, civic, or family culture, we might change or the culture might. If our most active archetypes change, we may seek to shift our roles or context, unless the inner change we are experiencing mirrors the outer changes needed by the setting in which we find ourselves.

 

Gaining Flexibility

Originally, PMAI® results emphasized only high and low archetypes, but leadership literature helped me understand how important the eight midrange scores are. Some midrange scores may be, or have been, active in you. If so, the motivation to live those stories has likely developed, to a certain degree, the archetypes’ possible competencies. It is helpful to recognize that although we can possess those competencies, we may feel bored or robotic when we do the very activities that used to light us up or that we developed by doing what was required of us. You might notice the plotlines/tasks you checked off as things you could do, and those that are also starred, as things you like to do. You know that for either you can rise to the occasion when needed, but the ones you also enjoy are those that you are likely to be able to sustain without a loss of energy and passion. 

 

Leaders can better understand others by imaginatively putting themselves in their shoes. One way to do that is for the leader to find some part of themselves that is like the other. The 12-archetype system can be of help in naming what “movie” we are in, what inner character needs to show up in it, and to what end. Borrowing from method acting, we can perform the needed storyline convincingly by finding that part of ourselves. For example, if someone is whining and you hate that, find the part of you that whines inwardly, so you can show compassion. Such inner work prepares you to live the story needed by a situation, at least for the time required, even though it may not be where you like to live.

 

Being story savvy also can help you meet goals through team action. Scenario planning provides a way to achieve a desired goal by telling many stories about how to get there. Archetypal theory can add to this by assessing whether the narratives the group and its leadership are currently motivated to live can achieve the goals desired. Imagine various archetypal storylines as maps that might help you get from here to there. If the goal is winning, the Warrior plotline may be called for, whereas if the goal is to form a supportive community and collaborate or to figure out a difficult issue, the Lover or Sage plotlines may need to be invoked. Moreover, many storylines have various tributaries. Some lead to desired outcomes, some to undesired ones, and a few to somewhere in between. Getting everyone on board with the desired outcome is an intelligent move, so your efforts are not undercut. The key is to make clear how their own motivations can be utilized in the endeavor.

 

What We May Not See Coming

The PMAI® assessment reports a least active score. You can consider any motivations/plotlines that you crossed out above as being your lowest scores. Why is this important? When we utilize one of our preferred narratives to explain what is happening, we are likely to disproportionately focus on the things that support that narrative’s plotline. Even well-read, well-informed, well-traveled leaders may have one or more stories that do not occur to them. That is where they can be blindsided by events they do not see coming, and where they can discount insights from those in whom these plotlines are active. Having a heads up about what we might not see can motivate us to learn enough about those archetypal stories to be prepared if they are needed.

 

This is also important because such undeveloped storylines may result in leadership challenges where we find ourselves confronted with our own level of incompetence. At worst, we might even act out a potentially shadowy quality of an undeveloped archetype. These can spring into action uninvited in their more primal forms because their narratives have not been lived enough to evolve through practice and feedback.

 

Recognizing such undeveloped areas early can lead to wise team building, delegation, and partnerships, which serve as protection going forward.

 

Leadership and Complexity of Thinking

A current danger in many countries today is that some people live in bubbles where they keep hearing only one side of the story, a story which sometimes is not even connected to reality. Such people without power can be easily manipulated. However, leaders typically do have power, so the more they are capable of understanding, the better it is for everyone. The advantage of thinking through story-telling is that narratives link the head with the heart and light up a good part of the brain. The more archetypes active in our psyches, even imaginatively, the more ways of understanding the world we have available to us. In this, as in most things, practice can help. It is helpful, when faced with a new challenge, to tell several of the twelve archetypal stories about how to ace it — including the story from our lowest scoring archetype. Doing this activates narrative intelligence (NQ), which can combine empathy with rationality, while also revealing the logical consequences of considered actions where plotlines lead.

 

Conclusion:  I hope this short article has provided you with some story-based leadership insights.  It, of course, builds on the work of many respected scholars who specialize in areas such as transformational leadership, authentic leadership, situational flexibility, cultural sensitivity, cognitive complexity, and so on.  Any of these can provide you with important background information about such specific leadership approaches.  For more information about my story-based approach, go to What Stories Are You Living: Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life. 

 

 

 

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The Power of Leadership Narrative Intelligence (NQ)

I’m inspired by Quakers who call on one another to answer the question: “What is mine to do?” They ask this not just once, but in an ongoing way. As we reenter the post-pandemic world, how can we be optimally responsive to the crucial match between outer needs and our authentic motivations? What is ours to do?

 

The theme of this year’s International Leadership Association (ILA) global conference calls us to reimagine leadership for our time. For me, this is also a call to reimagine one’s own leadership. A psychodynamic approach can encourage us to reflect and then act from the inside out. If we don’t, and we come up with abstract ideas only, we may fail to embody them—just like New Year’s resolutions or organizational visioning processes that end up in a drawer, accomplishing nothing.

 

This is the first of two blogs that explore the role of archetypal narrative intelligence (NQ) in linking motivation, action, and leadership outcomes.

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Blog One: Matching Motivation With Story and Capacities

Most leadership theory tends to focus on what leaders do rather than how they want to do it. Psychodynamic leadership theory, which is rooted in Jungian and archetypal psychology and its application, fills this gap with expertise about the inner life. Archetypal (universal) narratives shape our thinking and feeling into plotlines that then guide what we do. (For more information on archetypes and leadership, go to www.carolspearson.com). These, however, can be more habitual than motivating. When the outer life mirrors our inner desires, energy and passion are released that fuel aliveness in what we say and do. Living such narratives develops life and leadership competencies, which, as they continually develop and evolve, can lead to various forms of mastery.

 

I created a 12-archetype human development system, beginning with six in the 1980s, described in The Hero Within, and expanded to 12 in the early 1990s described in Awakening the Heroes Within. These 12 archetypes are ones that have been seen to promote human evolution, from the most ancient of times until now. I called these archetypes heroic, meaning they are committed to the greater good as well as one’s own. I have been working with these archetypes with individuals and groups ever since. In the process, I’ve expanded my ability to apply this basic theory to leadership. How? By studying leadership theory, taking on academic leadership positions, directing the Burns Academy at the University of Maryland, and by co-authoring books on organizational branding and organizational development and designing and editing The Transforming Leader.

 

My new 2021 book, What Stories Are You Living? Discover You Archetypes – Transform Your Life, and the companionPearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® (PMAI®) assessment, build on this background. These are available to the general public, as everyone today should be trained to think like leaders! The book and the scoring protocol of the instrument are informed by leadership theory and practice as well as by psychodynamic psychology. In this short piece, I hope you’ll discover ways to link who you are inside with what the world needs from you, thus promoting genuine personal fulfillment.

 

The following chart includes inner desires in the first column that are prompted by the archetypes in the second. Because the human mind makes meaning through narrative, the final column links such narratives with examples of needed organizational or community leadership tasks. Take a moment to scan the first column and select the motivations that are most true for you at this point in your life, perhaps placing a star next to them. Then, moving to the third column, put a check next to all the tasks you are good at doing, and stars by any or all that make you feel as if you are at home and truly yourself when you do them. You can cross out any that absolutely are not you.

 

Inner motivation

Archetype

Plotline: Motivates Leadership Tasks

Be positive, cheerful, and inspirational, trusting of others and the future.

The Idealist

Embodies and reinforces individual and team values through inspiration, appreciation, and encouragement.

Face facts, trust common sense, prevent breakdown, treat everyone fairly.

The Realist

Identifies threats; appraises opportunities before acting to prevent or remediate them.

Be strong, protecting self and others, accomplishing goals, competing, and winning.

The Warrior

Fights for your people, resources, and mission fulfillment; builds competitive teams.

Compassionate concern for others, providing nurture, care, and safety.

The Caregiver

Establishes caring systems; models being kind to people; fulfills basic human needs.

Openness to the new, loving adventure, scouting out possibilities.

The Seeker

Pioneers by finding available options; accomplishes goals in individualistic ways.

Bring people together as a community that fosters friendship & quality of life.

The Lover

Fosters relationships, collaboration, shared commitments, and attractive spaces.

Imagine, innovate, create, and design things artfully, responding to inspiration.

The Creator

Encourages and implements imaginative solutions and innovative products/ services.

Get rid of what is counterproductive in order to realize a preferred vision.

The Revolutionary

Resources and prioritizes projects and avoids overload by weeding out outmoded policies. 

Take charge to make things work in safer, more orderly and efficient ways.  

The Ruler

Sustains and manages in a changing environment, regularly upgrades policies/procedures.

Enjoy life, free oneself and others from boredom, and have playful fun together. 

The Jester

Offers social time, humor, and wildcard brainstorming; promotes attitude of work as fun.

Follow curiosity in order to figure things out and discover what is demonstrably true.

The Sage

Evaluates evidence, analyzes situations, weighs options, and develops strategies for mission attainment.

Find and promote meaning in life and work, help people know they matter.  

The Magician

Orchestrates rituals of celebration and transition; builds consensus around a future vision and fuels the motivation to achieve it.

 

Being aware of the archetypal narratives you have lived and are living can support your ability to succeed in the leadership capacities listed below. These capacities are ones that I believe to be part of a current leadership excellence consensus.

Leaders need to

  • be authentic;
  • deal well with others, however different they might be;
  • have the flexibility needed to respond to various and fast-changing situations, cultures, and environments;
  • organize groups and teams to get things done;
  • balance inner with outer awareness, to avoid being blindsided by what is not anticipated; and
  • think complexly enough to meet the challenges of the 21st

 

To help you apply these ideas to yourself, you can make use of what you have starred, checked, and crossed out in the table above. Living your archetypes consciously—those most active in you, those that serve as secondary supports, and those gestating until you need them—can make you a more successful leader.

 

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As we begin to emerge from the tragic worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, many of us have reexamined our priorities based on what we truly believe in and care about. How can we reenter the post-pandemic world so that it supports what most matters to us, rather than just letting old habits take us over or responding to nihilistic thoughts that put down the urges of our better selves as naïve and deluded? In these times, we need all of us, as parents, workers, citizens, and friends, to call up the leader within, so that we can rise to the occasion in the ways only we can do. Some of us may then also help to build organizations, institutions, and entire societies that reflect the possible evolution of human community that is gestating, ready to happen if we choose it.

 

Leadership can be more than a role. At best, it is a calling to care about the world and those around us.

 

The purpose of my work on heroic archetypes (universal characters and stories) has always been to help people be fulfilled as they make a difference in the world. It therefore is particularly important to the growing field of transformation leadership devoted to helping leaders become transformational. James MacGregor Burns, the founder of this field, described such leaders as those who inspire others with a vision that promotes the greater good. In this process, such leaders also bring out the best, even sometimes the nobility, in everyone involved.

 

Some transforming leaders seem to be born this way, but working with archetypes can help any of us be transformative enough to realize our purpose. Archetypes are universal patterns available to humans in all times and places, and thus to you and me. Becoming conscious of them can help leaders link their inner desires with outer behaviors that have a transformational impact. We can begin by recognizing the positive archetypal energies that can infuse an authentic desire to make a difference, and then help clarify what we want to contribute toward what end. For example, the inner Lover wants us all to get along, the Creator to innovate, the Sage to analyze the issue, and the Jester to lighten up and enjoy life.

 

While archetypes, as universal characters and narratives, are deeper than culture, they do reflect cultural mindsets in their diverse images and narratives. Through understanding the archetypal stories that shape our values, character, culture, and capacities—and those of other people and groups—we, as individuals and organizations, can realize our unique potential and experience greater success and fulfillment. Archetypes also inform the stories we think, tell, and live.[1]

 

Speaking Up: My country is very divided by what is called a “culture war,” but the one thing we all seem agree on is our dissatisfaction and sense that there is something wrong with how we have been living. Often, people respond to this by blaming others, and, yes, sometimes certain individuals and groups are responsible for many problems. However, I keep hearing very sophisticated people relating how they censor at work in ways that keep them from truly showing up with what they have to offer. True, the more we conform to the unwritten rules of how to fit in, the easier it is to get heard. But while it is important to share respectfully with awareness of how others view things, censoring what we know to be true and needed can literally impede progress and the evolution of consciousness.

 

One way to notice this is to recognize the stories being told around us when we know another one that is a better fit with reality. A very senior female executive, whose highest archetype was Magician, shared with me how much she hated it when the executive team of the corporation in which she worked would start talking as if their business were literally at war with competitors. To fit in, she found herself using war-like metaphors such as “let’s roll out the tanks” and “destroy them.” 

 

Yet, she knew that what was holding back success was that people working there kept being pushed to do their work as if it were storming the beaches in World War II. The whole place was living a Warrior story, but its positive ability to focus, work hard, and win was being undercut by the archetype’s negative underbelly. Along with the Warrior’s gifts of courage, focus, and a desire to compete and win came a stoic culture where being exhausted could not be revealed for fear of losing power and status. The constant pressure to push ahead meant that often the wrong things were being done and mistakes were being made. She recognized that the executive team needed to hear what was true for her, not by attacking their militant stance, but simply by sharing what she was seeing. She decided to do that by distributing an article in a prominent business publication for discussion by the team. Nothing in her action focused on how the team being misguided; rather, the article was all about achieving goals—but doing so without exhausting employees.

 

By now, most high-level leaders know that it is important to speak up about what they see that other members of their team do not, but the desire to belong is instinctual, and the cost of challenging the story the powerful are telling and/or that defines belonging can be devastating. Historically underrepresented groups often are the ones that see the issues about the presumptive story of “us,” whatever that is, because that “us” does not seem to include them. Yet, they are the ones most likely to be sacrificed if they seem not to be a team player or one of “us,” or the plotline of their story is “not how we do things here.” And often being one of us depends on believing “our story.”

 

Caregiver organizations are just as attached to their stories as Warrior ones are. A male colleague with a Sage archetype sat quietly as a predominantly Caregiver team assumed that a woman who charges a man with inappropriate behavior must always be believed, while the Sage archetype within him was screaming, “No, we must listen and then investigate—really investigate,” or else many people would revolt, thinking that innocent men (and women) would end up losing their jobs. However, he stopped and thought about how to communicate that in a Caregiver way, by stressing the importance of avoiding harm to those charged who are innocent as well as those who report being abused. He also made sure to express his concern about the larger issue of power differentials in a way that showed empathy for how difficult it is for women, or others, to speak up in response to inappropriate behavior, abuse, or a more serious violation, or even to report it after the fact.

 

Leadership starts with being the one who talks about the elephant in the room, who describes what they see and invites others to do likewise, and is open to change. Speaking up in intelligent and respectful ways is a leadership skill we all need today. The leaders who can do this most effectively have been prepared by experiencing multiple storylines through reading, through traveling, and through curious listening. The more we expand our inner storylines through any means available, the more effective we can be when the need to speak up presents itself. Instead of debating with others on important issues in a me- against-you way, we can seek understanding by speaking from one archetype to another, as in debates on immigration: “My Warrior relates to your Warrior desire to protect our borders, but my Caregiver feels empathy for refugees and wants to help them.” This also could be said in the opposite way, depending on the views of the person or group we are talking with.

 

Neuroscience tells us that sharing data lights up only a small part of the brain, while incorporating the data into a powerful storyline lights up the brain like a Christmas tree. If leaders are to unify conflicting groups, they need a story that is effective in helping both sides recognize where they agree and why they need one another. The peace movement has evolved strategies for getting people literally at war with one another (that is, killing one another) to talk openly about their actual experiences. Peace sometimes breaks out when each side faces how the horrors and losses of war are shared by both.

 

In my country, where almost everyone is dissatisfied in some way, true communication can come from learning to state what that feels like for each of us,  without pointing the finger—and without blame or judgment— at one another. And in everyday situations, each one of us can voice fewer opinions, listen more, and reveal more of our actual experiences. That puts what we believe in a context that does not inherently make someone who believes differently, as a result of his or her experience, wrong.  

 

We can each further the human development so needed currently as we move through, and potentially out of, this pandemic, simply by speaking up to share our perspectives, all the while learning from others, as we contribute what only we can.

Buy the book or Take the PMAI

[1] See What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life and the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® (PMAI®) assessment for more information.

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Part One: The Appeal of Conspiracy Thinking

I’m intrigued by how many conspiracy theories are gaining traction today, and wondering how so many fellow citizens of my country can believe them. I see news interviews with people who believe such outrageous things, but in every other way they look and act like typical Americans while confirming that they think something is real that, in fact, has been discredited many, many times because there are no actual facts to back it up.

Yet, there are reasons for people to seek some order in what appears to be a chaotic world. In a global society where everyone and everything is interconnected, it is very difficult to predict what will happen next. Spiritual traditions and religions have always taught that there are divine forces acting in the world, and, some say, also demonic ones. When these are consensual beliefs in the culture, they can be calming. But while they sometimes may produce a virtuous society, they also can lead to an Inquisition, as happened after the Black Plague so long ago. In a diverse society such as ours, we do not share one easy faith that can support us all, but neither do we run the risk of falling into a wrong-headed uniformity.

