Carol S. Pearson's Posts (44)

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‍I love to track what is going on in the inner life of people around me by reading best-selling fiction with an attention to archetypal patterns. When a colleague told me to check out the All Souls Trilogy by a notable historian, Deborah Harkness, I was intrigued. The heroine of these books is Diana Bishop, an academic (Sage), hiding the fact that she is a witch, but just studying alchemy, not practicing it. Then she falls in love with Mathew Clairmont, a researcher (Sage) who is studying the DNA of humans, vampires, witches, and daemons, hiding the fact that he is a vampire. In the daylight world, they both pass as human.



Their basic love story (Lover) is a more sophisticated and literary version of the usual stereotypical Cinderella romance fiction narrative, where a struggling woman falls in love with a rich, powerful, handsome man who rescues her from her fate, except, in this one, both have lessons to learn through which they transform one another.


If, as with many (especially women) today, you feel as if you have to suppress your personal power to avoid threatening the powers that be, Diana’s story may be for you. Her challenge is to develop the courage to realize her potential, even if others come after her to steal her power. As an archetype, the witch can be a healer or transformer but can also be a destroyer, releasing the repressed anger of the oppressed. Diana’s challenge(Magician) is to hold her own boundaries, to stand up for herself, and as she embraces her magic, to take the energy around her and reweave it into something positive and transformational.


And, if you believe, as Matthew does, that you must take advantage of others or defeat them to survive or thrive, Matthew’s Warrior plotline might be a model for you. Since it is unlikely that you hunt down animals and people, kill them, and drink their blood, it is good to remember that blood in dreams is often a symbol of life energy or money. The world of business and economics today is often still referred to as a “jungle,” with beings who strive to “make a killing” and set goals to “destroy” the opposition/competition. Matthew’s challenge is to control his predatory, wolf-like desires, his temper, and his patriarchal belief that he must be in charge and learn to partner with Diana and eventually support her taking the lead.


Matthew has justifiable fears about how rules/laws against creature (witch, vampire, or daemon) intermarriage lead to inbreeding and weakness. He finds that creatures hiding their positive traits are less likely to pass them on to the next generation. He thus predicts that eventually the creatures might die out as species. His research findings, however, demonstrate that creatures are just humans, so there is no need for all this hiding and separate social roles.


You do not have to be a genius to recognize that a subtheme of this book is racism, and all the other “isms.” Matthew’s fictional finding scan remind us of research by contemporary scientists who now report that the DNA of all our races, sexes, and sexual orientations are fundamentally the same.


At one point, Diana and Matthew time travel from the modern world to Tudor England, during the period when the Enlightenment ideas of rational thinking, science, and progress were formulated. The notions of whiteness as superior, and blackness as inferior, were invented in this same era. Witch hunts were also returning in England and Europe during the Early Modern period as well as in the American colonies. We also learn that Diana is a descendant of the first woman to be tried and hanged as a witch in the Salem witch trials.


All the isms leave their imprint. Even today, when many laws have changed, it can be difficult for members of historically subordinate groups to embrace the qualities that have been denied them. Diana is afraid of developing her powers because, if they are revealed, someone might murder her, as happened to her parents, but short of that, she would lose her job. Then there is Matthew. Diana trusts him, although he warns her that he may be unable to control his desire to drink her blood. Because she does not seem afraid, empathic readers will feel that fear for her. I know I did. Today, most of us unconsciously already experience fear much of the time just from reading the news. And, many of us fear stepping out of our assigned roles, whatever these might be, or, conversely, being inadvertently racist, sexist, or otherwise harmful.


But reading fun-scary fiction, such as this trilogy, is like being on a roller coaster, enjoying the ride. This can allow you to process your real fears without undue anxiety through identifying with how the characters do so. As I wondered how conscious Harkness was of writing a book that might accomplish this, I got to a passage in it where Diana finds the treasure of a longed for but lost alchemical book. She opens it and recognizes its image of the union of the king and queen, so necessary for alchemical accomplishment.She notices that beneath the images and text are older texts, perhaps ones that were quickly erased, the traces of which start moving about. Then, in a very bizarre scene, that strange writing begins to crawl into her body. When it does, she gains its knowledge and power.


Words creeping into us can be viewed as a metaphor for a positive human ability we all have. When you imaginatively experience living a story, that story is added to your brain’s synapse networks, specifically the imagination network,[1] which houses images, characters, and narratives available to you. In this way, reading makes you smarter and opens new possibilities for how you might respond to new situations.In many times, and even now, people have sought to ban books, some out of a fear of the persistence of old ideas and some to resist the attraction of new ones.


The stories of Diana the witch and Matthew the vampire highlight exaggerated forms of fears that are common today: a fear of threatening others if we fulfill our potential and a fear of losing our souls to satisfy the pull of our desires. Whatever your fears, reading fun-scary fantasy fiction, like the All Souls Trilogy, may well help you to conquer them.



[1] The technical term is the dorsal attention network.

