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.