Inner order does exist in apparent chaos, and  it makes sense that we seek it. Contemporary chaos theory tells us that within what seem to be random events there is always an underlying order that can be discovered, often through computer modeling. In psychology, C.G. Jung coined the word “synchronicity” to describe meaningful coincidences that cannot be logically explained. Many people today find inner peace and coherence from spirituality, too. The archetypes that I work with also provide some ways to notice recurring psychological or psycho-spiritual patterns in oneself and the world around us.

My interest in conspiracy theories comes from what they tell us about human psychology, so I approach this topic with a sympathetic mindset. Thinking about myself and where conspiracy thinking has hooked me, I remember living in a period many years ago when our society was changing quickly and things seemed chaotic. At that same time, I also was confused, with a psyche in turmoil, having abandoned many of the beliefs I had been raised with but not yet sure what might take their place.

Just then, I became entranced by The Crying of Lot 49, a Thomas Pynchon novel of some note.  In it, the main character, Oedipa Maas, receives a letter from a law firm telling her that her ex-boyfriend has died and named her the executor of his estate. From there, she begins to notice all sorts of coincidences that lead her from one to the other, as might happen in a crime novel. She feels as if she is onto a conspiracy of some sort but does not know if it is redemptive or a serious threat, and the reader never finds out the answer.

Thinking back on how caught up I was in Oedipa’s search helps me understand the appeal of intuiting underlying, unseen realities that seem to make sense of things in a chaotic time. Like Oedipus, who put out his eyes, we are all a bit blind to what is going on that has not risen to the surface, so we may constantly be surprised by events we did not see coming—in my lifetime, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa, people not fitting into categories of male and female, and, fairly recently, the election of an ultraconservative president at a time when the views of most citizens were becoming more liberal. It would be scary for me to be walking around blind, not knowing where I would stumble, and it is unnerving to live in today’s world with a pandemic, economic uncertainty, and a citizenry that is so at odds with one another that it cannot come together to govern itself civilly.

I’ve been helped in understanding this situation by neuroscience. It turns out that our brains crave meaning, so much so that when actual truth about something is not apparent or is distrusted, the brain just serves one up. Very typically, classic conspiracy stories take a situation that is complex and not easily understood and then find someone to blame for it. Ideally this will be a group that the audience being targeted by the story already is threatened by. Gradually, more and more stories pile up about sequentially more and more outrageous crimes.  The plotline then creates a narrative about who will save consumers of this narrative from this menace. Generally, someone this audience already likes is portrayed as their savior. This triggers confirmation bias, and with it a small, positive dopamine high, reinforcing not just the rightness of liking this person but also the entire conspiracy narrative.

Part Two: QAnon As a Case Study

As you might guess, my puzzlement has been triggered by the success of QAnon. News about this is all over the place, but one source I consider accurate is an article by technology columnist Kevin Roose of the New York Times on September 28, 2020. He writes: “QAnon is the umbrella term for a sprawling set of internet conspiracy theories that allege, falsely, that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.” The desired outcome is that the president would reveal these evil people, round them up, and punish them for their crimes, after which the country would become a utopia. Some elements of QAnon reference demon sperm, aliens, and other forces operating in the “deep state” of the U.S. government. One such adherent actually shot up a pizza parlor in the Washington, DC area, believing that Hillary Clinton was engaged in the child sex trade out of its nonexistent basement, an event now referred to as PizzaGate.

Contemporary conspiracy theories do not share the entire picture all at once, and people keep making up new elements. Part of their appeal is the search, with people going from one social media site to another to find pieces of the puzzle and put it together themselves. It feels like being a detective and finding a secret that few, if any, know. And, it provides a sense of meaning. It is like my identifying with Oedipa in the Crying of Lot 49, only better, because the story is presented as fact, not fiction.

The Sage archetype theoretically supports curiosity to find truth, but when people cannot face the truths they fear, it will swerve to seek what it is they actually want to believe. Conspiracy theories that succeed in engaging many people typically also seem for a time to fulfill primary human needs. Think for a moment of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: people need to achieve, sequentially, safety, security, belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization to be fully free and independent beings. Believers in QAnon and other conspiracies can feel safe and secure because they think they are going to be saved, they have a sense of belonging to this secret in-group, and gain self-esteem from being in the know, while others are not.

Successful conspiracy theories also build on the dilemma people face living in a democracy and a capitalist economy where the pressure to compete and achieve is constant. Most of us have found some way to feel like winners to avoid being losers. This could be from being successful, perhaps rich (or at least self-supporting) or famous (or having the most likes on social media), or by winning a contest in some arena. A sense of worthiness could result from being “right” because of being educated, and thus knowledgeable, or having access to the one true religious faith, to avoid being in wrong. It also can come from being moral, either by adhering to a moral code or by being loving and kind and caring for others—either way, avoiding being bad.

Most conspiracy theories portray those whom their followers disdain as losers, wrong, and bad, even if the truth is that they threaten the adherents by seeming to be more successful, right, or good. This can then spiral down into demonizing those the conspiracy-minded do not like, and providing the satisfaction of imagining them being punished or even killed.

This pattern can be observed not only in QAnon adherents, but in many of us. Thus, the question becomes: how do we vaccinate ourselves from falling into our own versions of such traps? According to psychiatrist C.G. Jung, we all have a shadow of the parts of ourselves we repress, often rightly, so that we do not kill, steal, and so on. Most of us repress those qualities that we do not approve of or have been told are shameful. However, this also is where weird beliefs can spring from, because it is where we are unconscious.

So, what would be in the shadow of a person or group that projects onto others a deep state plot, with aliens, demon sperm, and child sex trafficking? To me, that might indicate shame at feeling “other” and not fitting in. Guilt about impulses that a person does not want to admit are his or her own are the most likely to be projected. A fantasy about others engaging in sex trafficking can be triggered by experiences of being abused or shamed as a child or by shaming your own inner child, especially related to the expression of sexual feelings believed to be inappropriate or wrong. Along with this, believing in a deep state in the government might suggest one’s own desire to exercise control over others so as to make them become as you wish they would be, accompanied by a feeling of powerlessness, and thus a desire to be saved by some group or individual.

The more we avoid what we do not want to see in ourselves, the easier it is to fall into demonizing others.

Part Three: The Vaccine to Prevent Conspiracy Thinking in Ourselves

  • Be yourself. Observing people around me, I know that those who have gotten to Maslow’s stage of self-actualization seem to be relatively immune to comparing themselves with others, and hence have less motivation to attack them as wrong, losers, and bad. They often are satisfied simply to be their best selves. Being comfortable just being our best selves is an important element in developing an immunity to the conspiracy-thinking virus.
  • Check the story you are thinking against the facts. Engage your Sage curiosity in listening to people who have direct experience of the issue at hand and who avoid being ideologues. People are less likely to believe untruths about the area of life where they have direct experience. For example, I’ve lived in the Washington, DC area long enough at various times to know that those in the civil service generally are patriotic, dedicated to the mission of their agency, and well-versed in research that tells them how best to accomplish that. You also can check where there is scientific consensus and where there isn’t. That is why people who believe outlandish things actually may be normal in the areas of their lives in which they have direct knowledge of what is real and what isn’t. It could be that they just watched television series like House of Cards or Scandal, or, years ago, The X-Files, and took them as mirrors of reality, or that they are being told falsehoods by authorities that they trust. Check your thinking against what actually has been proven to be true and with others closer to the situation at hand than you are to promote your immunity to conspiracy thinking.
  • Get your primary needs met. Take steps to feel as safe and secure as you can and affiliate with others, so that you know you belong, seeking out groups that do not require blind obedience or conformity. Do the best you can to contribute your own gifts and strengths, so that you know you matter in the world and thus have self-esteem that comes from actual achievement. If these are in place, the conspiracy virus will have no access to invade your psyche.
  • Get acquainted with your shadow. We can begin to identify our own shadows by identifying the people and actions that we abhor and cannot stop thinking about. Our situation is even more acute if we begin to fantasize about something bad happening to them. When we notice what it is we dislike that they do, we can then search out whether we might have the slightest bit of that attitude in ourselves, even if only in our thoughts, not our actions. We still may not like what others are doing, but much of our distress may dissipate once we experience the tiniest hint of fellow feeling. This can restore our own inner calm, so that our opinion about someone else does not have to ruin our day, the week, or that period of our lives. It also vaccinates us against starting to believe conspiracy theories about that person or group.

We are in a time that requires us to face the major problems before us. If we give in to the temptation to feel good about ourselves by demonizing others, any of us can begin to slip into a fantasy alternative universe. Meanwhile, real collective threats keep worsening without being addressed. Such escapes do not protect us against their inevitable result. And, to solve those challenges, we will have to be able to work with people who do not share our views.

It is my fervent hope that these vaccine ideas help you to stay focused on what is real and on what you can do about it, and on who you need to work with to do so. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject and what has worked for you—or not worked!

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…this is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. FDR to Americans facing The Great Depression

Embedded in this famous quote is a story: The setting is the mythic wasteland, literally the Great Depression. Heroes, as always, are leaders when supported by the people. The enemy to be overcome initially is not poverty, but instead paralyzing fear. The plotline requires facing truths and acting with vigor so that the country will revive and prosper.

Today my country is experiencing a dual economic and health crisis. We are also in the midst of recognizing that achieving a positive outcome is up to leaders at every level: no one savior is out there who will rescue us from these crises or from ourselves. Thus, we all need to be leaders—as parents, neighbors, co-workers, educators, and those in positions of authority in every sector. A positive outcome requires us to utilize the power of story as FDR did, to help ourselves and others face tough realities without getting dragged down by the kind of fear that brings out our lesser angels—hoarding, advantaging ourselves and disadvantaging others, calling for saving the economy by sacrificing people seen as replaceable, or throwing “you can’t tell us what to do” tantrums.

Yet, at the same time, something wonderful has been happening, a story that must be told and retold. A global consensus of most people around the world has emerged, with substantial understanding that the only way through this is to care for one another, making needed personal sacrifices to do so. This reinforces the teachings in our major world religions that tell us that the secret to a healthy and happy life is to love one another. Now we are called to do so for the greater good, which is the only reliable way to ensure our own. And even with the breakdown of what has been our normal, new caring actions are becoming visible like flowers pushing up through the cracks in the sidewalk. We see this in how so many are helping those around us, whether in active helping, by simply remaining cloistered, or by doing whatever we can wherever we are.

The words of poet Theodore Roethke in In a Dark Time are resonating with me as I write this. The poem begins, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.” So, what do we see in the dark? As  we follow coverage of this pandemic, we see our cultural shadow. The cost of income and wealth inequality is on full display for us to face, just as the clearing skies are reminding us that, yes, climate change is real. We have our work cut out for us as a people and as individuals, as the shadow of an unwillingness to face uncomfortable truths is within us all, even those of us calling for action on such issues.

Roethke’s poem then continues evoking a plotline: “My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,/Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?” In this dark time, is it our normal Ego consciousness that is needed, or should we listen to our deeper selves/souls? For many of us, our first understanding that there is also a deeper self comes when we look in the mirror and think, “If I keep doing this, I will lose my soul.” And what this deeper voice reminds us about is not only our values and morals, but also what our souls call us to do and be.

I believe that as leaders today, we are being called to ask ourselves, “Which I is I?” to answer our own emerging calls not just to restore the old normal, but rather to recreate our micro and macro worlds to reflect our better selves. And we need to sustain this for an uncertain period of time as this pandemic threatens to last. John F. Kennedy’s inspiring words from his inaugural address could have been about today: “Now the trumpet summons us again—not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need; not as a call to battle, though embattled we are—but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, ‘rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation’— a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.”

My lifelong leadership work involves identifying archetypal (universally recurring) characters and stories that promote personal development and human evolution. These archetypes help any of us develop capacities that are needed to address such long-term challenges: the Idealist’s faith, the Realist’s fortitude in facing facts, the Caregiver’s compassion, the Warrior’s courage, the Seeker’s pioneering spirit, the Lover’s steadfast commitment, the Creator’s inventiveness, the Revolutionary’s sacrifice of lesser for better, the Ruler’s system savvy, the Magician’s ability to change consciousness at will, the Sage’s wisdom, and the Jester’s joy.

Any or all of these can be allies in finding and acting upon your own current leadership calling. You can even call up the one you need in yourself by an act of conscious will. Each also offers a storyline that can help you as a leader—at any level and in any setting—recognize what sort of story you must live and tell to be an authentic force for needed social healing and renewed prosperity in these times.

This work was originally published in Leadership for the Greater Good: Reflections on the 2020 Pandemic, a blog published by the International Leadership Association (www.ila-net.org).

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This is the second of two blogs that address the coronavirus pandemic.

I’m going out very little during the coronavirus pandemic, while also taking time to stay connected—at a distance—with family, friends, and colleagues. It is so important in these times that people are not isolated. Simultaneously, I am working to use this quiet time for reflection rather than giving in to worry or annoyance. I’m sheltering in place, while grateful for all the people in the medical fields, those getting food and medicine to people, and those packing up and delivering goods to the increasing numbers who are ordering food and medicine online. Yet, whether in lockdown at home or doing busy and stressful work, people can feel happier and more energized if they see a connection between their actions, what they love, and what can help others—hence this blog.

Putting together strategies from archetypal and positive psychology, I realize that taking time for reflection when I can also helps me to stay focused and positive when I’m working flat out. One strategy that allows me to remain authentic and positive is to keep current with what I love to do and why. To this end, I need to differentiate such efforts from what I think I should do or I’m used to doing. I can also stay open to new opportunities when I reflect on my daydreams and begin to get a sense of what is calling to me. Even when I’m feeling stressed and driven, I can stop and recognize that I love what I’m doing and I do it because I care about others and the fate of the world. Often, then, the love I notice that I’m experiencing shifts my attention to a more positive focus and I feel better. 

So, here’s a list I use that might help you. Each of the 12 items identifies an archetypal character that loves what it does and makes us feel good about how these actions benefit others, the environment, or the larger world. As you go through the list, select one or more archetypal characters who love what you do and the good feelings you get from making a difference. If you want to get fancy and more completely catch up with yourself, you can also identify:

  • one that you have come to believe you should be like, 
  • one that you used to be like, but not so much now, and 
  • one that you wish were true, which then is likely calling you.

Archetypal Characters Within

Your Possible Idealist: You love life and the world around you and have faith in your values and vision for its betterment. You feel good when your faith, goodness, and optimism have picked someone up, given them hope, or allowed them to feel gratitude for what they have.

Your Possible Realist: You love the way that being realistic frees you from unnecessary disappointment. You feel good when you know that by anticipating and avoiding problems or facing current ones in proven ways, you’ve helped others by preventing breakdowns. 

Your Possible Caregiver: You love to be helpful to others, noticing their needs and seeking ways to solve their problems and then doing so. You feel good when you know that your compassion and competence have made a difference to others, especially if you take time to also care for yourself.

Your Possible Warrior: You love a good fight, to win, and to rescue others from danger or difficulty. You feel good when you have proven your ability and competence, especially in competition, and when your strength and courage has helped to protect others.

Your Possible Seeker: You love the call of the open road, new experiences, and inviting new possibilities and potentials. You feel good when you are on an adventure that is broadening your horizons and that helps you be the pioneer who maps new territory for others to follow.

Your Possible Lover: You love being in relationship—in romance, friendship, teamwork, and possibly in feeling one with nature or the world. You feel good when you have felt close to another or others, accepted by them, and have been relaxed, just being yourself. 

Your Possible Revolutionary: You love to shake things up and get energized when you see what is wrong that needs to change to make things better. You feel good when you have helped others to understand this need and have begun the process of eliminating what is not working.

You Possible Creator: You love to imagine a new reality and carefully craft it into artful and tangible form. You feel good during such creative endeavors when the ideas flow, and deeply satisfied when your vision is realized in ways that bring people pleasure, insight, or ease. 

Your Possible Ruler: You love to take on responsibilities when things are in disarray and to get things organized so that they work more effectively. You feel good when you succeed and the people and parts involved work together, order is restored, and chaos is averted.

Your Possible Jester: You love to lighten things up and make people laugh, have fun, and not take themselves too seriously. You feel happy when you are entertaining people or helping them to throw down their cares and smile, so that they can enjoy the moment.

Your Possible Sage: You love to feel curious, the process of discovery and learning, and the joy of sharing wisdom with others. You feel happy when you have found the answer you seek, when you recognize your growing expertise, and when others benefit from learning from you.  

Your Possible Magician: You love to heal people and unify groups by engaging with knowledge that is little known and that develops the ability to shift reality by shifting consciousness. You feel good when you know you have used this knowledge to heal yourself and then others.