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The Lover Complement and the Promised Land



Introduction: Branding ideally is integrated into organizational development activities. A brand archetype held too rigidly can throw a social system out of balance. The solution is to reinforce a complementary archetype, one already active in the organizational culture. Compelling situations can obscure both. The enmity between our political parties has constellated a war story (the culture war). Once a war story gets constellated, our brains notice events that reinforce our passion for our side and our enmity toward the other. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has shifted America’s Warrior archetype to its more rightful place: defense and the protection of democracy, our allies, and a stable world order that results in shared prosperity. As our leaders address this threat, we can consider what other, internal archetypal story could provide a healthy balance to the Seeker (our brand) within American culture and society. I believe it is the Lover.


Why the Seeker Needs the Lover

The Seeker as pioneer is a fine brand for the United States, as it could help us lead the world into the future with great courage and vision. But alone, it cannot unite us. Yes, we like to be rugged individualist freedom lovers, but without the Lover, we have gotten more and more separated and lonely. The pandemic has intensified this, but has also reminded us of the heroism of essential workers (medical, food, etc.) who have risked their lives in the face of the threat of Covid because they care for others.

If the Seeker does find a wished-for better life, the Lover awakens a committing mindset. You know this as part of growing up—finding a romantic partner, friends, a place you love, a home, a community, and coworkers—that is, settling down. Unlike the Caregiver, who shows love through caring for others more needy than themself (an archetype that got demonized as being “communist” during the McCarthy era in the 1950s a caricature that still persists, to some degree), the affiliative Lover thrives on intimacy and close friendships; a sense of belonging in family, workplace, and community organizations; and the creation of lovely environments in which all can thrive.

The Seeker archetype was primary in the American focus on liberty, but it was the Lover who added “for all.” So, let’s return here to our country’s origin and history. Pioneering immigrants on ships and homesteaders going west needed the Lover to cement relations among those on wagon trains and caravans. And, the Lover’s desires served as their inner GPS to help decide where to stop and settle down by what place tugged at their heartstrings, as their promised land that offered a high probability of not just survival, but success.

Over the years and throughout our land, pioneers built townships and understood full well that they needed one another. Those who wrote our Constitution created our nation’s initial systems, structures, laws, and policies, and such efforts continue to this day at the local, state, and national levels. In that process, some of what we regret today (such as the continued legality of enslaving other humans) occurred because of the need for compromise between northern and southern states for the nation to exist.

Our frontier cultural mythos has emphasized communal assistance in barn-raisings, quilting bees, square dancing on the green, and county fairs. Christianity, as the dominant faith, as well as other love-based religions, advocated for loving one’s neighbor as a positive balance for the Seeker’s focus on individuality and self-reliance. However, versions of Christianity that took the Warrior archetype view that we all had to choose the right side in a battle between God and Satan, or else suffer eternal torment, fostered an us vs. them mentality—as the Warrior does now in our politics.

The Lover, the Insider, and the Outsider

Even very early in our history, outsiders to a supportive community were seen as threats if they were from a different background or, heaven help them, of a different religion, even a different Christian denomination. I recently read that Swedes (my ancestors) and Italians were initially seen as dangerous Others even by big city folks, just as is happening today in attitudes about refugees/immigrants coming from the global south. In most such cases, fears, then and now, were stoked by leaders in their struggle to gain and maintain power or take a step up on the meritocracy ladder. More subtly, the dualistic association of light with good and dark with evil helped perpetuate racial prejudice.

The Lover archetype is vulnerable. For people whose inner Lover has found home and their Promised Land community, change not chosen by them means loss, and loss of what is loved is the Lover’s worst fear. Even worse, since Lovers can be quite jealous, there is the fear that the new folks will steal what long time neighbors love by changing it. Today, this threat can take the form of resettled immigrants coming into a town; desegregation efforts or plans to build affordable housing in a wealthy neighborhood; the rich escaping from places like New York or California and driving up housing prices elsewhere; gentrification, factory closings, or small towns seeing an influx of people from another country.

Obviously, when this fear of the Other as life destroyer is combined with racism, or any of the other isms, it turns to hate, and things get ugly. (For more on that, see Blog Four in this series.) At the same time, the Lover gift of empathy leads many people to suffer vicariously as they learn more and more about the experiences of historically undervalued and oppressed groups and then get motivated to promote greater equality of opportunity in our time.

Friends and colleagues have challenged me on my belief that the complementary archetype to America’s Seeker is Lover by saying that they do not see much love going in our country today. Their point is well-taken. However, the current stalemate in Congress occurs not over intellectual disagreements, which can be worked through with negotiation and compromise. Even today, many bills are passed that do not trigger emotional wedge issues. Our battles happen because of what we care about and believe in—passionately. This anger is fueled by hurt feelings by groups on both ends of the political spectrum that feel unfairly treated. Each major political party holds tight to the unfair things the other has done, stoking the fire of outrage, so that civil debate and trust break down and competition becomes dangerously emotional.

Too Much Seeker Requires More Lover

In our society today, the Seeker also has suppressed the positive contributions of the Lover. In recent years, books like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone have alerted Americans to how an individualist mindset, intense competition, and driven business, along with the fast pace of modern life, have resulted in mass loneliness. Living through a pandemic has intensified this, while conflict, even about politicized vaccines, has heighted our alienation from one another. Thus, tribal allegiances and grievances are so passionately held that they lead to group loyalty so fierce it sometimes trumps truth. Today, most of us are fiercely bonded, at least within our minds, with our cultural subgroups—urban or rural, racial, classes, religions, gender identification, sexual orientation, and political affiliations. In this way, our Lover desire for supportive community is as stuck as our self-involved Seeker. Yes, we commit to and love those like us, but we potentially make everyone else an Other.

