Recently, I watched the movie Crash. This was my fourth or fifth viewing of the film and it continues to impress me in its ability to emotionally engage me and to illuminate threads of my own prejudice and bigotry.
What stood out to me in this viewing of the film was a statement by Matt Dillon’s character, a patrol officer, to his ex-partner. His partner, a new officer, had witnessed Dillon’s character sexually assault a woman during a traffic stop, and rather than report the officer or talk to his partner about what had happened, he asked for reassignment. On the first day of the reassignment, Dillon’s character said to his ex-partner, “You think you know who you are? You have no idea!”
And he’s right. We don’t know who we are.
We all have a pretty good idea of who we are and we “try” to embody socially acceptable behavior and moral standards, but there are times when each of us has slipped into some other character or part of our self. In times of stress, especially in times of extreme fear or anger or depression, the self we aspire to be may be overruled by a self we didn’t even know we had access to.
For me, one way this has shown up in my life has been getting unexplainably angry when taking out the garbage, physically expressing this anger on inanimate objects and verbally expressing it at my partner. At the time, I couldn’t understand what was going on or why I got so angry when there was no reason for me to be that way. I was “just” taking out the garbage.
My anger and the parts of ourselves that we have “no idea” about lie in our unconscious and these aspects of ourselves bubble up under times of stress. As Jung wrote, “Everyone has in [them] something of the criminal, the genius and the saint.” (from Relations Between Ego and Unconscious in “The Portable Jung”).
It wasn’t until I gave voice to the anger that I was able to identify what was going on. I had been recognizing the anger over a period of months, and eventually I gave this energy within me the acknowledgement and the space to tell me what was going on.
- Tell me what’s happening for you?
- What are you feeling?
- What is this feeling reminding you of?
- What do you want?
Through a process of dialoging with the anger, I was able to gain some clarity and empathy for this part of myself that had been acting out. This part felt dirty and ashamed of itself, and the process of taking out the garbage had become a place for him to act out. By writing and speaking about what was going on, by allowing myself to feel what was happening to this part of myself, I was able to honor and release it. I was able to learn a little more about who I really am and be more of who I wanted to be.
This whole process is about listening, really, Listening for the strong emotions that cause surprising actions, listening to what those emotions and actions are trying to say, and then acting on them or acknowledging them in some way. Be curious, courageous and forgiving. Knowing that we have the capacity to bully, means that we know more of who we are and can make healthy choices in moments of extreme emotion.
In 1969 a young man snuck into a hotel room and got this interview with John Lennon.
Especially poignant to me … and resonating with the work of the ManKind Project and our circles is a short piece at about 2:00 minutes, where John says, “We’re all violent. We’re all Hitler inside and we’re all Christ inside …”
So much of the time, it’s our natural reaction to the violence and suffering we see in the world to say, think, and act like it is “out there”, part of someone else’s reality rather than part of our own mental landscape. Jung’s conception of “the shadow”; unconscious driving forces for our behavior, continues to gain credibility in neuroscience, in sociology studies, and even in best-selling publications like David Brooks’ new book The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. What we are not conscious of in our thinking and feeling bodies has a direct impact on how we make decisions and how we react to the stimulus in our lives.
The willingness to take ownership of, and share with other how similar we all are (even those that we despise) is a revolutionary act.
People who ‘wake up’ to their unconscious motivations and break the social agreement to vilify those who carry traits that we don’t want to look at in our own lives … are often considered a threat. John Lennon was certainly one of those people.