Now is the time to apply this knowledge from your selections to your life, by identifying one or more of the above that help you express your love and thus make you feel good. Then remember the following:

  • You can activate your love by living the story your current inner characters want to live.
  •  You can avoid an inner drag on your energy by minimizing how much time you spend living your “shoulds” and the stories that used to energize you (even though others continue to pressure you to live them and your own acculturation and habits do, too). 
  • You can stay open to what calls next by recognizing the characters you identify with in your daydreams. 
  • Even in times of great pressure, you can also shift your attention from related anxieties and stress to feeling the love that is motivating your actions and how much you care about helping the people who benefit from your efforts.   
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This is the first of two blogs that address the coronavirus pandemic.

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939

Jesus said we must love one another as ourselves and that would be the doorway into experiencing the kingdom of God—also known as heaven—right here on earth. The Romans took over this religion with a Ruler/Warrior archetype fusion and turned it into a justification for killing the infidels and the heretics and addressed their own out-of-control orgies by demonizing sex. Similar distortions of the injunction to love have happened throughout patriarchy when viewed through a Warrior/Ruler lens. The commandment to love our neighbors has long been included in the teachings of Judaism and Islam (especially in its Sufi forms) and in most indigenous religions as well. I was once invited to attend a workshop conducted by a Hawaiian volcano priestess (who, I was told, could walk on hot lava and be unscathed). She closed her day-long seminar by summing up all the teachings she had given us, saying, love yourself, love one another, that is what it all comes down to. My incredulous response was: I learned that in Sunday school!

W.H. Auden is said to have hated the stanza of the poem this blog begins with and eventually omitted it. I imagine this was the way any of us can loathe the thought we have that is too true to bear. But Auden’s lines fit our time very well. We currently are in a situation where we need to love one another or potentially many of us will die, taking our economy and prosperity with them. Paradoxically, we need to stay home, go inward, and face ourselves. And we need to do this to protect both ourselves and others, since even if we are young and in optimal health and likely will not suffer much from this illness, we undoubtedly will share the virus with others, some of whom will die if we remain out and about (unless doing essential tasks).  

We need to stay away from others to save them and us. Otherwise, there is no way to slow the progress of this disease, because the hospitals will be overwhelmed and people will die unnecessarily because they do not receive treatment.  

If we trust synchronicity, we can realize that this is a time to go inward and reconsider the lives we are living and their consequences. The antidote to the virus is not just about the virus itself, but about a cultural virus of selfishness, greed, and willfulness. Together, these result in our so polluting the earth that we are changing our climate, while we also turn a blind eye to how many children and adults are going hungry as billionaires build underground shelters to escape the growing likelihood of nuclear war or climate disasters. The fear of seeing the reality of that plight has led to fake news, conspiracy theories about who is to blame, and a generalized denial of facts and the deeper truths behind them.

On the surface of things, the coronavirus threat requires us to wash our hands, disinfect our bodies and our immediate environments, and thus wipe away the virus that could make us sick. Those of us who apply depth psychology to our lives can decode this, so we know that it is true as well for our psyches. Those hoarding disinfectants, cleaning wipes, and toilet paper are missing the message that we need to love one another as we do ourselves, and also the symbolic message that it is time to disinfect ourselves, our shadowy, greedy, selfish sides, let them go and wipe the residue away. The act of washing our hands can become a ritual for cleansing and healing not just our hands, but ourselves and our world.

Collectively, we need to face the impact of our lifestyles on our earth, our environment, on the air we breathe, the water we drink, and our weather. With this lockdown, we can see that the environment is beginning to have a chance to heal, with pollution abating and clear skies where previously there were none. 

Countries that have been under stringent lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus have experienced an unintended benefit. The outbreak has, at least in part, contributed to a noticeable drop in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in some countries.

Although grim, it's something scientists said could offer tough lessons for how to prepare—and ideally avoid—the most destructive impacts of climate change. 

https://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/coronavirus-shutdowns-have-unintended-climate-benefits-n1161921

Water: The Threat, the Antidote

Rebekah Lovejoy, in her blog “Frozen II: Disney’s Response to Social Isolation in a Time of Coronavirus,” tells us that “The coronavirus travels through our saliva, landing on surfaces and hands, and transferring to those around us. It is billions of molecules of water that will make us sick, and spread throughout our societies and bodies, linking us and also possibly killing us.” She urges us to understand the message of Frozen II and how damming our water but also polluting it is at the root of our cultural sickness.  

In depth psychology, the archetypal element of water is associated with the unconscious and with human emotions that can carry us away. Considering only the boundary of our skins, we may feel separate from one another, but all humans are composed of up to 60 percent water; the brain and heart are composed of 73 percent water, and the lungs are about 83 percent. This means we are walking pools of water, confined within skin and held up by bones that are watery too, though less so. In this way, we are alike, all one species. The element of water as an archetype relates to feelings and the unconscious mind, which can sweep us into being overwhelmed by fear and our shadowy lesser selves, or, alternatively, infuse us with cleansing faith in our futures and love for this earth, one another, and our lives. 

The Buddhist symbol of enlightenment is the lotus flower, which grows out of the mud and through the water toward the sky. Any yoga practice, even at your nearby Y, will similarly draw you inward so that you can connect with wisdom deeper than your rational mind and also learn to practice loving kindness, both to yourself and to others. Jungian psychology tells us that we visit the mud in our shadows to learn from it, starting from what needs to be transformed and then moving to the gold we might also find there. We can begin by noticing who we hate or blame and what that tells us about ourselves—often that we have some of what we judge in others within us that we do not want to see.  Yet, consciousness can disinfect that mud, if we can get past the rush of feelings that a confrontation with our own shadows often unleashes.   We do this by

  • having compassion for parts of ourselves that do not measure up to our desired self-image; 
  • revisiting times we were mistreated or traumatized and learning from them, even though they are experiences we would prefer to forget; and 
  • processing experiences that were repressed because they occurred when we were not yet capable of doing so. 

When the mud in the shadow is washed by the water of our forgiveness and love for ourselves, the seeds in it begin to grow, moving through cleaner and cleaner water toward the air of the conscious mind. The resulting organic growth results in a blossoming of consciousness, so we can express forgiveness and love for those around us, including even some who may have harmed us. 

Beyond the needed focus on keeping social distance, so that more of us can just survive, is the possibility that we can use this time to evolve personally. We can start by recognizing that in so many ways—from this or another pandemic, from nuclear war, or from climate change—Auden was right: We must love one another or die. Maybe not every one of us, but many. Yet, if love does win, there is just the chance that we will achieve a healthier and happier world.

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A Nation At War With Itself

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The verdict is in: The President of the United States of America has abused his power, bullied another nation to provide him with personal political benefit, and covered this up in unprecedented ways. The Mueller investigation also identified many crimes he was party to as a candidate as well as numerous instances of obstruction of justice. He avoided being charged only because of a Department of Justice policy. Yet it seems as if many Americans don’t care. The Republicans in the Senate did not, either. Has all pretense of being a moral nation been sacrificed to an inflated image of strongman, bully power?

Americans tend to be dreamers, informed by the Seeker archetype to strive for a better life. Many of us still believe in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as a God-given right for all. Our success as a nation depends on the current political environment being a blip, not who we are. I write this because I know that so many fellow Americans are facing painful demoralization and disillusionment about our country. I feel it, too.

My thesis: Right now, the President and the Republican Party are possessed by a primal, shadowy form of the Warrior archetype that threatens to engulf us all, as those of us who understand their threat get pulled into seeing them as our enemy. As the American people’s attitudes were becoming more liberal, Newt Gingrich in the 1990s convinced the Republicans to declare war on the Democrats. Mitch McConnell has gone so far as to interpret this to mean that the Senate was not be allowed to even vote on President Obama’s nominee for a Supreme Court seat in the final year of his presidency. More recently, McConnell has not allowed bills to come up for debate in the Senate that come over from the majority Democratic House. And now the Senate refuses to address the facts of a President’s criminal behavior—behavior that undermines our Constitution. Instead, they blame the messenger—the Democrats.

The Warrior archetype in its shadowy forms is all about gaining power for one’s own group, blaming an enemy for one’s problems. The issue today is that the Republicans apparently see Democrats as the enemy even more than Vladimir Putin and Russia. This culture war, if we all fully join it, leaves our country undefended from external threats. The job of the Warrior is to protect us, but the Warrior’s strategies—war, propaganda (fake news, lies), and coercion—cannot protect us from climate change, the growing income/wealth gap, and nuclear proliferation, and the danger right now of a nuclear war started by power struggles between autocrats or by terrorists. We need the positive Warrior, of course, to have the courage to address the real issues before us and to have the will to do what needs to be done.

We have seen our Earth from space. We know how fragile human life is. Our Seeker selves have to realize that there is no place to run to in the foreseeable future. There can now be no Other as enemy; the problem is in us. The more we focus on human enemies, the more our demise is assured. We are in a time when actual wars, where each side tries to kill the other, have become dysfunctional. War now exists in cyberspace, in economics, but mostly in ideas. We need the Sage to face the facts staring us in the face to counter fake news. There are people among us who simply love to be entertained by a master showman who illustrates the manipulative shadowy ability of the Magician, who can influence opinion through illusions. We saw this with the State of the Union address. What we need in our leaders and in ourselves is the evolved Magician that knows how to change consciousness to change outcomes, expanding our capacities to embrace a consciousness adequate to solving the major problems that threaten our democracy and our ability to head off the crises ahead. Most of us already know that the Senate vote undermines our Constitution, but some do not care. The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution can remind us of what needs to be restored and why we need to care. 

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

We will have Justice only if no one is above the law. We cannot have domestic Tranquility if a people is at war with one another, even a war of words. Certainly, we need to stop scapegoating and focus on caring for all of us. To provide for the common defense, we need to figure out what we need to defend against, rather than escaping into denial and the blame game. We cannot promote the general welfare if our policies disproportionately benefit those who are already rich and powerful and if we focus our energies on undercutting government in the service of corporate power. We cannot secure the blessings of liberty to posterity if we do not address the most pressing problems before us and instead deplete our energies blaming refugees. 

In the Civil War, people shed their blood to extend democracy to all our citizens, revealing the best of the Warrior archetype in their time. Today we need to evolve the Warrior archetype to meet the challenges of our time, so that, as Abraham Lincoln put it, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  

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Narcissism has been making the news lately. People are concerned that some politicians and CEOs may be narcissists. To understand what is going on in the world today and to recognize how you and I can be happy, successful, and positive influences, it is helpful to view narcissism on a continuum, and to live out its positive sides and avoid the negative, within oneself or in others whose behaviors affect your life.

This psychological narcissist continuum got its name from the cautionary Greek myth of Narcissus. When the extraordinarily handsome hunter Narcissus was 16 years old, the nymph Echo fell in love with him. But her love was not returned, and she disappeared from woods and mountains, fading slowly away until she was just a voice repeating what was said (turning into a reflection of others in sound). Later in the story, Narcissus, having come to a pool to quench his thirst, saw his reflection in its smooth surface and fell in love with it. And since he could not obtain the object of his love, he died of sorrow (or, some say, starvation, as he did not leave this image even to be nurtured and fed) by the same pool.

Now, you also need to know that the Greeks continually warned against hubris or arrogance, in Narcissus’s case coming from vanity. They also consistently urged against the longing for perfection, advocating instead “the middle way.” So, in this case, the middle between what and what?

Narcissism in Adolescence: It is no accident that Narcissus is about 16 years old, an age when it is normal for adolescents to be self-involved and sometimes also selfish. It is also the time when the Seeker archetype emerges with the desire to find one’s own identity and connect with others. The sought-after girl- or boyfriend or friendship groups often are either what serves your status or that share the same interests and can understand you like no one else.

Healthy Adult Narcissism: Healthy narcissism involves developing self-esteem, which, in part, requires taking the time to find yourself—how you like to do things, what you are good at, the narratives that call you to action, and the interests that release your energy for action. This often requires having mentors or guides, examples, and sometimes self-help books and workshops as well as increasing life experience. While this process tends to be “all about me,” it can lead to success in school and entry level work.

 

Psychological health, however, also requires an integration of the Seeker with the Lover archetype, which motivates a growing desire to respect, appreciate, care for, and love others. Most of the moral codes of our world stress the ability to love—your partner, children, family, neighbors, etc.—as what makes us caring and responsible. Together, the healthy Seeker/Lover motivates people to want to contribute to others (family, workplace, community, etc.) and be productive members of society.

 

Overall, developing and balancing the Seeker and Lover archetypes can help you to get good at something and to be good, as in moral. Because it motivates you to trust yourself and identify your strengths, interests, and values, it can lead to your being happy, fulfilled, and successful, living a life and doing work that fits for you.

 

Wounded Narcissism

 

Such a developmental journey can be sabotaged by any number of forces that undercut a person’s fundamental sense of personal worth.

 

The Origin: This can come from family influences if your mistakes are portrayed as signs of unworthiness. It can result from mean girls or boys claiming there is something wrong with you, rendering you an outsider. It can come from teachers who treat you as lacking intelligence or talents, or coaches who shame you for being weak or unskilled. The same pattern can continue in the work world, with bosses or coworkers who demean you. Messages in the larger culture also can make you conclude that you are a loser, ugly, bad, or useless (and so on and on). To counter these, remember that such undermining messages are about them, not you. It is easier to see this in people’s racism, sexism, homophobia, or fat shaming, but is equally true when what is going on with the person who puts you down is still a mystery. Why did that grade school teacher shame you for coloring the oceans different shades of blue? Whatever it was, she was out of line!

 

The Wound: Healthy narcissism can be wounded if your sense of your place in the world has diminished. To heal this wound you can, first, work to realize that those negative messages were not about you; they were about those who sent them. Second, you can take your Seeker and Lover journeys while working to accept yourself as you are.

 

Destructive Temptation: It is helpful to seek to learn from others, but you can be trapped if you find a savior who requires you to abandon your own journey to be what he or she tells you that you must be to have any worth. Sometimes those who present themselves as just the guides you need to follow are themselves unhealthy narcissists. Avoid the temptation to give away your power to them, lest, like the nymph, you begin simply echoing back someone else’s desires and values, until you slowly fade away as yourself.

 

Entrapping Entrancement: In developing the self-awareness necessary for self-realization, it also is wise to avoid the temptation to, Narcissus-like, become entranced with the watery shimmer of your inner life for so long that you starve your relationships with others and the world, or actually just fall into the water of the unconscious and lose contact with the shore of ordinary life.

 

Developing healthy narcissism can cure its wounded forms and also vaccinate you against its negative forms, or at least help you recognize their symptoms and pull yourself back from the abyss. So, let’s turn to the more negative forms of narcissism and how they might be avoided.

 

Egotist Narcissists

 

Those referred to as narcissists tend to have an investment in maintaining a positive self-image and persona/brand image, while avidly seeking the kind of success that looks good to others. How to avoid this:

 

Find Yourself: The focus on one’s image instead of identity can lead to a drive for status, power, celebrity, and riches, or other achievements that win praise, and sometimes to achieving these goals in ways that take you away from what will truly bring you fulfillment. The antidote can be found in returning to your Seeker quest to discover your purpose, calling, and strengths. Then fame and fortune, if they occur, will be the icing on the cake.

 

Experience Love: It can also turn “love” into its instrumental mimic (I love those who do what I want or simply are a benefit to me and make me look good). This can result in your ending up alone, as others often take off when the egotist stops benefitting them. However, suddenly falling in love with a partner or your newborn child—or being brought to your knees through loss or failure and experiencing healing love and care from others—may well cure this.

 

Commit to Learning: When encountering remorse or becoming aware of wrongdoing, a dangerous tendency is to seek others to blame rather than learning from the experience, and likely then to start feeling victimized even if you actually disadvantaged someone else. The antidote: choose to learn from misdeeds, failures, losses, and mistakes or your part in them.

 

Acquired Narcissism

 

Some have developed an unearned sense of superiority over others acquired through the life they were born into or that they later experience.

 

Unearned Confidence: Norm groups in any society (in my own culture, being White, male, heterosexual, affluent, etc.) often have greater confidence than others and simply see certain privileges as their due, generally being unconscious of the related cost to those who are different. Such confidence also can lead to greater personal success, but often also to what is known as the Peter Principle: they eventually overreach and achieve positions where they are over their heads and incompetent. The temptation for them is to blame others, but the antidote is to gain a more realistic self-image and either work very hard to learn needed competencies or step back into roles that are a better fit.

 

The Slippery Slope: People who have become very successful and have been shielded from feedback may become unbalanced and begin to see themselves as able to do whatever they want, including harassing and abusing people over whom they have power, sexually or in other ways. Feeling that normal rules do not apply to them, they may break the law or shock others with improprieties. Many can even enjoy conning and manipulating others. For most of us, growing narcissism can be subtler, resulting in our feeling more advanced and wiser than others and therefore no longer fully listening to them. Antidotes? To protect against this, be sure you have people close to you who will give you honest feedback, including warnings that you seem puffed up and obliviousness to your impact on others. Also, stay alert to the first signs that you feel above others, are gleeful when you successfully get them to do what you want, or find yourself avoiding responsibility by blaming others for your own mistakes or misdeeds.