You can imagine what we are experiencing as being like a messy divorce, where enmity between the couple keeps growing and the extended family starts breaking up into smaller groups that see the issues the same way. The lawyers on both sides are trying to get a win for their own client, but things only get worse. Now the once loving couple are fighting over the children. A mediator/counselor is needed to help them deescalate, calm down, and work to find a solution that can help each one and the larger family move forward in a positive way. After all, they will need to cooperate long term to care for their children, and to make sure the extended family can celebrate holiday dinners together. But as this drags on, each of the warring plaintiffs falls in love with someone more like themselves (think liberal with progressive, conservative with MAGA new right, etc.).

Embracing the Evolved Lover

So, just as our country needs an evolved Seeker, we also need an Evolved Lover, one capable of unifying the country, while doing our part to support liberty and justice, not just for those like us, but also for others different from us—in our country and around the world. The fast pace of change and our increasing inability to predict what’s next in the context of global interdependence requires the Lover to mature, just as divorcing parents ideally do in the service of children and other family members. This also requires us to face what the Lover often fears most: loss of who and what we love and of who we thought we were. So many of us have our own cherished view of America, and some also romanticize our country’s past. We then need the courage to face our most cherished illusions about ourselves and our country, and, for some of us, our unearned privileges. Most of all, we need to face reality: the U.S. is changing even as I write these words or you are reading them in ways no one group can control.

Change is constant. Kids grow up, people get old, neighborhoods change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Yet, the Lover can ask us to recognize the parts of the “good old days” we treasure as well as the advances we now take for granted: the variety and quality of food, fashion, music, films, science, religion, ideas, technology, and virtual connectivity—you name it—is astounding when compared with just a few years ago. Threads from all of these inevitably will travel with us into a fine future if we hold fast to our better selves and desires.

Best of all, the evolved Lover is what can expand our hearts to love our country, welcome the stranger, befriend our neighbors, and support democracy and equal opportunity not just for ourselves or our groups, but “for all.” How can we even imagine the process for this taking hold as we face an uncertain future? The Seeker integrated with the Lover could be envisioned as being like pioneers going west together. Our tightly bonded affiliations could be seen as our wagon trains, moving within the larger caravan of those we love more lightly and as a matter of principle—as we do sometimes with in-laws.

The Seeker helps us have the courage to face looming 21st century challenges, and the Lover to be less alone as we do so. We can simply notice those with whom we disagree and those we might think of now as Other, and consider what qualities and strengths they have that are useful. These could contribute to overcoming our difficulties, known and unknown, as we inevitably journey into the future together. On those journeys west long ago, if a wagon wheel broke, the person who knew how to fix it was not quizzed about politics, sexual orientation, religion, you name it—they were just appreciated for being the right person with them at just the right time. In the same way, it is best now to identify one’s own gifts to be prepared for when you are needed.

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Blog Two: Branding America: A Pioneering Nation and People

By Carol S. Pearson

Introduction: Many Americans today have lost faith in the United States and in one another.  This blog applies Margaret Mark’s and my work on authentic archetypal branding (described in The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes) to the U.S. Organizations and other social systems are more coherent, and cohesive, if their brand identity is articulated in a core archetypal story that dramatizes their values, commitments, and benefits to all involved. So might a country.


The Seeker Promise and the Courage to Face the Unknown

The Seeker archetype is about leaving the known world to journey into the unknown to realize a desire or a dream, as our founders and immigrants did earlier in our history, and those since still do. Even the founding of our country was based on a dream of what could be. The Seeker archetype goes by many names, such as explorer, adventurer, trail blazer, pioneer, scout, and pilgrim, that highlight the journey plotline, and others that emphasize human qualities, like individualism, and values, like freedom. This is how we historically have talked about ourselves.

Traditionally, we were taught how Columbus “discovered” America, the first immigrants heroically faced the unknown to come to this land, scouts explored the west, and pioneers took difficult journeys to settle it. Then came the innovators who invented and built the infrastructure that helped us travel (railroads, roads, and, later, airports), devised the systems that provided paths to learning (universal education), and organized the legal and economic arrangements that supported climbing the ladder of success (the Constitution, capitalism, the courts, etc.) that brought us together. This is the American can-do adventurous spirit.

In my view, the Seeker remains a perfect archetype for a country of self-styled individualists who affirm liberty and take risks to achieve a better life. It also is right for a country that values and measures continual progress while also affirming, in our Pledge of Allegiance, an ongoing commitment to “liberty and justice for all.” Applying this precept, our ancestors founded democratic governance and promoted innovative solutions which have made the U.S. a world leader. That is why people from all over the world strive to become Americans or to replicate what is best about us. And it is a major reason why we lead the free world.