 

The Victim Excuse: As a result of trauma or just hard luck, a similar sense of entitlement can, paradoxically, result from feelings of acute victimization that may become an excuse for negative actions, including bullying and physical abuse of others or, in an everyday way, simply chronic negativity and complaining. The antidote for this is to get help addressing these difficult experiences, coming to terms with them, and working again on developing one’s healthy narcissism by exploring what calls for you now.

 

The Supremacy Trap: A trap for those with low self-esteem can be a dangled “cure” in the form of convincing them of their innate superiority because they are, say, White (or any privileged group); male; from a wealthy (aristocratic) family; or any other claim to being inherently better than others. Often this leads to a willingness to discriminate or abuse others they regard as inferior. Discovering one’s genuine strengths and gifts and utilizing them to contribute to the good of others can foster healthy self-esteem that is not dependent on feeling that you are better than other people, even when you achieve mastery in some area and have every reason to feel good about what you are now able to do.

 

Narcissism as a Character Disorder

 

The one percent of people who have a narcissistic personality disorder have a distorted sense of self. Psychologists are not sure about the cause of this or of its cure, but those with it avoid self-awareness at all cost.

 

Inner Emptiness: Whether by nature or by a lack of attention to developing a self that is connected to others, the pathological narcissist escapes from the emptiness within, avoids self-examination, and strives to be the center of attention in order to feed an intense need to be mirrored as powerful and important. Such individuals often seek out roles that allow them to control others and gain nonstop flattery from them, a set of behaviors that frequently are seen in the world’s most abusive dictators or would-be tyrants in the home, in the office, or on the street.

 

Abusiveness and Distortion: A sense of superiority often is used by narcissists to justify abusing others. When they are crossed or their inflated self-image is undermined, they may even become enraged and seek vengeance. Narcissism can even distance people from truths they do not want to face—in the world or about themselves—while the constant intensity required to keep reinforcing a sense of exaggerated self-worth leads to short-term thinking.

 

Since cures for this character disorder are uncertain, the most we can do is recognize people with this rather sad plight and protect ourselves by not getting pulled into their area of control or escaping from it once we see what is going on. Moreover, the only way they will even seek help is to experience serious enough consequences for their actions that their usual defenses abandon them.

 

Note: For more on the Seeker and Lover as archetypes, see What Story Are You Living?, published by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

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Leadership today is too often viewed as a function or role conferred only by some authority. Yet, whether you are a parent, a teacher, a supervisor, a CEO, president of a country, or someone who acts because something needs to be done and no one else is doing it, you can lead successfully only if other people actually want to follow you, collaborate with you, or support you. Even so, being in charge can feel as if it is just a job, often even a tiring and thankless one, especially if your responsibilities do not fill you with meaning and help you to feel that you matter. The mundane can crowd out the important.

 

I’ve been a leadership scholar and a leader, and believe me, formal responsibility for leadership is harder, though not as difficult (for me) as parenting. In recent years, I was the Director of the Burns Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland and then the Provost and President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. Since my scholarship is based on Jungian and archetypal psychology, I’ve applied these ideas to leadership and my life generally, especially with the foundational belief that we all matter and have a responsibility to show up to do our parts—an emerging notion in contemporary leadership theory and practice. 

 

I’ve discovered that leadership can be restored to a calling—when I treat it as one, even when my responsibilities include things I would rather not be doing. Leadership becomes a calling when we care about making a difference to individuals, groups, and the greater good and when we connect the desire to matter with the archetypal stories, alive in us, that fuel our interests, motivations, and behaviors and that provide plotlines to guide our action. Staying rooted in this awareness can help any of us persevere even when the petty, mundane tasks and infighting get us down.

 

Background Ideas and How They Can Help You Find Your Deeper Leadership Calling

 

The psychiatrist C.G. Jung found that some narratives recur in all times and places, and he called them archetypes, which are revealed in myth, symbol, literature, and other human creations. When we live them, we are connected with universal psychological patterns and all those who live them now or have done so at any time in history. Jung highlighted archetypes such as Mother, Father, Child, and Trickster and revealed how archetypes can connect people with eternal human patterns—patterns that are always in the process of evolving. His work focused on healing patients by helping them connect with archetypal images and energies that were important to their individuation process (the process of being true to themselves), but had been lacking in how they were living their lives. 

 

In my work with leaders, I help them recognize the archetypes that motivate and energize their actions at any particular time, with one or more offering clarity about their core purpose or calling. I work with archetypes that are important to the hero’s journey and that contribute to leadership success, such as the Warrior, Sage, Caregiver, Magician, and Ruler. Those that are most alive in us connect us with our deeper selves and also inform our attitudes and behaviors. The term “archetype” can seem mystifying until you realize that you can recognize each kind of character in novels, movies, or TV shows, as well as in people you know. You also can recognize the plotlines that go along with these characters if you think about them in relationship to different fictional genres. For example, and to oversimplify a bit: the Warrior stars in war stories and superhero comics; the Lover in romances; the Magician in fantasy; the Sage in mysteries, and so on. All of these genres have recognizable plotlines as well as central characters.

 

As leaders, the characters we most like and the plotlines we tend to live out show us what kinds of leaders we best can be, and allow us to seek out situations where we will be the most helpful.

 

Neuroscience reveals to us more details on the role of stories in our lives. Our brains and psyches naturally make meaning of events through organizing them into narratives. Social neuroscientists have demonstrated that living and telling one another stories inspires not only personal growth, but also supports the evolution of human consciousness and social systems that we all can influence. That means that the stories you tell and those you model in how you live matter greatly. As you take your life journey, different archetypes emerge in you as they are needed, expanding your potential.

 

Not all of these stories help us find our deeper calling or what is special about what we have to offer the world. Nonetheless, they can expand our abilities and promote a positive attitude toward facing the unknown. Thus, my work with archetypes in leadership stresses not only those that connect us with our soul calling, but also others that are needed to live in our time and context. These help us relate to the diverse people with whom we come in contact and respond to external situations, increasing our social and emotional intelligence as well as our situational flexibility.

 

As children and throughout life, we soak up attitudes and behaviors from people who influence us and those we hang out with, as well as from what we view and read. These experiences activate archetypes within us that may not fulfill us, but may, nevertheless, assist us in responding to challenges and relating to others, and thus enhance our chances of success. Doing this consciously also can help us join the ongoing human conversation and influence the evolution of the archetypes in our time. It also can amplify our ability to grow and change by emulating mentors, identifying with fictional characters, and using our imagination to pretend to be what we are not yet as we use fantasy to prepare for prime time.

 

Archetypes that Promote Important Leadership Capacities

 

The following chart identifies 12 archetypal stories that are important to leadership success today and offers brief examples of how living them and embodying their roles is helpful to leaders as they act to accomplish important leadership tasks. Of course, all have much more to them than is possible to describe even in a longish blog.

  • As you read this, you might want to select from the chart the tasks, characters, and plotlines with which you most identify.
  • Then notice any of the other plotlines that are needed in your life for you to be more successful, especially in your leadership roles, and those that have helped you in the past.
  • Finally, notice any you tend to devalue or ignore as irrelevant.  

 

Leadership Task: Providing

Main Character

Plotline: When problems arise

Inspiration

The Idealist

Embodies and reinforces shared values, sometimes through communication

Realism

The Realist

Identifies threats; appraises opportunities before acting to prevent or remediate them

Protection

The Warrior

Fights for your people, resources, and mission fulfillment; builds competitive teams

Care and safety

The Caregiver

Establishes caring systems; models being kind to people; supports human needs

Vision

The Seeker

Pioneers and seeks out available options to accomplish goals in individuals’ own ways

Community-building

The Lover

Fosters personal relationships, collaboration, shared commitments, and attractive spaces

Innovation

The Creator

Encourages and implements imaginative solutions and creative products/services

Clear priorities

The Revolutionary

Resources and prioritizes projects and weeds out outmoded ones; avoids overload

Establishes order and safety

The Ruler

Manages and, in a changing environment, upgrades systems, policies, and procedures

Fosters optimism and cheer

The Jester

Offers social time, humor, and wildcard brainstorming; attitude of work as fun

Wise decision-making

The Sage

Analyzes situations, weighs options, and develops plans using rational processes

Promotes meaning/mattering

The Magician

Orchestrates rituals of celebration and transition; builds consensus; provides answers

 

Then analyze your choices:

  • Your top three archetypes likely are those most fulfilling for you, so you can choose tasks and situations that require and reward what you are authentically motivated to do. This not only makes you more authentic, it also makes leading easier and more fulfilling.
  • Recognizing your nonpreferred or less preferred but active archetypes can help you notice how you have grown as a person and a leader as they have assisted you from within.
  • From this, you can trust that as you take on increasingly complex challenges, archetypes that you need will activate, especially if you welcome them.
  • Those archetypes you typically ignore or devalue, when recognized, can help you notice and prevent problems before they occur.

 

These four understandings, taken together, can help you live into your soul calling as you grow and develop through the great adventure of living and leading.

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Western culture emphasizes individualism and, therefore, being authentic and true to who we are. Who we are, of course, is influenced by others, who also may be influenced by us. Social neuroscientists have posited that humans evolved through interactions, as each person, each group, and each region shared their stories with others. And, human evolution is still occurring, and what we say and do is one of the many factors that direct its trajectory.

 

The “I” and the “we” involved in identity formation are difficult to disentangle. Our sense of who we are starts in the family and the immediate community, where we inevitably gain our sense of what is real and how we should relate to it from what others tell us. In adolescence, we differentiate a bit, but often by identifying with a group that can form around what music the members like, who they follow on social media, or even what social media platform they use—or being in the popular crowd, the smart nerds, the athletes, the rebels, or the seeming misfits. Many in their adult years identify their “I” by their “we” as well, focusing on their class or ethnic identity, their race, the schools they went to, or what church or other religion they belong to. Increasingly, some also identify who they are with groups that share their ideas, including their political affiliations and the news sites they frequent.

 

Having boundaries helps protect such “we” identifications, especially if membership comes with some kind of status that differentiates us from others who we regard as alien, if not, by our lights, inferior. As individuals begin to feel confident enough that they have a self beyond such group identifications, they usually protect their boundaries by focusing on their differences from whatever we group they have been defined by. Some individuals today shock others when they question the assumption that everyone is either male or female. Identifying as non-binary or using a range of other terms that depart from traditional gender assumptions challenges any of us to view gender identity on a continuum. Such profound ways of differentiating can be liberating to those who do so and be part of their emerging sense of identity, which requires having a boundary that says, no, I’m not what you expect I should be. This can also be experienced as liberating by others through opening up new ways of thinking or, alternatively, as frightening, as if a fundamental sense of reality is being subverted, so that nothing seems certain anymore.

 

I remember when I was in my thirties working hard to develop better boundaries so that I could stand my ground. I was very involved in the feminist movement at a time of powerful backlash against these ideas, with people like me being described as compensating for being ugly and not being able to attract a man and/or lesbian (meant as an insult) as well as aggressive bitches, bra burners, and man haters. I needed to stand firm and resist the impulse to highlight the fact that I was married, a mom, decent enough looking, and loving. Plus, I also wanted not to give in to my desire to demonize those who were demonizing “us.” In fact, I needed to do this because my job was to be a women’s studies director in a major university. It was my responsibility to encourage the integration of research on women into the curriculum, which meant engaging with professors, most of whom were male and most of whom believed down deep in their souls that teaching what they considered to be inferior works and accomplishments would undermine the quality of the education they offered and render their lives and work meaningless.

 

Then I read a very useful piece of advice. I wish I remember where, but I don’t. Some wise person said that we do not have to jealously guard our boundaries if we know who we are. That means that if we have a firm enough center of identity, we will not feel a threat from those who think differently or want different things than we do. 

 

I’m now aware of how important this lesson is for living in a diverse society, where we all live and work with people whose identities are formed in different “we” affiliations than ours have been.

 

Expanding my vision to take in the big picture, I realize that right now the entire world is experiencing massive migrations, most pressingly of refugees fleeing political oppression, violent gangs, environmental catastrophes, and/or grinding poverty. Some groups fear what an influx such as this will do to their country’s collective “we” and what that means for their sense of identity and self-esteem. Here at home, some wonder whether such immigrants will adopt “American values” so that they fit in without undermining who we are as a people, while others simply want to keep them out.

 

Insular societies are hothouses for the development of their own unique values and traditions. The fear of refugees and immigrants in America and elsewhere is not new. Earlier generations in the U.S. reviled the influx of the Irish and Italians and made fun of the Swedes, the immigrant group my ancestors were part of.  

 

Yet, I know that, as individuals, the more we are centered in our own identities, the more open we can become to learning from others. I grew up in Houston when most everyone lived in homogeneous neighborhoods with their own ethnic groups. In my white, marginally middle-class neighborhood, most meals consisted of meat, potatoes, and a frozen vegetable; dances involved our feet, legs, and arms, definitely not shaking or swinging any part of our torsos; dressing nicely meant that our clothes had to match; and being a girl came with the requirement of wearing skirts or dresses to school, even in college. Yet, much of what I love in my country now comes from the influence of food, music, dance, fashion, and, over all, cultures resulting from our increased diversity and access to what these can offer to all of us.

 

In my conservative Christian family, major activities occurred in a sweet church where we were always contributing to support missionaries going off to save the souls of the “heathens” in Africa. As an adult, I fell in love with and married a wonderful man who is Jewish and from New York. We both initially found the other’s family alien to us, but now they are just family. One of my daughters-in-law is from Costa Rico and embodies much of the best of that culture in what she brings to our family.

 

What my country’s policies should be is beyond the theme of this blog. But what I know is that human evolution, and that of cultures that define who we are collectively, has always been fed by each learning from the beliefs and practices of others. And cultural mixing is caused by many different influences coming together to create something new. 

 

I recently studied the history of Christianity, learning that the rise of the imperialist Roman Empire brought together many diverse regions, resulting in cultural exchanges that previously had occurred mainly through trade. True, the Roman occupations were cruel and dehumanizing. Yet, the richness of intercultural knowledge of that time greatly influenced the initial development of the Christian faith and Hebrew ideas.  The cruelty of the Romans also caused the diaspora of the Hebrew people, spreading their wisdom throughout the world and requiring a shift from temple-based to a scriptural-focused practice. Christianity then ended up influencing Rome itself when it became its official religion. Of course, Christianity subsequently took on new forms to fit into Roman institutions, and so on, and so on, and so on. 

   

Cultures evolve through interconnection with others as a result of all kinds of human motivation, not all of it very pretty, though some is very well meant: one country invades another and conquers its people; one group captures people from another and enslaves them to exploit their labor; religious groups send their missionaries to try to help people in other countries and to proselytize for their faith; corporations open factories and other businesses where it makes financial sense to do so to enhance profits; refugees fleeing horrible circumstances emigrate to places where they hope to be safe and have chance for a better life; and now the Internet streams news and entertainment from one country into another as commerce helps bring great products to us that can enrich our lives. All these exchanges influence everyone involved in them. Even the missionaries sometimes go native, as it is called, adopting many of the practices of the people they went to save.

 

The richness of what is available to us in today’s global society can be overwhelming. However, the better we know who we are—as individuals, groups, and whole societies—the more open we can be to learning from others without being threatened by them. Every immigrant group coming to America tends to hold on to the traditions of its ancestors, but in a generation or two, this can come down to the token food served on special holidays and some values that are passed on, often unconsciously, through that heritage, except where prejudice limits access to assimilation. My own family’s tradition is honored with Swedish pancakes and, on Christmas Eve, meatballs and rice pudding, but also retained by some of us who may not even know that our belief that Americans should care for one another comes from the Caregiver values of Swedish culture.

 

So, the task for our major cultures and each of their subgroups mirrors the work cut out for each one of us as individuals. Right now, in my country, power dynamics are being worked out as historically underrepresented groups seek full equality. In response, some Americans of European ancestry support these efforts because of a belief in “liberty and justice for all,” while others oppose them, because of a fear that they will be displaced and aspects of their values and lifestyles will be undermined. 

Sure, these power dynamics doneed to be faced and worked out at the level of national policy. However, as individuals we can recognize that positive cultural evolution can be furthered if everyone concerned focuses on identifying what their own group has to offer to the whole and sharing it. Out of this conversation, a consensus about our shared national identity might emerge, powerful enough to include us all and to forge a slightly amended sense of our collective center.

And as individuals? I do not know what is true for you. However, I can share that, for me, my identity was formed initially in my parents’ home, but it has been enhanced by changing times and more diverse experiences. I see that much of who I am comes from the Christian injunction to “love your neighbor as yourself” from my upbringing and the love and care I received as a child. Some of it comes from rebelling as an adolescent, questioning the parts of this faith that seemed wrong to me. Other parts come from celebrating the Passover with my Jewish in-laws and embracing the idea that I should fight oppression in all its forms and also leave behind my own ill-advised habits and assumptions. 

As an academic, I learned to be comfortable in a secular and inclusive environment and care about getting my facts right and testing out my theories before subscribing to them. As someone who loves to dance as my preferred form of exercise, I am well aware that the freedom I can now express in my body comes from the influences of cultures different from the body-shaming one I was brought up in, including African-American and Latino-American forms.  As a busy contemporary professional who is somewhat driven, especially when a publishing deadline looms, I calm my stress utilizing meditation and mindfulness practices that have come to America from Asian and Indian cultures.

 

Part of who I am came from each of these “we's,” and none has to keep me defended against integrating something else that is wonderful into my identity just because “my kind” did not think of it.

 

Of course, boundaries are essential in support of a strong identity center, when we are tempted to do things that would harm us because others are doing them. When I was a child, we said the Lord’s prayer all the time, with its refrain of “lead us not into temptation.”  If we know who we are, we can learn and grow through interaction with the world without adopting behaviors and values that do not serve the development of our best selves. We can also share what we know and value with others without attachment, trusting that they have the same right to make decisions based on what is right for them as you or I do.

 

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When someone asks, “How are you?”, you might say, “Great!” or “I’m good” or “Hanging in there” or some such, and leave it at that. But if you are talking with a friend, loved one, or anyone who seems truly interested, likely you might share an anecdote about why you feel the way you do. For example, you might say:

  • I left my house at the normal time, just sailed along listening to great music on the radio, and got here early. Now I’m here with you, and that’s nice, too.
  • I’m nervous. I’m on the way to the doctor’s to get the results of some tests and I’m really worried about what she might have found.
  • I passed an auto accident where someone was being taken away in an ambulance. I wished I could have done something. I kept going, but I feel concerned.

Returning home after school or work to your family or roommates, or talking to a friend on the phone, it is natural to provide a short anecdote about your day. 

  • You won’t believe what happened today. My boss/teacher actually praised me, and for the simplest thing. It’s not like him. Was I that good? Or, maybe he was just in a good mood?
  • Another day with too much to do and too little time. It feels so overwhelming never to get to catch up. I guess I better keep working tonight, but what I really want to do is….”
  • Or, I was so bored, I thought I would die. That teacher, meeting, or _______ went on and on and on, and it was all I could do not to fall asleep. I started to daydream and then I got called on and….

Any of these examples have a minimal plotline — a protagonist (you), a setting, and some action. Any of them also could lead to a more fleshed out plotline in subsequent conversations, as you (or whomever) live into new, related developments and describe them in conversations with others over time. 

Humans are storytelling creatures. Listen to people talking in a restaurant, at the water cooler, or at a party, and you will quickly find that the majority of what they say is in the form of narratives. Until recently, the importance of this was obscured by how ordinary it is. True, parents and teachers have always taught children what to do by telling stories with characters who do good things and have happy endings, and cautionary tales about the bad things that happen to those who give in to temptation. Ministers, rabbis, and other spiritual authorities frequently tell morality stories, often from sacred scriptures, to help their congregations or followers learn to live by the values of their own faith. Cultural values are similarly fostered by the mythologies of any given society reflected in the many stories that are told and retold in that culture, starting with stories for children and repeated in popular media and classic literature.

Most of this has been taken for granted until now. Today, people are getting much more sophisticated about the role of narratives in success. More and more leaders understand that if they want to motivate people, they need to tell them inspiring stories, as no amount of data alone will move them to act. Ad agencies have realized that effective ads almost always tell a story, which can simply be about the impact of the use of the product or service or about the values the company and the product’s function serves. Political parties compete to explain the meaning of events through competing stories, often referred to as their “spin.”  

At the same time, neuroscientists and psychologists have been revealing how the human brain makes meaning in narrative form. In fact, our brains crave meanings, so the minute something happens of any import, the brain organizes the key facts it notices into plotlines. Educators encouraging parents to read to their children now understand that encountering multiple stories expands the stories their brains are capable of utilizing, which helps them excel at learning, at relating to others, and in engaging in new situations more skillfully because they already have experienced a similar situation virtually, through identifying with a character in a story who has triumphed and achieved a happy ending to that plotline.

Breakthroughs in psychology now show the relationship of narrative to identify formation. We know that what any of us remember about our lives comes not just from what happened, but from what story we told ourselves about what happened. The accumulated stories we have told about ourselves—often mirroring those others have told us—result in who we think we are, with some people continually telling and retelling a story of victimization, or of triumphing over adversity, or of caring for others, and so on. Changing our narratives can result in expanding a sense of what is possible for us, or, if we have had too grandiose a sense of identity, reframing that story can put us back in touch with reality and the achievable. The existence of meaning stories that inspire hope has been found to help people survive, even in the worst situations, such as in Nazi concentration camps or when other forms of genocide are prevalent.

For all these reasons, narrative intelligence is an essential skill for living optimally in the 21stcentury. However, there are so many stories out there, with millions of plotlines. How can we know all of them?  We cannot, of course, but what we can do is recognize basic narrative patterns. Scholars have identified such categories in literature, and you can distinguish some by the genres of fiction that are available: westerns, mysteries, romances, war stories, etc. But seeing such patterns in actual human behavior has been more challenging. Psychologists have been better at recognizing patterns of mental illness than the patterns that govern health.       However, in the first part of the twentieth century, the psychiatrist Carl Jung identified patterns in his patients’ dreams and life stories that he also observed in ancient myths and in cultures around the world. From this, he posited the existence of universal templates called “archetypes.” We know that a story pattern is archetypal if it shows up in symbols, images, and themes common to all cultures and all times. You see them in recurring images in art, literature, myths, and dreams. Jung, and many after him, realized that these stories are the same narratives we as humans live.

 For example, we all recognize the love story, whether we encounter it in a movie, an opera, or a novel. And when we fall in love, we experience for ourselves what that story is about. When we are in a loving relationship, we not only learn major life lessons (in this case about intimacy, sensuality, pleasure, and commitment), but we also can feel a sense of connection to all the other people who have ever loved deeply. While each love is different, there is a deep pattern that transcends these differences. When we understand the stories and recognize their universality, we can connect with each other at deeper and more conscious levels, using the archetypal stories as the foundation. This allows us to feel less alone while still retaining our individuality and uniqueness in how we express that archetype.  Moreover, entering an archetypal story is often the beginning of an initiation into a new way of being that can mature and evolve over time.

When you gain the ability to recognize the archetype patterns you are living, these stories no longer can live youwithout you recognizing them. Then, you will be able to reflect upon whether their plotlines serve you and the situations you face. Jung utilized archetypal pattern recognition to heal people coming to him who were suffering from neurosis, unhappiness, or dysfunction in the process of helping them individuate—that is, learn to live the life right for them, not just what society or other people told them they should be like. Part of the individuation process involved recognizing what archetypes were authentically calling to them and what they wanted from them. Generally, restored health required expressing these archetypes in their conscious and increasingly optimal forms, rather than in their anachronistic or negative ones. Jung also believed that much of individuation happens through living and needs a clinical intervention only if it that process is blocked by internal or external factors.

This blog, and my published work more broadly, is designed to help well people individuate through developing narrative intelligence. The recognition of archetypal story patterns has an important role to play in enabling individuals and groups to become fully realized, mature human beings. Although my work is often utilized by clinicians, my blogs are written to help anyone gain capacities that assist them in becoming more fulfilled and successful. Over the course of this coming year, I will continue to provide insights into how recognizing archetypes in society, in others, in situations, and in yourself can enhance your narrative intelligence, and in the process expand who and what you can do and be.

 

For more information, reference Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within, “Conclusion: The Power of Story to Transform Your Life,” Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World, andWhat Story Are You Living?

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By Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson[i]


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Many of us in our lives face a crucible or severe test at some point, but for the most part, it is thankfully not played out upon a public stage.

Not so for companies and brands. Often, due to circumstances they either invite by their own actions or are subject to for undeserved reasons, beloved brands and the leaders who guide them are put to the ultimate test, and how they react becomes their defining moment – for good or for ill. Something similar can be true for you or me as well. What we say we are frequently has an archetypal nature to it, whether or not we recognize that. If we are conscious of it, we can then recognize that such crises are tests of who we are. We can learn from those whose struggles are public even if we are blessedly able to deal with our challenges more privately.

Any company needs to be particularly aware of its archetypal identity, absorbing it organically into its culture and values. These, then, serve as a critical touchstone when the going gets rough and major decisions need to be made in days or even hours, often under incredible pressure.

Starbucks’ Howard Schultz immediately responded to an apparently racist incident in one Philadelphia shop by deciding to close all of the stores for a day’s training – a move some called “too little too late,” but that was entirely consistent with this Explorer brand’s tendency to take the plunge, act rather than overthink, experiment, and adjust until it got it right, as was its earlier focus on encouraging dialogue on issues of diversity and racism.

Disney CEO Bob Iger reacted decisively to Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet just hours after it was released to the universe, a testament to the strength of Disney’s protection of its Innocent archetype public brand image. Yet, it remains to be seen how effective the company will be in responding to labor union critiques of low pay for Disney park workers, who say that the supposed “happiest place on earth” is not happy for employees struggling to survive. Disney’s initial response to these claims was simply to challenge the labor union’s survey methodology. A danger for any brand with a positive and inspiring message is identifying with it so strongly—as yes, this is us—that it loses the capacity to perceive practices that fly in the face of what it says it is. Resulting crises force it to notice its shadow organizational reality.

One especially interesting set of entities to observe in this regard is today’s Everyperson brands. At a time when everything from populist politics to the sharing economy appeal to the public’s craving for people, practices, and entities that claim to champion and reflect the character of the common or ordinary person, how well are these commercialbrands delivering on their promise? And, how well are they dealing with the kinds of crises that challenge their very reason for being? Long term success, in any of these efforts, requires staying true to the promise consistently in all areas of company practice.

Uber is by far the most successful company in the new sharing economy. It launched its brand with an Everyperson call to riders and drivers alike, with an inspiring pitch, all about people helping people in a neighborly, personal way that also reinforces their feeling valued. Uber’s tagline announced, “Your personal driver. It lets customers travel in style.” Supporting communications described initial practices that bolstered the brand image with a connecting experience: before you even encounter the driver, you already know the driver’s name, what he or she looks like, the type of car, and the driver’s rating by other ordinary-person riders. When the Uber car shows up, you are addressed by name.

But soon Uber was hit by crisis after crisis, each of which undercut its brand: charges of systemic company sexual harassment, offering driverless cars (which alienated drivers), the fatal Uber driverless crash, criminal inquiries, one of which concerned using grey ball technology to evade authorities, and so on. First, the Uber board assumed a top-down approach and fired the CEO, while putting out statements about something to be done about each misstep. However, these glaring problems kept accumulating.

The new CEO took a stand, declaring, “I apologize,” and assumed responsibility for things both on and off his watch. He wisely communicated directly with riders to fix what was broken, and engaged staff in a culture change effort, moving froma top-down focus on ambition and speed to ethical, inclusive, collaborative teamwork.The approach used in this culture change process was designed to model what the new culture would be like.

Uber has done a good job in its messaging, but there is an increasing consensus that its long-term success depends upon the congruence of the reality of how Uber is run with what it is saying.

From Uber to Facebook to Airbnb, the Everyperson super-brands of the new sharing economy promised to leverage people-to-people power in a new, exciting, and uncorrupted way – ordinary folks in direct interaction without the intermediary. Unlike a Budweiser giant that offered a “Regular Guy” experience based only on an affordable price and a carefully-crafted image, these new digitally-born brands would be the real deal, optimizing the power of what happens when you trust the ability of ordinary people to do right by each other and to create something together that benefits the common good.

Well, have they?  Not surprisingly, many wonderful things have resulted from these new entities. Communities have formed on Facebook that have provided extraordinary support to people who previously felt alone and marginalized – from parents of babies in the NICU, to transgender teens, to individuals with bipolar disorder. People have had wonderful, memorable experiences with Uber and Airbnb that they never would have had with ordinary cab companies or hotels.

But the profit motive has also gotten in the way. Facebook consciously sold our personal data to untold sources and inadvertently facilitated messages designed to influence a U.S. election. Airbnb morphed from a focus on ordinary folks renting out a room in the intimacy of their own home or apartment to speculators buying space to rent, purely for profit. And Uber continues to struggle with a model for doing business that is consistent with its brand and that creates the expected win-win for both drivers and riders.

Where will it end? The Internet has created a world of commerce in which the consistency and truthfulness of your brand’s archetypal identity will be determined not by the next ad you run so much as the next consumer experience you offer. And that might be this evening, right before midnight, when your potential customer decides to buy some shoes, book a trip, or check out what others have said about your brand. The news media are quicker to pick up the missteps of shooting star brands, especially those that proclaim a benevolent Everyperson purpose, than traditional companies because their readers and viewers care. Reacting to a PR crisis without attention to brand congruence can undercut a company’s reputation and the loyalty of its customers rather quickly.

And users fully expect to be movers of these companies – an Uber passenger or driver, an Airbnb renter or guest. The rating system has created an expectation that the business is built upon their endorsements, that their voices will be heard, and that they will count. Smart crisis management, therefore, ideally involves those they serve in ways that reinforce the brand promise, so that customers feel like they are in it with the brand in question, as opposed to being its victims or its judges.

The crucible, or test, will be greatest for the plethora of Everyperson brands born in this climate, promising to celebrate and enable the power of everyday people. Let’s hope they do so.

Thought Questions

What archetype best describes your values and how you want to be seen?

When has your reputation been at risk, and how consistent were your behaviors with those of your best self?

If there are things you would do over, imagine what you might have done to be more, or even more, congruent in how you behaved?

[i]Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson collaborated in writing The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes

Read more…

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When life feels like a drag and events are depressing, it is a good time to lighten up. For that, we can call on the Jester. You may know this archetype best in the comedian, the entertainer, the party planner, the cruise director, the satirist, the practical joker, or the friends or colleagues who always crack you up.

 

The Art of Lightening Up

I’m serious by nature, perhaps intensified by working in the field of depth psychology (where I feel as if I should show up like Freud or Jung, looking wise) and my interest in current events, which leads me to worry about the state of things even when my own life is just fine. I know I’m not alone in often feeling stressed by the pace and complexity of modern life, exacerbated by incessant breaking news, most of which is alarming, sad, and worrisome. 

I greatly appreciate comedians who make me laugh instead of cry about things our leaders do that I fear are taking the United States over a cliff, or how polarized my country has become. Anything that gets me out of my head, my list of things to do, and imagining future peril is a godsend. So, I love getting lost in a good mystery novel or an engaging film, or doing something recreational—dancing or time catching up with friends and family—that compels my full attention.

Any of us can be momentarily refreshed by taking time to do whatever pleasurable activity most diverts us. Sometimes a humorous remark can distract us from a serious matter we were worrying about, accomplishing a mood shift from fear to cheer. This shift is a bit like the surprising punchlines that elicit laughs in many jokes. (A guy shows up late for work. The boss yells, "You should have been here at 8:30!" He replies: "Why? What happened at 8:30?" Or, Will Rogers: “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”) The brain seems to love that surprise where it needs to realign all the synapses that were going together down a very different path. In contexts where sexuality (or anything else) is not talked about openly, jokes on such topics often result in an explosion of laughter, caused by the shock of having a taboo shattered and it being OK. The related capacity to shift perspectives accounts for the advantage fun-loving people often have in brainstorming and out of the box thinking.

Doing research for my book Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within, I reviewed happiness studies in preparation for writing the chapter on Dionysus, the god of joy, dancing, theatre, and wine. I learned about simple actions any of us can take that brighten our day, and that release a hit of happiness chemicals in our bodies. The winners include: engaging in a task you love to do so much that you forget about time; doing something nice for someone else; experiencing closeness with people you care about or love; taking a stroll without a set destination; and practicing gratitude for all that is right in your life and the world.

Jesters All Around Us—But Can They Bring Us Together?

 

A former colleague and I were talking recently about how worry extrapolates from the present into the future to imagine dire outcomes. However, many sudden changes—the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of apartheid in South Africa, for instance—were unanticipated, shifting our perspectives in surprising ways. From this, we started wondering where current events might be taking us that would be positive, even though not predicted. Shortly thereafter I was in another rich conversation with a colleague who helps leaders connect dots between events that are not usually seen as related to one another, but actually are.

Right now, Americans notice our differences because that is the dominant cultural narrative: we are told we are in a culture war. What if we started noticing how ubiquitous the Jester is, not only on both sides of the divide, but also in our country overall. The U.S. Declaration of Independence declared the “pursuit of happiness” as a universal human right. There may be another country that also affirms this, but, if so, I do not know about it. America may well have affected the world more through entertainment and the invention of jeans and other casual clothing than in any other way. Americans typically have liked their leaders to have a good sense of humor, even being able to laugh at themselves. Presidents Reagan and Obama were particularly appreciated for having that capacity, as were Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln. 