However, throughout our history, many Americans have been devalued and their options limited by traditional and oppressive roles and laws. Nevertheless, our push back against these limitations is informed by a shared belief in the Seeker American promise. This archetype motivated the Civil Rights Movement and all the other liberation movements that often journey in marches and show up for protests to gain equality of opportunity in all its forms. It is no accident that Martin Luther King Jr. declared, in his most famous speech, “I have a dream,” or that Native Americans seek to preserve their right to live according to their own values, practices, and beliefs.

Facing the Unknown of the 21st Century

Life in this turbulent, interdependent, fast-changing world is difficult. It requires the courage to face an unknown future. Some Americans today are so scared of 21st century challenges that they are retreating into denial fantasies, including conspiracy theories, and/or finding meaning through taking up arms. Most of us are frightened today by those on the other side of the “culture war” and easily fall into the trap of demonizing one another. Of course, we need to vote our conscience and work for a better future, country, and world. But we cannot forget that underneath divergent opinions we remain a nation of Seekers who could be the pioneers that find new ways to save our world—our people, our society, and our environment.

How does the Seeker archetype fit our role in the world? America is now a world leader, which can suggest that we might well adopt a Ruler archetype brand, except that Americans fear government and leaders that might reign us in. Archetypal branding naturally moves from identifying one core archetype to greater specificity in the brand image, personality, and language. In branding America, I believe the more specific Seeker term that fits our role in the world is pioneer. The U.S. leads by example and, in the west, as first among equals. We need courage, and many view that as an attribute of the Warrior. But the courage we need is not the ability to fight but, rather, to face a daunting future.

In fact, it often appears that our country has been swallowed up by Warrior archetypal possession. This confusion happened because of our military success in World Wars I and II, of which we are rightfully proud, but also because of a legacy of a smoldering internal conflict that erupted in our Civil War and continues in our present “culture war.” We do not all interpret our Pledge of Allegiance affirmation of “liberty and justice for all” in the same way. For some, it is liberty and justice for them or people like them, or only for those who deserve it. For others, it implies equality of opportunity, so that everyone should already experience liberty and justice, and since that is not the case, we need to solve this problem ASAP. Yet, we could just accept that we differ and then debate, so that our Congress can function and our country move ahead.

Doing More Now and Enjoying It Less? How About A Seeker Cure?

Even after the west was won and the closing of the frontier, Americans have continued to go through the motions of the Seeker journey, though they enjoy it less and less. We are more mobile than the populations of most other countries, moving from place to place, home to home, job to job. Easily bored, many addictively seek out the next new thing or experience the virtual journeys available right there on our phones. In addition, Americans do not just work hard to reach the top in their fields: many of us are driven. Look around. People are competing to become richer, smarter, or more moral than others. And, failing that, some just get high or focus on getting more “likes” than anyone else. Without a compelling purpose, more and more of us just stay busy.

What to do? As citizens, we can be inspired by our ancestors, as well as more recent immigrants, who made the choice to leave everything they had known before to face the unknown in search of a better life. These pioneers were unlike those who stayed behind, choosing what they had—however painful—over taking a risk.

The solution, however may be in progress. The journey for many of us today increasingly is one of personal growth and development that includes a focus on personal mission and purpose, on making a contribution to others, and on becoming our best selves. Many experts are helping people to evolve their thinking in order to meet the challenges of our time. Others work to innovate technology and human systems for the same purpose. Many groups, including religious organizations, are expanding their perspectives to let go of past prejudices and anachronistic doctrines and to reconcile scientific findings with spiritual teachings.

After more and more members of historically undervalued groups have come out or have moved into unconventional (for them) roles, those from traditional American norm groups gain experiences—in everyday life and work or in the media—that expand their views about who can do what. Many people, moreover, have come out of the pandemic having had time to think about what they want and realize that they are seeking something more fulfilling than has been true for them before. You may have experienced this Seeker plotline any time in your life when you took chances in order to be happier, as the burgeoning field of self-help books encourages us to do. Today, more and more of us are searching for self-awareness and wisdom, and are finding our own spiritual paths as antidotes to driven and addictive behaviors, which can be viewed as substitutes for engaging in our authentic journeys.

Yet, right now many Americans remain grumpy, and citizens have turned on one another. To address this, let’s identify the downsides of the Seeker archetype so that we can avoid them.

When the Seeker Gets Stuck, Shadowy, or Deluded

All archetypes have their primitive, shadow sides. The Seeker shadow side is “all about me” and the adolescent “no one can tell me what to do,” which is acted out frequently by some of our citizens and likely at times by most of us. So, let’s look at where Americans are stuck. The Seeker is present in the shared chronic dissatisfaction of Americans today, a misery that unites us, even as we blame one another for why we feel this way. We can take note of how many families, organizations, and politicians are frozen with fear because they are facing something they do not know how to address. They then unconsciously distract themselves by picking fights.

Our American Seeker impulse is active, but stuck. The call to the quest for the Seeker comes with the recognition that discontent, for the Seeker, is an invitation to take a risk and embark on another journey. The courage of the Seeker, then, is what is needed now to face the new frontier of an uncharted and risky future in a global, interdependent world still riven by conflicts and wars. No amount of infighting will rid us of our discontent and driven behaviors, but a call to a quest just might do the trick. We need a vision of what could call us forth on a journey to something better. We then need scouts to map ways forward and for all of us to reclaim the pioneering spirit that could propel us on a healing journey into a better future.