Many Americans today get their news from comedians, and in some states like to elect the wildest candidate out there. These are reminiscent of tall tale heroes like Davy Crockett. The theme song from the TV show about him claimed that he killed a bear when he was three years old and later went to Congress, where he “patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell.” Such exaggeration is experienced as fun rather than lies because they are so transparently not meant to trick anyone.

Laughing together bonds families, friendship groups, and work teams and could unite larger ones like organizations or even countries, including my own. Although our people differ on many political and cultural issues, what we share is a comic spirit, even if it is expressed in divergent ways.

 

The Emperor’s New Clothes and the Court Jester

Some Jester narratives are inherently about the public sphere, and they are rampant in our culture today. Think about the Hans Christian Andersen children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which the child reveals that the emperor is naked and the clothes are an illusion. In real public life, humorists point out discrepancies between what leaders say and the actual facts, and laughter results from the relief that comes from not having to pretend that what is happening is acceptable if it is not. This type of humor also can poke fun at people who believe fake facts, thus engendering resentment from those being implicitly, if not explicitly, portrayed as conned or ignorant.

Right now, many get a chuckle from saying anything that offends political correctness (i.e., civility), with laughter evoked from getting a rise out of people they regard as elites or as taking on the role of the moral police. While what they are asserting may not be objectively true, it accurately reflects what people they know are thinking and saying. If the content of what is being said would seem ignorant or even shameful to many, asserting it out loud is a rebellion that elicits the joy of refusing to be shamed and of reasserting moral and intellectual status. It also expresses the childlike glee of the practical joker within any of us who enjoys upsetting the uptight adults in the room.

The court jester’s job in ancient times was to puncture the inevitable pomposity of kings and queens, but to do so humorously, so that it brought them down to earth to face realities—about themselves and their situation—that they might not want to see. Ideally, the royals would get the joke and laugh with the court. Modern Jesters also can critique a serious situation in such a light-hearted way that it can be heard. The late humorist Molly Ivins, after listening to a particularly racist political rant, quipped, “It probably sounded better in the original German.”

Humor also can be used to defuse fear of taking action for what you believe in. Examples include the “pussy” hats worn in the women’s marches or reports of sightings of Bigfoot and space aliens submitted to a government website that had called on citizens to report the criminal activities of undocumented aliens, which quickly was taken down as the postings became more and more ludicrous.

 

Appreciating the Best and Guarding Against Its Slippery Slope

Joy is the fruit of spiritual attainment when it is tempered by love. The Dalai Lama is almost always smiling and making little teasing jokes. Psychologists tell us that not taking oneself too seriously is a sign of a healthy psyche and a confident person. The mature Jester also has a great capacity to care about others as well as the self, while at the same time not allowing an excess of empathy for the suffering of others to undercut happiness even in the most celebratory and potentially joyful moments.

While some comic events—like someone slipping on a banana peel—are funny only if we withdraw empathy from their victims, humor canpromote fellow feeling. This is especially true when we can laugh with someone because we have been there, too, or know we easily could be. Such humor helps us accept as simply normal parts of ourselves that we might be tempted to feel ashamed of. At the same time, withdrawing empathy even for ourselves is necessary to see the humor in some situations that otherwise could be felt as humiliating. Examples can range from something not that serious, like being inappropriately attired for a formal event, to falling down the winding stairs while making a grand entrance or even to breaking your leg in the fall. Most of us initially need to have empathy for ourselves to recover, but eventually, with distance, we can turn difficult events into funny stories to amuse our friends. 

Hearing about horrible things happening in the larger world in the form of satire is easier to take than feeling the full wham of how awful they are, but this also can suppress the impulse to do something to help. In addition, using humor to suppress your own pain or your compassion for others can lead one to act as the sad clown (think Charlie Chaplin), whose sorrow is always there under the surface. 

Like all archetypes, the Jester has a potential dark underside. For example, the teasing taunts or genial insults that often are part of family life or friendship ideally stay just this side of what could be deeply wounding. Going over this line can happen accidentally or, in the case of bullies of one kind or another, with a clear intent to demean and harm. Those who lack empathy also can be unconsciously cruel (like the modernized Sherlock in the TV series of that name), yet wonder why others do not like them. At an even further extreme, the villain in Batman movies—the Joker—illustrates how this archetype can enjoy wreaking havoc and torturing people. As the Joker explains: “We stopped checking for monsters under our bed when we realized they were inside us.”

 

Thought Questions:

  • What do you do when you need to lighten up?
  • Where do you see the Jester archetype in your friends, in the world around you, or in yourself?
  • Which Jester qualities might you want more of, and which less?
Read more…

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When life feels like a drag and events are depressing, it is a good time to lighten up. For that, we can call on the Jester. You may know this archetype best in the comedian, the entertainer, the party planner, the cruise director, the satirist, the practical joker, or the friends or colleagues who always crack you up.

 

The Art of Lightening Up

I’m serious by nature, perhaps intensified by working in the field of depth psychology (where I feel as if I should show up like Freud or Jung, looking wise) and my interest in current events, which leads me to worry about the state of things even when my own life is just fine. I know I’m not alone in often feeling stressed by the pace and complexity of modern life, exacerbated by incessant breaking news, most of which is alarming, sad, and worrisome.

I greatly appreciate comedians who make me laugh instead of cry about things our leaders do that I fear are taking the United States over a cliff, or how polarized my country has become. Anything that gets me out of my head, my list of things to do, and imagining future peril is a godsend. So, I love getting lost in a good mystery novel or an engaging film, or doing something recreational—dancing or time catching up with friends and family—that compels my full attention.

Any of us can be momentarily refreshed by taking time to do whatever pleasurable activity most diverts us. Sometimes a humorous remark can distract us from a serious matter we were worrying about, accomplishing a mood shift from fear to cheer. This shift is a bit like the surprising punchlines that elicit laughs in many jokes. (A guy shows up late for work. The boss yells, "You should have been here at 8:30!" He replies: "Why? What happened at 8:30?" Or, Will Rogers: “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”) The brain seems to love that surprise where it needs to realign all the synapses that were going together down a very different path. In contexts where sexuality (or anything else) is not talked about openly, jokes on such topics often result in an explosion of laughter, caused by the shock of having a taboo shattered and it being OK. The related capacity to shift perspectives accounts for the advantage fun-loving people often have in brainstorming and out of the box thinking.

Doing research for my book Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within, I reviewed happiness studies in preparation for writing the chapter on Dionysus, the god of joy, dancing, theatre, and wine. I learned about simple actions any of us can take that brighten our day, and that release a hit of happiness chemicals in our bodies. The winners include: engaging in a task you love to do so much that you forget about time; doing something nice for someone else; experiencing closeness with people you care about or love; taking a stroll without a set destination; and practicing gratitude for all that is right in your life and the world.

 

Jesters All Around Us—But Can They Bring Us Together?

A former colleague and I were talking recently about how worry extrapolates from the present into the future to imagine dire outcomes. However, many sudden changes—the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of apartheid in South Africa, for instance—were unanticipated, shifting our perspectives in surprising ways. From this, we started wondering where current events might be taking us that would be positive, even though not predicted. Shortly thereafter I was in another rich conversation with a colleague who helps leaders connect dots between events that are not usually seen as related to one another, but actually are.

Right now, Americans notice our differences because that is the dominant cultural narrative: we are told we are in a culture war. What if we started noticing how ubiquitous the Jester is, not only on both sides of the divide, but also in our country overall. The U.S. Declaration of Independence declared the “pursuit of happiness” as a universal human right. There may be another country that also affirms this, but, if so, I do not know about it. America may well have affected the world more through entertainment and the invention of jeans and other casual clothing than in any other way. Americans typically have liked their leaders to have a good sense of humor, even being able to laugh at themselves. Presidents Reagan and Obama were particularly appreciated for having that capacity, as were Presidents Kennedy and Lincoln.

Many Americans today get their news from comedians, and in some states like to elect the wildest candidate out there. These are reminiscent of tall tale heroes like Davy Crockett. The theme song from the TV show about him claimed that he killed a bear when he was three years old and later went to Congress, where he “patched up the crack in the Liberty Bell.” Such exaggeration is experienced as fun rather than lies because they are so transparently not meant to trick anyone.

Laughing together bonds families, friendship groups, and work teams and could unite larger ones like organizations or even countries, including my own. Although our people differ on many political and cultural issues, what we share is a comic spirit, even if it is expressed in divergent ways.

 

The Emperor’s New Clothes and the Court Jester

Some Jester narratives are inherently about the public sphere, and they are rampant in our culture today. Think about the Hans Christian Andersen children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes, in which the child reveals that the emperor is naked and the clothes are an illusion. In real public life, humorists point out discrepancies between what leaders say and the actual facts, and laughter results from the relief that comes from not having to pretend that what is happening is acceptable if it is not. This type of humor also can poke fun at people who believe fake facts, thus engendering resentment from those being implicitly, if not explicitly, portrayed as conned or ignorant.

Right now, many get a chuckle from saying anything that offends political correctness (i.e., civility), with laughter evoked from getting a rise out of people they regard as elites or as taking on the role of the moral police. While what they are asserting may not be objectively true, it accurately reflects what people they know are thinking and saying. If the content of what is being said would seem ignorant or even shameful to many, asserting it out loud is a rebellion that elicits the joy of refusing to be shamed and of reasserting moral and intellectual status. It also expresses the childlike glee of the practical joker within any of us who enjoys upsetting the uptight adults in the room.

The court jester’s job in ancient times was to puncture the inevitable pomposity of kings and queens, but to do so humorously, so that it brought them down to earth to face realities—about themselves and their situation—that they might not want to see. Ideally, the royals would get the joke and laugh with the court. Modern Jesters also can critique a serious situation in such a light-hearted way that it can be heard. The late humorist Molly Ivins, after listening to a particularly racist political rant, quipped, “It probably sounded better in the original German.”

Humor also can be used to defuse fear of taking action for what you believe in. Examples include the “pussy” hats worn in the women’s marches or reports of sightings of Bigfoot and space aliens submitted to a government website that had called on citizens to report the criminal activities of undocumented aliens, which quickly was taken down as the postings became more and more ludicrous.

 

Appreciating the Best and Guarding Against Its Slippery Slope

Joy is the fruit of spiritual attainment when it is tempered by love. The Dalai Lama is almost always smiling and making little teasing jokes. Psychologists tell us that not taking oneself too seriously is a sign of a healthy psyche and a confident person. The mature Jester also has a great capacity to care about others as well as the self, while at the same time not allowing an excess of empathy for the suffering of others to undercut happiness even in the most celebratory and potentially joyful moments.

While some comic events—like someone slipping on a banana peel—are funny only if we withdraw empathy from their victims, humor canpromote fellow feeling. This is especially true when we can laugh with someone because we have been there, too, or know we easily could be. Such humor helps us accept as simply normal parts of ourselves that we might be tempted to feel ashamed of. At the same time, withdrawing empathy even for ourselves is necessary to see the humor in some situations that otherwise could be felt as humiliating. Examples can range from something not that serious, like being inappropriately attired for a formal event, to falling down the winding stairs while making a grand entrance or even to breaking your leg in the fall. Most of us initially need to have empathy for ourselves to recover, but eventually, with distance, we can turn difficult events into funny stories to amuse our friends.

Hearing about horrible things happening in the larger world in the form of satire is easier to take than feeling the full wham of how awful they are, but this also can suppress the impulse to do something to help. In addition, using humor to suppress your own pain or your compassion for others can lead one to act as the sad clown (think Charlie Chaplin), whose sorrow is always there under the surface.

Like all archetypes, the Jester has a potential dark underside. For example, the teasing taunts or genial insults that often are part of family life or friendship ideally stay just this side of what could be deeply wounding. Going over this line can happen accidentally or, in the case of bullies of one kind or another, with a clear intent to demean and harm. Those who lack empathy also can be unconsciously cruel (like the modernized Sherlock in the TV series of that name), yet wonder why others do not like them. At an even further extreme, the villain in Batman movies—the Joker—illustrates how this archetype can enjoy wreaking havoc and torturing people. As the Joker explains: “We stopped checking for monsters under our bed when we realized they were inside us.”

 

Thought Questions:

  • What do you do when you need to lighten up?
  • Where do you see the Jester archetype in your friends, in the world around you, or in yourself?
  • Which Jester qualities might you want more of, and which less?
Read more…

Are You a Warrior? And If So, What Kind?

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Warriors generally are associated with two kinds of courage: (1) the ability to fight to protect themselves and (2) setting goals and developing the strength and skills to accomplish them. If we do not have enough access to the Warrior archetype, we may let other people push us around, lack direction, or fail to achieve our goals because we do not persist. Too much Warrior and every interaction becomes a contest—we want what we want and insist on getting it whatever the cost to others or to our relationships.

 

The Warrior archetype is very active in the world today, suggesting that getting it right is a challenge that is calling to many of us and to our social systems. The elemental Warrior plotline involves a hero and a villain to be vanquished. You can think of Warrior figures in stories that are literally about war or, in entertainment, conflicts between the good guy and bad guy, including Western shoot-em-ups, and battles against crime, often with lots of chase scenes. The major prop in these stories is a weapon of some kind, and the fight ends with one side being killed or captured.

 

The Warrior archetype has become so dominant today that in the U.S. we tend to use war story labels to define problems. For example, we’ve had a War on Drugs, a War on Poverty, a continual War on Crime, and now a Culture War—even though none of these are wars that can be won simply by going after the bad guys causing the problem. Considering our cultural differences as a war encourages citizens to identify with one side or the other (or check out), identify their group with the hero, and see the other side as the villain to be vanquished. Of course, this process makes reasoned debate difficult, as is generally true when the good/bad level of the Warrior is triggered. The Warrior archetype is not only active in all sides of this culture, but it is active in somewhat different forms within all of them—some more mature and developed than others.

 

Primal Warrior: From Hunter to Warrior

 

The Warrior as an archetype may have evolved from hunters turning their skills to new uses. For example, the abilities needed to hunt animals developed into those that helped hunter/Warriors conquer new lands for their people to inhabit and gain access to needed food supplies, water, or other necessities. It also helped those who fought back against these invaders, just as they would with fierce wild animals charging into a village. Modern imperialism is similar in its underlying pattern. Even today, some wars are imperialistic and some defensive, to protect against attack. At the same time, some Warriors are ruthless killers or mercenaries, while others fight for love of their country, go back for their comrades, treat those they capture with dignity, and prevent civilian casualties as best they can. Where any of us falls on our balance of self-interest and altruism affects this difference in degrees as well as in an absolute polarity.

 

At present, our war stories are evolving. The old idea of war as good country against bad country has eroded, and, even with comic book-style Superheroes, our good guys often are flawed and the bad guys have some good in them. The War on Terror is essentially a battle against networks of various kinds, not countries, and warfare has now begun to be carried out in cyberspace and in economic competition. It has been clear for some time that with the invention and proliferation of nuclear weapons, war must become an anachronism, if we do not want to end the world as we know it. In our personal lives, more and more of us—guys as well as gals—are growing up being told by our parents and teachers to use our words, not our fists, to resolve conflict.

 

Warrior Sports, Business, and Religion

 

The war story also exists as a metaphor in sports such as football, which mimics imperialist aggression, and in virtual wars (such as in video games of various sorts). Free market capitalism’s focus on competition can become warlike when people in business talk of making a killing, defeating the competition, hauling out the tanks, and so on. Corporate takeovers of other businesses sometimes have an imperialistic character to them, as one business conquers another and assimilates it into itself. As with soldiers, some Warriors in business are ruthless, seeking to make money and win at any cost, while others may be fiercely competitive yet concerned for the welfare of their workers, their communities, and the environment. If you or I get caught up and think we will die if we do not reach our goal or defeat the competition, we have been pulled into war story thinking.

 

Warrior Christianity teaches that there is a battle going on between God and Satan, and it is important to be on the winning side lest Hell await, and the Warrior side of all the Abrahamic religions engages in wars against evil on behalf of God. Whether we are religious or not, if we see ourselves as the moral winners engaged in a contest for the soul of our country against the forces of evil, we may find this a slippery slope into demonizing those we disagree with.

 

The Warrior Paradigm in Government and Public Policy

 

The Preamble to the United States Constitution declares that two purposes of our government are to “provide for the common defense” and “promote the general welfare.” The Warrior archetype specializes in the former. When a problem arises, Warriors identify the threats and then seek to eliminate them. In government, the Warrior generally is hawkish in international affairs, harsh on crime, and cares deeply about protecting national borders—in the extreme, viewing undocumented people essentially as invaders. Primal Warriors also emphasize the right of citizens to carry guns and argue that the way to maintain peace is through the deterrent of maximizing the nuclear stockpile and other weapons of mass destruction. In Warrior politics, the goal is to defeat the other party and, to that end, propaganda may replace truth, leading to the epidemic of fake news. However, the Warrior also can fight for values such as “truth, justice, and the American way.” The goal can be to preserve the best of the past or to move toward a vision of the future. In such cases, the enemy is not the other party; rather, it is ignorance, and the weapon is truth.

 

Beware the Wimp

 

The Warrior calls us to man or woman up, take stands, work hard, and have a stoic willingness to suffer, if necessary, to get what we want or to defend ourselves or others when we need to do so. The Warrior values strength and fears being, or seeming to be, a wimp. Collectively, Warriors often share a belief that competition, sports, and military service build such strength. Beyond that, Warriors believe in the way boot camp makes wimps strong enough to be soldiers and, similarly, that people need consequences, or else they will wimp out and not work hard. That is why some Warriors are even against helping the poor or providing health insurance: people die in war, and in civic life, they also die if they do not work hard enough to meet their basic needs. For such Warriors, winning the economic war with other nations is signaled by growth in the GDP or a bullish stock market—even if more and more people are poor and suffer or die. After all, in an actual war, casualties are to be expected in the service of victory.

 

Warrior Evolution Through Archetypal Partnership

 

Warriors who also have access to the Sagearchetype believe in taking action based on verifiable truth. They can view threats not so much as bad people doing bad things, but rather as systemic problems with multiple causation. The immediate threats they notice can then expand to include issues like climate change, pollution, or growing economic inequality. Similarly, they may view people who do harmful things in the context of their lives and of our society, looking to understand their motivations. For the prison population, they consider what a path forward might be for rehabilitation, just as they consider the issue of undocumented immigrants in the context of immigrants’ home countries, why they left them, their match with the needs of the economy, and what they can contribute or what harm they might do.

 

The Warrior with Caregivercares about threats to the survival, health, and happiness of individual people and groups. In this context, the Warrior/Caregiver develops strength in our citizenry through capacity development—education and job training, health care, and mandating safe living and working conditions—as well as caring for all those who cannot care for themselves. The Warrior/Caregiver, overall, balances self-interest and altruism, thus promoting the Constitution’s goal of “promoting the general welfare” and delivering on the promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

 

In partnership with the Magician—for example, in the Star Wars movies—the bad guys are the fascist, cruel Warriors and the rebels are energized by the power of The Force (Magician). Wonder Woman’s magic infuses Warrior superpowers with love; her lasso makes people tell the truth, and her bracelets deflect aggression. In the 2017 Wonder Woman movie the Amazonian hero is caught up in World War I and becomes determined to kill Ares, the god of war, and thus end forever all the pain and suffering he causes. Although she does not use archetypal language, she learns that killing Ares does not end war because warlike impulses are embedded within people. In the language of this blog, this means that you cannot kill an archetype, but archetypes can evolve along with human consciousness. In her identity as Diana Prince, Wonder Woman ends the movie with this statement of her new mission:

 

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind. But then, I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them, there will always be both. . . . Now I know. Only love can save the world. So I stay. I fight, and I give. . . . This is my mission now. And forever.

 

The idea of ending war through the power of love isn’t new. Jesus was on to it, as were many other wise spiritual teachers in various traditions.  Most of us want peace on earth; the question is how to attain it. 

 

In the 2018 film A Wrinkle in Time, Meg, a rather timid young girl, is called to save her father, who is trapped in the far reaches of the universe. Meg is told she must be a warrior, but not the “kill-the-enemy” kind. The enemy is “It,” a murky, dark power source that is transforming people into robot-like creatures living in prescribed ways, motivated by a lust for power. Meg’s little brother has gone over to the dark side, and her father is trapped there as well. The magical weapon that Meg wields is love, a love powerful enough to defuse “It” and turn her brother back into his wonderful, fully human self, while also freeing her father.

 

Love has always been present in the Warriors who are willing to die to protect the people they love, or even the road warriors who will work so very hard to provide for their families. The Warrior already has evolved into many new forms that do not involve killing one another, and right now, many are fighting for love as caring for others, along with the right to love who you love, for love of the earth, for love of truth, for love of the Divine and of country, even if we do not always agree with one another about what any of these demand of us.

 

The point here is that the Warrior, like any archetype, is not good or bad. However, some forms of an archetype are no longer appropriate for the times or for the quality of consciousness of people within a culture or subgroup within it. Some also are wrong or right for you or me. The current time offers us the opportunity to participate in the archetype’s evolution by how we choose to live it. In doing so, we can see that we do not need to be at war with others in our country. We are all on the Warrior team to some degree, playing different positions. We just need to talk with one another about what we see as the most pressing threats and where we need to use force, where we need to provide support, where we need to use our words, and when the magic of love is required to win the day for everyone.

 

The Warrior archetype evolves as we do, so:

  • Do you need less or more Warrior to deal with a current threat or challenge?
  • Where do you see the Warrior in yourself and in what you think and do?
  • What forms of the Warrior do you see in yourself and people around you, and how is their influence affecting you? 
  • How might you like your inner Warrior to change and evolve in its attitudes and behaviors?
  • How might this change affect outcomes for you and those around you?
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Gender roles are in flux in a good way, so that we all have access to archetypes related to human attributes that have been divided up by traditional sex roles. Psychologists believed for much of the 20th century that mental health required fidelity to traditional sex roles, which often, when viewed in archetypal terms, meant Warrior and Explorer archetypal behaviors were expected to predominate in men and Caregiver and Lover in women. But attitudes evolve with the times. C.G. Jung, early in the 20th century, believed that by midlife a man needed to integrate his feminine side, which he called the anima, just as a woman needed to integrate her masculine side, which he called the animus.[i] In the 1970s, psychologist Sandra Bem demonstrated that successful people were more androgynous than ones locked into more traditional gender identities throughout adult life.[ii]

 

Psychologists now generally help both men and women be true to their authentic natures, regardless of their genders, as long as the way they behave does not make them dysfunctional in the world in which they live. Many individuals today, especially the young, see gender itself as on a continuum, thus loosening the categories and allowing more and more people to simply be true to themselves, rather than stuck in roles. To understand why there still needs to be a #MeToo movement this long after the feminist movement of the 1970s, it is important to recognize that we are in the midst of a major unfinished revolution, so that behaviors persist in both men and women that are remnants from a patriarchal legacy that defined people by roles within a hierarchy and believed that social good came from everyone staying in the roles to which they were assigned.

 

Archetypes and Gender Roles

 

Historically, the male role and what people saw as being masculine has had a Warrior and Explorer cast to it. Men were supposed to go out into a brutal dog-eat-dog world and compete to provide for their families, becoming then the head of the family as well as running the public world (which also assumed a masculine Ruler archetype power-over-women dynamic). The female role, and what was seen as being appropriately feminine, assumed Caregiver and Lover traits that were required to meet role expectations: Women were to take care of the home, the children, and the husband, providing the emotional safety, intimacy, and pleasure that the husband otherwise would not experience. When women worked outside the home, they were encouraged to do so in related caring, service, or decorative functions.

 

The Warrior, Caregiver, Explorer, and Lover are archetypes available to us all[iii], and we live in a time when we do not have to repress half of our human potential to get along in society. And even in the 20th century, as long as someone showed enough of their gender’s scripted archetypes in their behaviors, they could, and did, branch out to become more fully whole. Many of us growing up even before the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 70s had real dads who, in practice, were not completely defined by this divide. Such dads contributed to caring for us. Many moms similarly took care of us while also braving what was seen as the tougher work world.

 

The Lover archetype also was frequently present for men, at least during courtship, and has always been evident in marriages based on genuine love and caring for one another enhanced by mutual desire. Happy marriages often were partnerships where love was stronger than the patriarchal power dynamic in the larger world, as they are now. For many in all classes in the past, marriages were primarily role based, and considered to be good if each partner simply contributed what their sex role required of them. However, in the upper classes, marriages were and often still are about status. Royalty married to unite powerful families, and today, many highly successful men acquire trophy wives as status symbols.

 

Since the 1970s, women’s roles have expanded greatly and men’s somewhat. Unfortunately, in some circles the macho ideal continues to define masculinity as not being a sissy, meaning not being like a girl. Male bonding can then be accompanied by cruel teasing of boys and men if they seem to be caring and/or in love (pronounced “luuuhv”). This hurts all of us, as male-ascribed archetypes without their feminine complements can be heartless and ruthless.

 

War Stories With or Without the Caregiver and Lover Archetypes

Given current ideas about men, most of us find it shocking when we read that Buddhists are raping and pillaging in Myanmar. Judeo-Christian and Buddhist teachings both emphasize the requirement to love, the former saying “Love they neighbor as thyself” and the latter, “Practice loving kindness.” So how can we explain rape and pillaging behavior, when, theoretically, male warriors should live by the ethics of their religions? The Warrior archetype’s expression requires a withdrawal of empathy (so that warriors can kill without feeling for their enemy). In its most ruthless mode, the Warrior assumes that all the spoils of war, including women, are for the taking. Raping and pillaging, of course, result in any enemy wanting revenge, creating a vicious cycle.

 

American soldiers in World War II were expected to show care and restraint, not just for one another, but for civilians and captured enemy combatants as well. The post-war Caregiver Marshall Plan helped to create long-term peace in Europe, including with countries that had been our enemies. But the potential for the expression of the negative Warrior underbelly is always there, sometimes even in soldiers whose religious traditions should be a check against such behaviors.

 

Business and Political War Story Mirrors

 

Business and politics often mirror a war story. In both, we see what happens when caring and empathy are not operating as a check on winning, so that success can come at the expense of other people or the earth. Warrior takeovers of other companies can be brutal and mirror patterns of imperialism, while mergers done with a Warrior/Caregiver spirit can bring out the best in both. Warrior political wins are often about gaining the policy and economic spoils, and then treating the other party as a conquered nation. However, in times when the Caregiver also is present, civil discourse with the Warrior, such as when Democrats and Republicans have found common cause, can lead to an ability to protect a country from genuine dangers and further the general welfare of its people and the larger, global common good.

 

What Does This Mean for the #MeToo Movement?

 

When the Warrior and the Explorer partner within men without the softening, empathic archetypes expected of women, romance becomes conquest. Getting the desired object in bed is a way of winning, which offers sensual pleasure without love or caring, often followed by a quick escape from responsibility for any consequences. In romance as in commerce, some men assume that if they have bought dinner, they are entitled to sex. If men are powerful enough, or if they pay a woman’s salary, some then assume that she will let them talk dirty, act dirty, grab her private parts, or otherwise engage in sexual activities with them. Sadly, all this can be reinforced through male bonding within some groups as something to brag about and be envied for. It also happens in peer relationships, with men showing dominance with pin-up pictures on the wall and sexually demeaning comments. All this would not be happening if the men involved could and would empathize with what this would feel like to a woman. Indeed, such empathy is possible: Men with awakened Lover and Caregiver archetypes have no trouble manifesting it.

 

At the same time, Caregiver and Lover dominance in women, without the strength and power of the Warrior and Explorer, can lead to victimization. We still have wives who put up with abuse, hoping to transform the beast by just being more loving. Some wonder why women in demeaning or abusive situations do not immediately speak up or leave. Yes, part of this results from a lack of economic opportunity or a protective Caregiver impulse to stay to protect co-workers from an oppressive boss or the children at home from an abusive husband. Without an awakened inner Warrior and Explorer, women may not know how to defend their boundaries or have the courage to walk away.

 

Without these archetypes, the first impulse of the Lover/Caregiver is to take care of, please, and make nice even when being treated as secondary (paid less, not listened to) or being harassed or abused. Sadly, just dealing as creatively as possible with abuse has been seen as a functional response for women in a world where men had all the power. And tragically, such situations persist. Still today, we see women fired for not being considered nice enough to fit the feminine role and or derided as sluts if they give in to sexual demands in order to keep their jobs. Even in cases where romantic involvement is reciprocal, most often it is the woman who loses her job when the relationship ends. But in all these cases, women find that even when they do speak up, they are not listened to.

 

Implementing #TimesUp Requires Societal and Inner Work

 

Given all this, we cannot just declare that the time is up for gender related harassment and abuse and think it will happen. We can, and should, withdraw society’s implicit acceptance of such conduct. That is, however, just the first step, along with clarifying legal gradations of minor and major oppressive behaviors, with clarity about the consequences. We then need to tease out the roots of this repressive pattern, not just in history or regressive social attitudes, but also in our psyches. Yes, power corrupts, but power expressed through the Warrior/Explorer duo often stamps out caring in both abusers and their traumatized victims, who can then become numb. While part of the solution is a more equitable society, we also must deal with archetypal forces that keep some men and women trapped in oppressor/victim situations, while also helping all of us become more healthy and whole. All those, and all of you, who combine strength and caring in how you behave already are part of the answer.

 

If that is you, keep it up. If not, you can use archetypal awareness to develop the qualities that will expand your range for your good and that of others.

[i] Jung, Carl. The Psychology of the Unconscious, Dvir Co., Ltd., Tel-Aviv, 1973 (originally 1917).

 

[ii] Bem, Sandra L. (1974). "The measurement of psychological androgyny," Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 42, 155–62.

 

[iii] If you are unfamiliar with these archetypes, check out my website (www.herowithin.com) or see my books Awakening the Heroes Within or What Story Are You Living?

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The most profitable film genre in America today offers horror, as does television: These include narratives about the apocalypse, ghosts, zombies, and vampires.

Why do we like them, and what are they telling us?

Given nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and climate change, it is no surprise that people are drawn to movies about the apocalypse. Some of these movies are wakeup calls to heed the threats before us. And for many of us today, the 21st century itself seems terrifying. The quick pace of life, the need to learn new things continually just to keep up, career paths that disappear in the wake of new innovations or trends, jobs offering less or no security: all are unnerving. On top of that, greater awareness of cultural differences around the world or in subcultures within one’s own country threaten deep-seated beliefs, and can upset the fundamental certainties that previously provided the security that comes from feeling confident about what is true. It is comforting to experience vicariously a fictional equivalent of our worst fears, where people grapple with horrible conditions much worse than what we are subjected to in the present, and respond to them in heroic ways.

Fearing the Apocalypse and the “Other”

Watching apocalyptic films and shows offers virtual catharsis that can help people handle contemporary fears. Blockbuster post-apocalyptic movies like The Hunger Games provide metaphors for horrors people are feeling right now, in this case the pressure and competition that many adolescents experience as almost life-threatening, and that sometimes lead to burnout or even suicide. Films such as the Star Wars series warn of fascist and other autocratic takeovers that could result in dystopian outcomes, and offer an antidote in rebellion. Fears are lessened when we know what we would have to do if the worst actually occurs.

Alien invasion plots mirror fears of the “other” that many have in an increasingly multicultural environment. Most present the classic warrior response to the “others”: to view them as invaders and kill them. In the best case, this response can siphon off our terror,” allowing us to recognize that people of a different race or religion, or emigrating from another culture, are just human and not nearly as scary as those horrific monsters on the screen. At the same time, a few alien movies, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Arrival, provide insights into differentiating between those “others” that could be friends and allies and the ones that present a true danger, while Avatar offers perspective by reversing the roles. In that film, most of the humans from planet Earth are the evil invaders and the audience roots for the native intelligence, which teaches the better earthlings a thing or two.

But why are there so many walking dead in horror films? Ghosts, zombies, and vampires seem to be telling us that the persistence of past realities is threatening our lives right now.

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Ghosts Haunting Us?

Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too.

They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.

Stephen King, The Shining

Imagine yourself becoming aware that your home is haunted until suddenly a ghost emerges, coming after you and destroying everything in its wake. You run for your life, hoping desperately that you can get away.

Often ghosts in fiction fail to move on, remaining in a place where they experienced abuse or trauma, or were held prisoner, because they have not come to terms with what happened to them. Such ghosts also are disproportionately female, says Hephzibah Anderson, in “The Secret Meaning of Ghost Stories.”[i] She concludes that women writers frequently have expressed their anger about their own oppressive experiences through the voice of a ghost that creates the kind of havoc the author feels but cannot voice or act out in her own time. In the context of the current #MeToo movement, we hear women beginning to speak out about harassment and abuse—even rape—that they had been afraid to share, yet the memories of which still haunt them. Men also have such experiences, as we learned regarding priests who abused altar boys and now with adult males joining the #MeToo movement and similarly telling of how persistent the sense of traumatic violation is. Anyone can be haunted by past trauma, including those with war-related PTSD. In his story collection The Things They Carried, veteran and author Tim O’Brien writes, “I carry the memory of the ghosts of a place called Vietnam….”

Reentering the environment in which the trauma occurred can resurrect buried feelings related to such an event, and the fear, rage, and horror still haunting us can emerge with violent emotions. These persist until the event is integrated into our psyches (ideally with some help from a trained therapist). An individual or an entire culture also can be haunted by the memory of being the oppressor. Denying wrongdoing or working to repress an individual or collective memory of the harm done to another shuts down the heart and the mind. Restored health and wholeness are accomplished most powerfully through finding a way to atone or at least feeling and expressing remorse, learning from what you might wish you had done, and behaving differently in the future. In the meantime, ghost stories can provide vicarious experiences that help us identify the way that we are like the ghost or his or her tormentor. Either way, we can act to free the ghosts within.