Independence Meets Interdependence

Too much unconscious Seeker living has led Americans to avoid interdependence as a way to preserve independence. Along with other factors, the resulting self-involvement has produced an epidemic of loneliness, reinforced by a pandemic, and behaviors that illustrate the Seeker shadow of flagrant selfishness and unwillingness to care for one another. Many Americans have come to deify rugged individualism, defined as self-sufficiency.

However, the truth is that there has never been a time—certainly not when the first settlers came to this continent—in which people could survive, much less thrive, alone. Our ancestors did not swim across the ocean by themselves to get to our shores. They did not learn to farm and meet their basic needs by themselves or create a nation by themselves. And no one with any sense took off for the territory without being part of a wagon train. Even cowboys in the wild west did not ride alone, and we cannot now. That is why Blog 3 will explore the complementary archetype to the Seeker, an affiliative Lover, showing its potential to balance our society. It is hiding in plain sight, obscured by its own downsides.

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Blog One:  Series Introduction

America On the Couch: How To Understand the Stories Driving Us

By Carol S. Pearson

I’m writing this blog series for those who, like me, are worried about my country (the United States). I suspect it is not news to you that our two-party system has devolved into an endless cultural civil war that makes it difficult to solve the urgent problems we face. As the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th, 2021, demonstrated, some partisans are ready to use violence to achieve their political ends. You likely have a view about which party is more to blame, which can help you decide who to vote and work for, but blame goes only so far. As President Lincoln put it, paraphrasing the Bible, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”(Mark 3:25).  I’m asking you to focus not on blame, but on a deeper understanding that can address the challenge of unifying this country.

Understanding archetypal stories active in the U.S. can reveal the deeper motivations of the groups within the divide—archetypes that could reunite us as well as unconscious, shadowy ones that, like monsters from the deep, could drag us down together. Moreover, our people and our archetypes have not evolved at the same rate for everyone, even for all those who wanted to realize our founders’ dreams. The conservative’s job is to preserve what is best about the past, while the task of liberals/progressives is to meet the needs of the present and the foreseeable future. When they do their jobs and work together, government generally functions well. To generalize, conservatives prefer the past and accommodate to change slowly, so may express archetypal motivations in earlier forms and fear changing perspectives, even as potentially as evil. Liberals/progressives relish change—of the kind they wish— so are early adopters of new expressions, but fear the undertow of what has been harmful in the past and present to some degree that could continue to create harm in the future.

It is tragic that the pandemic, climate change, increased natural disasters, and not even our leadership role in the world have been able to pull Americans together. Both conservatives and liberals now believe they are losing what is best about their country because the other party is bad and wrong. That is why an archetypal analysis of the stories underlying this difference is essential. It helps us understand the driving forces—our own and those of others—as well as the plotlines that unconsciously govern how people behave. Such an analysis also can help us grasp the deeper motivations behind opinions we disagree with, thus enabling us to communicate more productively with one another.

About Archetypal Narratives in Individuals and Cultures

Archetypal narratives motivate, energize, and organize what people think and do. Archetypal stories are universal, available to us all. Living archetypal stories helps individuals and groups gain the insights and capabilities that their plotlines foster. For example, living a Caregiver story promotes the development of empathy, compassion, and helping skills; however, when carried to an extreme, it also can lead a person to be overly empathic and take on the sufferings of others rather than just assisting them. In positive form, living a Warrior story contributes to learning to protect oneself and others from harm and to competing skillfully in order to succeed; however, it also can lead to atrocities against anyone seen as the enemy.[1][i]

Right now, the Warrior archetype is motivating fear, anger, self-righteousness, and a desire to win at all costs. Fear and anger can lead to horrific actions, such as after 9/11, when Americans tortured people suspected of being terrorists or, now, when some are willing to use violence to overthrow democracy. In less egregious form, but also harmful, is a Warrior/Caregiver pattern of undermining people’s entire careers or lives because they said or did something lawful but that causes pain, even in the distant past.[ii]  

Each of the archetypes in my 12-archetype system (Idealist, Realist, Caregiver, Warrior, Seeker, Lover, Creator, Revolutionary, Ruler, Jester, Sage, and Magician) promotes human development and evolution. At best, the expression of archetypes evolves to match the real needs of a time; sadly, it can devolve when people are stressed, angry, or anxious. Some qualities viewed by one’s culture as negative also become more primitive when they are banished to our inner shadow worlds. We then may repress them in ourselves and project them onto others. For example, Americans consciously value democracy, while autocratic impulses get banished to the American shadow, where they can control us without our recognizing them in ourselves even as we perceive them in others.

Conversely, reading, listening or viewing archetypal stories can awaken an ability to understand what it is like to walk in the characters’ shoes. This then triggers mirror neurons in our brains that help us imaginatively feel what they feel and, with practice, develop their capacities. We can use this ability to better understand people who have felt other to us or that we have judged, or whom we have not understood before. When our perspectives are expanded, we can more easily accept ourselves and others as we/they are and then use behavioral reinforcement to encourage positive signs of growth.

Archetypal narrative intelligence also can help us recognize the deeper needs we have that keep us from being more fully part of the solution to our country’s problems. This is critical for those of us currently splintering into different parties and groups. We can now reclaim the archetypal stories that energized the country’s founding dreams by first recognizing them in our own motivations and actions. We can then update the expressions of the stories we are living to meet the urgent needs of our time. In that process, we are preserving what has been the best of our past, treasuring where and how the founding dreams are lived already, as we also work to evolve ourselves and our nation to prepare for the future.

Discovering the Archetypal Narratives That Can Unite Us

To unify our country, we need to understand how its mythology can be understood as both “sacred story” and “myth,” as in falsehood. Even when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, many today are stopped short by the claim that our republic offers “liberty and justice for all,” when they know that this promise has not been realized. At the same time, others believe that this goal has been reached, and it is up to individuals simply to work harder to achieve financial and social equality.

America’s mythology tips its hat to our Warrior strengths (America as “the home of the brave”), but it more consistently emphasizes qualities of our strong Seeker and Lover archetypes. The Seeker highlights how we express the desire for liberty, and the Lover our belief that freedom should be for all and our capacity to come together across differences.

We can learn today from the ways Americans have triumphed by taking new journeys—from the original explorers, to pioneers going west, to liberation movements marching for freedom, and from all of us as individuals who keep growing and developing throughout our lives. We also can learn from our capacity to settle down and create supportive communities and come together as a nation. The second blog in this series explores how the Seeker/Lover could unite us.

Our Country’s Unconscious, Undervalued Strengths and Habitual Quarrels

The divide began at our country’s founding with a war for independence that not every colonist supported. Then, soon after our founders were affirming inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” our country’s new Constitution allowed for citizens to enslave other human beings and engage in genocide against our indigenous population, faults that were addressed to some degree over time through amendments as the consciousness of Americans over all evolved, but not uniformly.

Our culture today mirrors attitudes that were extant at every period of our history. And, like individuals, our nation has core values that define how it likes to be seen, but also a messy and complex history, with faults both obvious and hidden. The slow pace of our progress toward realizing that founding dream for everyone results from some people pursuing their narrow self-interest as well as our country’s shadow issues: unconscious archetypal expressions that serve as an undertow that retards our natural desire to improve and evolve. My third blog will explore this, followed by a fourth that reveals a unifying, though undervalued, American archetypal strength (Jester). The fifth blog will examine four narratives about America circulating today that divide us unnecessarily, but that could unite us—that is, if we are guided by an archetypal analysis, an understanding of intersectionality, and a passion for unifying our country—in time to avert looming disasters.






[i] For more information, check out What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes– Transform Your Life and use thecoupon in it to take the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® instrument.


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January is the time to clarify intents for the year. Notice that I did not say “make resolutions.”

For most people, resolutions are well meant, but often not achieved in practice. That is because it is widely assumed that we will accomplish them by willpower triumphing over what we actually want to do. Too often, resolutions are what we think we should do, perhaps in response to messages from others or from the media.


I don’t know about you, but my life has been enriched by partnering with a dear friend every January to each create an intention for the year. We found that when we were motivated by our more authentic desires as well as our strongly held values, we came up with a vision and focus for the year that led to greater fulfillment. Even then, we achieved results more easily when we identified the narrative plotlines we needed to live on the way to success.


I know from neuroscience and my own research that humans are story-telling creatures, which may well have helped our species survive and evolve when other competing humanoids did not. From earliest times, people learned through story-telling, and stories still engage the mind, the heart, and the imagination, and ignite the energy to act. Narratives even light up more of the brain than mere wishes or thoughts. So, if you are someone who makes new year’s resolutions and then don’t do them (as originally was my case), story vigilance might be just the thing you need to achieve what you authentically desire.


The 12 archetypal stories included here have been particularly helpful to people throughout history, and in turbulent times like our own, they help human consciousness and cultures to evolve. This happens even without conscious awareness of them, but the impact is greater when we recognize them in action. Here’s what you need to know: First, archetypes are universal psychological patterns that reveal themselves in the form of characters and stories. These promote our individual development, while they also help our species evolve. To use this information, you also need a way to notice their roles in the choices you make and the outcomes you experience.


If you are someone who wants to live authentically and also make a difference in the world, the following four steps may help you prepare for the challenges of the coming year.


Step One: Conduct a “what story are you living?” audit.

Look at the names of the archetypal characters below and identify two or three that seem like you. Then think of times when you have lived or are living any or all of their stories. Many cartoons used to show angels and devils over a character’s shoulders, advising them what to do (or not do) in various situations. It can be fun to imagine these 12 characters whispering their advice to you. Don’t worry: none of them are bad; all can be positive, if they fit situations you are in.


To figure out which archetypes are active in you, think of some situations you have encountered lately and how you responded. Pay attention to your first response, and any later, more considered ones. You might find that some of these 12 archetypal plotlines and capacities feel as if they come naturally to you, while others not so much.


12 Character and Story Examples:

The Idealist urges you to stay positive and live your dreams; things will work out.

The Realist tells you that bad things happen and you should get ready to deal with them.

The Warrior says you should fight or compete and persevere until you win.

The Caregiver fills you with empathy and a desire to nurture, comfort, or otherwise help.