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Are the Walking Dead Eating Our Brains?

When winter sets and the land begins to shiver,

The Flayed Man will start to rot and wither.

Game of Thrones Theme Song, Lyrics by Forte vocal group

Imagine you are huddled with others as zombies surround your hiding place, seeking to eat your brains. They are terrifying creatures with rotted flesh that falls off as they lurch toward you. What makes this worse is that the hero of such a story, who you may identify with, never knows which human that seems to be an ally is on the way to becoming a zombie—and it could be you.

Comic book writer Alan Moore nailed why zombies are so popular right now: “Culture is just a shambling zombie that repeats what it did in life; bits of it drop off, and it does not appear to notice.” Any of us who has continued living an old pattern in new circumstances knows what it feels like to hulk around zombie-like, repeating old habits that make us feel less and less alive. We see this in society and politics today, where so many people want to turn back the clock and live in the past. After all, they believe, that was a time when people knew what to do and how to act, which they still regard as the norm.

But what about this eating brains business? Zombies started eating brains in the movie The Return of the Living Dead. Jack Flacco explains that the brains “provide zombies with the necessary endorphins to dull the pain of Rigor Mortis brought about by decomposition. The more brains, the less pain.”[ii] If we read zombie movies as metaphors, we can see them as warnings about how living old, dead ideas and patterns of behavior makes us dumb. We observe around us how people who yearn to live in an earlier time concoct fake news to invite others into this alternative world, and the temptation others feel to respond in kind. There is short-term comfort to be found in tribes of agreement, but zombie stories warn us that the result of all this will not be pretty. Zombies kill the living, just as trying to live in a world that is now dead can kill our aliveness. To remain energized and human, it is critical to have a learning mindset so that we can deal with real threats and say “Yes!” to new opportunities.

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Are Vampires Really Drinking Our Blood?

To make you a vampire they have to suck your blood. And then you have to suck their blood. It’s like a whole big sucking thing.

Buffy, “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Imagine a vampire emerging from the coffin desperately craving a blood fix. Its very need creates an aura of the erotic, taking the form of your ideal romantic partner. You lie in bed, vulnerable from sleep and entranced by the arousal you see in its eyes, and when it moves toward your neck, your head slides back in a blissful swoon, and as it gently sucks your blood, you feel you are merging with it, experiencing an erotic pleasure much like an orgasm. Only when it lets go do you recognize that you have become one of the living dead. Did you know it was a vampire when you let your head tilt back? Well, sort of. You knew and did not know, but retreating into the erotic trance it offered was just too appealing to resist.

The vampire’s appeal is erotic, but an eroticism connected not with life, but with death. Who among us has not wanted occasionally to retreat from life and just put the covers over their head? Failing that, a drink or binge eating or distracting oneself with work or shopping might suffice. But vampires want more. However, it has likely occurred to you already, reading this, that the vampire is a great metaphor for the appeal of addiction. No wonder vampires are all over popular media today. Vampire stories are mimicking the allure of the momentary high that eventually, if continued, results in death. We live in a culture that, in the midst of an opioid crisis, also offers all sorts of more socially acceptable addictions.

Meanwhile, the wealth of the world keeps trickling up to a few, a capitalist phenomenon that Voltaire described as “stock-jobbers, brokers, and men of business, who sucked the blood of the people in broad daylight.”[iii] In my view, the current capitalist vampire does not consist of individuals; it is the meritocracy story. In the context of growing inequality and limited access to upward mobility, it nevertheless tells us that some of us are winners and some losers—somebodies and nobodies. This creates an addiction in some of the wealthy, so that they always need more and more money, and more and more of the trappings of wealth, to feel OK. At the same time, this internalized story is sucking the self-esteem right out of many ordinary folks—that is, if they buy into that storyline. Similarly, the veneration of celebrities leaves many people dependent on their “likes” or on their ratings, fearful that without them they are nobodies and do not count.

So, What to Do?

All these horror stories are cautionary tales, asking us to heed their warnings so as not to fall into their traps:

  • Do your best to learn how to succeed in the 21st century rather than escape to a mythical past.
  • Work to be able to discern who actually poses a danger to you and who just triggers the instinctive fear-of-the-“other” response.
  • Deal with past issues—including harm done to you and harm you have done—that are still haunting you.
  • Tell the truth, avoid fake news, and seek accurate information.
  • Resist the impulse to expose your neck toward the person who would con you, the drug that would harm you, or a story that would demean you.

And, most of all, recognize that you are the best you that will ever be. You do not need to judge your self-worth by your net worth, how well known you are, or how you compare with others. The truer you are to your best self, the less likely it is that your life will become or remain a horror story.

[i] BBC, January 22, 2016.

[ii] jackflacco.com, 2013.

[iii] From his definition of Vampire, Philosophical Dictionary.

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Fights over conflicting viewpoints, including those between young adults and their parents, are common in life. Now, in the U.S. and elsewhere, the political opinions of different groups have begun to ossify, so that it is difficult for citizens to hear one another or have civil discussions about areas of disagreement. If this continues, solutions to major problems will not be found, or a seesaw effect will take over, where one political party will just erase what the last one did, with the net result being chaos. If we hope to live in any kind of democracy or otherwise shape the future of our countries, we need to be able to talk with our fellow citizens and develop consensus about crucial issues in order to influence our leaders. The skills required to do this also can help us apply social intelligence in other parts of our lives, leading to better relationships in our families, friendship networks, and workplaces.

The Power of Stories Told to Us To Determine Our Beliefs

The challenge in talking with those with whom we disagree is that our most vehemently held attitudes often are based on what we are told by others, so we are less able to critique what we hear. Most of us are more complex thinkers in areas where we have direct experience. A farmer is likely to understand multiple causality in farming—success depends on the soil, proper planting and care, weather, control of pests, etc.—but may think in more simple and judgmental terms about someone they do not know who is in poverty, especially if he or she also is told that poverty is caused by people making bad choices. A poor inner city child might know many ways to use old newspapers, while a suburban kid would assume that you read them and recycle or just throw them away.

I know about applied psychology, and you know about whatever you focus on. We are all smarter about those spheres where we have our own experience and where our focus of attention has been. Most if not all of us are dependent upon the news media, our friendship networks, and people we trust and admire to give us the big picture of what is happening in the larger world. In the U.S., many of us think that health care is a mess, but we love our doctor; we believe that American education is failing, but we love our local schools; we fear that all politicians are corrupt, but we like our own representative, and so on. Thus, we end up disagreeing with one another about larger realities that we learn about second hand.

We also have been beset by fake news, as is the case in many other countries. This leads to a pressing need for us to learn to decode what is true and what is not, and how we can help others do the same. Some of our better media outlets are beginning to identify overt lies or mistakes about the facts. However, the larger issue is much more complex than that. Getting the facts and data correct is helpful but does not solve the entire problem: Perceived truth comes down to “facts + story.” Most of us focus on the facts we notice but assume that the story we have been told about them is true.

An Example: the Climate Change Debate

Many people in the U.S. challenge facts about climate change that are accepted in much of the rest of the world based on the story they are told about them. For example:

  • Scientist Story: We have studied the facts and concluded that some part of climate change is caused by human activity and can be alleviated if we move quickly. We have come to this conclusion from seeking out the narrative that best fits all the facts.
  • Pro- Story: If we have faith in science and in human agency, we, as citizens, believe the scientist story, so it is our perceived truth.
  • Anti- Stories: If, as some of our citizens do, we challenge the idea that humans have a role in climate change, we may base this belief on one of the following stories: “weather is in God’s hands,” or “these changes are part of a natural cycle,” or “climate change is a conspiracy perpetrated by the Chinese.” Some even go so far as to disavow any concern for the environment more generally.
  • Both pro- and anti-climate change positions also can simply be a result of which political party people belong to or what kind of religious group, if any, they affiliate with, and what other members of the group they identify with all seem to think.

So, let’s say you are on the pro side on this issue and want to convince those on the anti side to take needed action. Talking more about the data alone would not convince those skeptical about climate change. To know how to even start, it is a good idea to figure out what plotlines are running through the mind of the person you are talking with.

The religious argument might be countered through referencing scripture, the natural cycle story through risk analysis (what happens if you are wrong?), and the conspiracy theory through exploring who is actually benefitting from propagating this narrative. If the opinion results from trust in authorities or the desire to be one of the group, sharing information about authorities and rank and file members of the pro-climate change side in the group they identify with might work well. In talking with any climate skeptic, it also might work to ask what harm would come from cleaning up the atmosphere. Putting them down as “climate deniers” just gets their backs up.

Decoding Archetypal Stories

It would be helpful to all of us if journalists understood the distinction between facts and story. Decoding what story is being told implies an action plan for any given issue being discussed. They could address spin by asking follow-up questions about where that narrative takes us down the road. For example, in the U.S. we are being told that Americans are in a culture war with one another. But where does that lead? To demonizing and trying to defeat one another rather than learning from each other. Similarly, if you see yourself as in a war story when you talk with others who hold views different than your own, do you then just want to win, or are you willing to listen?

Getting curious about the story being told and the facts noticed can help us listen to one another and communicate our beliefs more civilly. This might include saying, “The facts that seem most important to me are these _____, and the story I tell myself about them is _____.” (Fill in the blanks.) Generally, most people will cast themselves, or those they admire, in the role of the central character of the story being told. The plotline will suggest what they might be faced with (what they notice) and what they then might do. Three examples of the types of stories important to the U.S.’s current national plight:

  • The Warrior (often present in Republican policies) pays attention to facts that are threats, and its plotline says: protect yourself and defeat the opposition.
  • The Caregiver (often present in Democratic policies) notices human needs, and its plotline says: meet them.
  • The Explorer (the founding narrative of the U.S.) notices that life is getting boring, predictable, or oppressive, and its plotline says: take a journey—literal or metaphorical—to get to a better place.

Whatever country you live in, you likely can find some name for a pattern of thinking that allows you to identify the stories that predominate in your political debates or interpersonal conflicts.

If we want to communicate with someone who does not agree with us, we may need to tiptoe a bit. Most of us fall prey to confirmation bias, so that no matter how good the opposition’s arguments are, we mentally dispute them, thus reinforcing what we thought in the first place. This prevents us from adopting a learning mindset that provides the curiosity needed to expand our horizons. Even if you never change your mind about the issue you are talking about, such a stance will help you understand others much better than before. Keeping an open mind by recognizing what stories we are assuming (and perhaps naming them) can allow us to listen more carefully to the stories others are telling.[1]

Achieving a Happy Outcome

Archetypal (i.e., universal) narratives can help us predict outcomes. The same main character can follow a plotline toward a happy or tragic ending, depending on how well the story matches the situation. You don’t want to be acting as if you are in the Warrior story when you go out on a date or a Lover story when someone is coming at you with a knife. Staying with the example of climate change, a Warrior might be drawn into action by seeing it as a threat, while a Caregiver might be moved to do something out of empathy for the human and environmental cost of inaction, and imagining how preventive actions might become a great adventure could intrigue an Explorer.

Most of all, any of us can escape feeling continually frustrated by the stupid things we think others believe by enjoying the process of observing what facts they notice and the stories they tell about them. At the very least, we can learn to understand humankind better and sometimes feel more compassion for others who are different from ourselves. Doing this actually could come in handy. The stories we hear others tell can expand our situational flexibility, beginning with curiosity about what might happen if we tried living that plotline we learned from them in some situation where it just might help.

[1] To find some archetypal story names, check out my books Awakening the Heroes Within or What Story Are You Living?, or just make up your own names for the stories you tell and hear.

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Most of us get little help in navigating sibling relationships or seeing how they affect us. Recently, I was asked to give a presentation on sisters and brothers and found there is very little written about this important topic. Even family system literature focuses more on parents and addressing children’s problems, which, of course, are very important concerns. I decided to explore how our sibling relationships affect the stories we live because those stories shape who we become. For example, fighting with a sibling can build your Warrior story abilities, while being silly can encourage your Jester humor and fun.

My hypothesis, based on what I did learn from the existing literature, was that parents have a big role in this, as they tell children what is expected of them and also are the primary models children initially have. Children make even very early decisions to comply or not, most of which come when we are so young that we tend to forget we made them. Once children enter a family, each child has the task of figuring out how to belong and also carve out a particular way of acting so that people have a sense of him or her as an individual. The first child has a more open field of choice in this, except for needing to please the parents. The second generally needs to do something a bit different.

Real life examples from a small, informal study I conducted: One man shared how he and his brother fought all the time when his younger brother was annoyingly copying everything he did (same clubs, teams, etc.). Happily, when they went into separate fields and attended different colleges, and thus differentiated, they started getting along. Several respondents reported that they were given the responsibility of caring for a younger child (or all the other children), which led to their having Caregiver values and skills throughout life, while one found that this prepared her for leadership, even though she resented the tasks at the time.

Some who loved and were close to their siblings found that these relationships built their ability to demonstrate the Lover’s skills of intimacy, closeness, and ease of communicating. Just as often, respondents reported that having siblings who carried on a negative pattern (for example, being combative and mean) led to their seeing them as little as possible in order to follow a very different and healthier path. Another, raised in a dysfunctional family (for example, with alcoholic or drug addicted parents), shared gratitude to a stepsister whose kindness and caring made all the difference in her life

One woman whose twin sister died at birth keeps her in her heart, thinking about what the sister would have decided to do and be as she maneuvers her own life, which expands her own horizons. An only child had a friend who was like a sister to her found that sibling relationships as discussed here were active in that relationship, just as if they had blood ties.

Siblings who go through hard times together often develop resilience that assists them with managing life’s ups and downs (Realist). Working through ways they may have hurt one another can build an important skill for working with other people (Lover), which someday may result in keeping a marriage together. Being the family mediator and healer similarly fosters skills that later can bring a demoralized workplace staff back to being excited about their work and their jobs (Magician). Much of who we are is forged in these relationships, however challenging they might have been.

Applying what I’m learning to myself: I have one brother nine years younger than me. Our parents modeled, and taught us to be, loving Caregivers, so Doug and I missed out on sibling rivalry, partly because of the age difference and also because it would have been frowned upon, a fact that I realize has been a liability for me in my career. I’m totally lousy at noticing, much less dealing with, sibling rivalry behaviors that often erupt in the workplace. Doug and I both have traveled a lot in our work (Seeker), but I fly here and there in comfortable surroundings to speak and consult, while he works outside, sometimes in -40 and sometimes in way over 100 degree weather, doing very complicated, technical, and sometimes dangerous work. I got the academic degrees (Sage), while he got courage (Warrior), technical competence (Realist), and a much more cheerful outlook on life (Jester). In our adult lives, we both have gravitated to leadership positions and we are quite close, mainly by phone, given our schedules. We interact in a playful, Jester way or with more Lover conversational intimacy. Our conversations reinforce these archetypes in me, for which I am grateful.

An opportunity to apply these ideas to your own journey: All these cases are different from one another, but there are some commonalities that are easy to apply to anyone’s personal experience. Check out the following list of activities that you may have done with your siblings. They are introduced with names of the archetypal characters and their plotlines you actually may have been experiencing through what you and your brothers or sisters did, or didn’t do, together. Choose as many as apply.[1]

  • Innocent/Idealist—following rules, being good, wishing on a star, imagining what you would like to do or be
  • Orphan/Realist—commiserating, consoling, coping
  • Caregiver—caring for one another, dolls, pets, friends
  • Warrior—arguing, competing and fighting, war games
  • Seeker—having adventures, doing new things, seeing what is possible
  • Lover—being close, emotionally supportive, intimate sharing, grooming, making beauty
  • Creator—doing creative projects: art, inventions, fantasy play, building with blocks
  • Revolutionary—breaking the rules, rebelling, or standing up for something you believe in, going to protests
  • Ruler—bossing each other around, playing games where someone is in charge, starting a business, collecting and organizing things
  • Jester—being playful, cutting up, being silly, telling jokes, playing tricks
  • Sage—learning about things, studying, sharing ideas and theories
  • Magician—doing magic tricks, reading fantasy literature, acting out magical stories, imagining wondrous other worlds or strange possibilities

In closing, most people never recognize how their brothers or sisters have influenced who they have become or considered the impact of being close to them or being distant, either of which could be sensible and helpful choices. I know that doing the research for the talk I recently gave and writing this blog have helped me appreciate my brother even more than before because I see his contribution to my life more clearly. I hope that these ideas help you become even clearer about your sibling relationships, whether or not they are positive

[1] If you want to match your answers with information about the archetypal characters you are most like now, go to www.capt.org and check out the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator™ instrument. This instrument is published by the Center for Applications of Psychological Type.

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