The Seeker beckons you to distance from the situation, leave it, or go on an adventure.

The Lover offers a heartfelt desire to find or cultivate greater closeness and intimacy.

The Creator taps the imagination to promote a vision and innovate responses.

The Revolutionary says something needs to go—quit it, get rid of it, or end it.

The Ruler commands you to take charge of yourself and others so that things work out well.

The Jester suggests that you respond with humor, lightness, and ideas about how to have fun.

The Sage slows you down to have time to analyze options and data, and follow a required learning curve.

The Magician urges you to transform your thinking/feeling to change what happens.


Step Two: Imagine what you want to have and be like in 2022.

I found that starting with the outcomes you want in the coming year is only the first step. Then it is important to figure out what virtues and capacities you need to develop in yourself to attain them. Studies of common resolutions show they are often about what people want to achieve, or what they want to quit. To fulfill these resolutions, however, it is helpful to know which archetypal stories provide clues to doing either. For example, if you want to get an advanced degree, you may need to live a Sage story. If you want to move into a higher level of authority, you might need to live an evolved Ruler story. If you want to improve your appearance, you might get clear whether this is to find true love (Lover), feel more in control (Ruler), express your taste (Creator), and so on. If you want to, say, quit or end something (Revolutionary), you also might need to get real about why. For example, you may want to exercise better self-care (Caregiver), gain marketable skills (Realist), or achieve life transformation (Magician). Or, you might notice what you want to quit that provides compensation for something missing in your life—like fun (Jester), which is often lacking in a high-achiever’s very busy life. Success then requires finding other means to fill the need that the habit you don’t want substitutes for.


Step Three: Notice the Archetypal Story Patterns Calling You Now.

You cannot always predict what a year will bring. Some narratives active in the larger culture inevitably affect us. The culture war going on in the U.S. and elsewhere influences the messages coming at us from the media, so we are all being drawn into a Warrior story, an archetype needing to evolve through us. Dealing well with the pandemic calls us to face facts (Realist and Sage), but it also has promoted rebellion (Revolutionary). These patterns, or others, may pull you in, or you may find yourself rejecting them, but either way, they affect most of us.


At the same time, our individual psyches give us clues about the plotlines we will need to live to achieve a fulfilling year if we know how to decode their signs. How? By sparking our interests and our imaginations.


To get a handle on this, you might identify the archetypal story patterns in what you feel drawn to—what you read, listen to, or view and also daydream about. Then, ask yourself whether the archetypal patterns you notice offer insight into how to succeed in current situations that are challenging you or that might be needed later in the year. Fictional genres frequently are archetypally based, and thus provide easy examples: stories of adventure often are Seeker plotlines; hero stories of good guys vs. bad guys are Warrior ones; romances are Lover ones; much of fantasy is Magician, and so on. When exploring your fantasies, what archetype do you notice? For example, if you fantasize about escape, this may be a call of the Seeker; about defeating or even harming another, the Warrior; or about sex, you are just normal (smile), or maybe you are being called by your inner Lover.


Step Four: What archetypal story or stories do you want to live in 2022?

Now it is time to consider what archetypal narratives could help you fulfill your own authentic desires while also making a positive difference to those around you or even the larger world.

Much may be right in your life, with archetypes meeting your needs and those of others. For example, you may live a Lover story with your partner, a Jester story with friends, a Caregiver story with children or other dependents. As you achieve a position of greater authority, for example, you may live a Ruler story as a parent, a boss, or in civic activities, or a Sage story in what you are learning or deciding what would be most helpful that you could provide to others around the world. You might want to tweak any of the stories you are living to express them in optimal ways for you and others, now and into the next year.


Once you have done this, consider anything that is missing in your life or that is at your growing edge. Create a vision for how you want your year to be and how you want to feel. Then, identify the narratives that can best help you have the best year ever, even if life throws you curves. In such a case, you can then utilize the narrative intelligence (NQ) gained here to identify what life is asking of you and to surrender to living the needed story. And yes, archetypes tend to emerge in consciousness when needed, if they are welcomed.


 For more information about the 12-archetype system, go to,, or my book What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life.

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Have you ever been in a bookstore and suddenly felt a tug toward a certain book? I’ve come to trust that as everyday magic. C. G. Jung called this phenomenon “synchronicity”, which means meaningful coincidences.

A few days ago, I was in my local library with a lovely, precocious, avid reader. I felt a book call to me, but assumed, since it was in a section for 9-14-year olds, it was likely meant for her. Wishing not to presume, I asked her if she had read it. Without looking up, she said it was best to read the one before that in the series first, but she liked it. So, I figured the urge toward that book was for me.

That evening, I started reading the book, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard.[1] I was taken aback when Professor Cake explains to Sophie, his young heroine, that story books cast a magic spell. Trying to be sure she understands what he means, she asks, “So every time someone reads a story…they are actually casting some sort of…magic spell?” Thinking more about it, she figures out that seemingly impossible things first emerge from the “curious mind” and then activate the will to act—which is how the impossible becomes possible.

I write about narrative intelligence, but had not thought that fiction provided a kind of everyday magic. That is why I’m offering this blog to you.

How Contemporary Story Magic Works

Contemporary neuroscientists do not talk about magic when they advocate reading to children so that they become smarter and more imaginative. However, they do explain how, at any age, identifying with one or more characters in a story offers our brains a practice run for living some version of a similar story when it is required or helpful. Here, I add an awareness that children’s books are full of magic, which awakens the power to utilize narrative intelligence in transformational ways.

You may have heard the saying “Change your thinking, change your life”, but if you want transformation, it is your stories that must be discovered and then changed. The brain makes meaning of events, experiences, and even our feelings in narrative form, so it is the meaning of our stories that motivates attitudinal and behavioral change. Sometimes, though, the narratives we tell ourselves may not jibe with the observable facts. (Have you ever remembered an event in your early life and then discovered that others involved saw it very differently? This happens all the time in life because what we remember is the story we told ourselves at the time of that event.)

In Sophie Quire, Sophie is charged with finding and protecting the magical books named Who, What, Where, and When, which are the kinds of questions we focus on to discover the basic facts of what happens. And, by the ages of 3-5, children need to be able to distinguish fact from fiction. In adult life, being able to appreciate both for what they offer is basic to success.

Stories Guarding Authentic Living

I laughed when I realized that these magical books were very like our Internet today. They “magically” update based on new information, but when she searches in them, she initially only learns the basics, a couple of sentences or so. When Sophie is fully claiming her magical powers, she no longer needs the books that focus on the who/what/where/when of magic. She needs clarity about her purpose and role as a storyguard and continued access to magic plotlines. Nevertheless, in real life, all of us need to check the facts against the stories we are told and telling throughout life as we also need to focus on what is ours to do, and what not.

I’ve been following New York Times columnist David Brooks as he reflects on the power of narrative. I was particularly taken with one of his recent columns.Two members of my women’s support group mentioned that they had read the same column. I took the fact that my friends felt the same pull I did as another synchronic tug, a signal to pay attention. And, as luck would have it, it stressed the need for adults to link realism with imagination for the stories we live to be optimal, providing me with a contemporary focus for this blog.

Brooks’s column considers how very difficult it is for us to know why we do what we do. Instead, we make up stories to feel in control. To discover personal meaning, he argues that we need to tell “ever more accurate stories about ourselves,” reaching down into “the complex nether reaches of our minds” to discover our actual motivations. His conclusion? “Maybe the dignity in being human is not being Achilles, the bold, thoughtless actor. Maybe the great human accomplishment is being Homer, the wise storyteller.” [2]

Of course, I immediately recognized how my work on the heroic journey along with Hugh Marr’s and my work creating the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® (PMAI®) could help readers meet the need Brooks defines. Archetypes reveal deeper narrative patterns that drive attitudes and behaviors—including yours and mine.[3] So do many magical children’s books (and movies), and, yes, you do not have to have children to read them. Much of fantasy and some science fiction for adults offers this, too, not just in books, but also in movies and on TV.

Narratives and the Power of Culture

In the climax of Sophie Quire, Prig, an inspector and villain, who issued an order that all “nonsense” (including fictional and magical books) be burnt in a great pyre at the center of town, lights it.  It immediately becomes an inferno and a great monster arises out of the flames and smoke. This monster is named Zeitgeist, which, of course, means the spirit of an age. The spirit of an age often has two levels: the conscious level, what people say their group or nation is; and the unconscious level, which often brings in both positive and negative elements that linger from that culture’s past. 

The zeitgeist that Prig said he was evoking was a pragmatic and functional focus on what is and what works. This focus often devalues fiction, even though great narratives reflect truths of the human heart. Without story, hearts harden and life lacks meaning. Once the pyre is raging, Sophie realizes that Prig really wanted to hog all the most magical books for himself to gain power, at everyone else’s expense. However, the Zeitgeist that emerged from all the books in the pyre—books that the citizens had loved—restored life to magical and imaginative stories and saved the town from listlessness and despair.  Adding a comic element, the books are imagined walking on their own through the town.

Archetypes, Magic Words, and Personal Transformation

While claiming her purpose as a “storyguard”, Sophie figures out the magic words she and we all need; they are “What if?”

So, whether you are curious about the stories you are thinking, telling, and living or those you are hearing or seeing around you--check out archetypes. You can then discover and have names for the storylines that can help you fulfill your potential, as well as those that may tempt you away from your path. Ideally, such narratives can reveal your authenticity and purpose and provide you with multiple plotlines relevant to how to live your stories in practice.

Then, remember to notice what possibilities tug at your insides, saying “turn here” or “this is your mountain to climb”. And, don’t forget to utilize these magic words to trigger your imagination, intensify your desire, and energize you to respond to what calls you and persevere until you gain its gifts.


[1] Jonathan Auxier, Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard.  (New York; Amulet, 2017).

[2] David Brooks, Opinion Column, “Is Self-Awareness a Mirage,” The New York Times, September 16, 2021. 

[3] What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life offers guidance in utilizing the PMAI and a coupon for taking it free of charge. Center for Applications of Psychological Type (2021).

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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.


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. 




Read more…


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.


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 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


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 (

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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.

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


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


The Idealist

Embodies and reinforces shared values, sometimes through communication


The Realist

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


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


The Seeker

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


The Lover

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


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]


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

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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?
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