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The Wisdom of “The People” by Janice Quinn, PhD, LCSW

Friday, March 15, 2019 11:35 AM | Jung Society of Washington

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” This statement first appeared on April 22, 1970 for the first Earth Day poster designed by cartoonist Walt Kelly, the man behind the comic strip “Pogo”. The cartoon shows Pogo looking out across his beloved forest now littered with trash. This iconic image and quote among others was intended to encourage Americans to become more responsible for their behavior and treatment of their environment and homeland. It was an apt representation of a growing public awareness of how fragile and interconnected our ecosystems and human life are. And it worked.  As a result of greater consciousness of each American, a national movement was created and “we, the people” changed our more wasteful habits and transformed our environment.

Kelly’s statement also reveals something even more personal and psychological. Jung identifies ‘the enemy’ as the shadow within each of us. Last year at this time, I wrote a blog entitled “Can the Youth of Our Nation Save Us from Ourselves”? I focused on the outspoken young people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the aftermath of the Valentine’s Day shooting. Sadly, we have had additional shootings since then. But their voices were heard. They joined many others touched by these violent acts. Sparked by their activism, which also had a hand in the mid-term correction in Congress, a bill was passed in the House of Representatives on this past Valentine’s Day closing the loopholes in the requirement of background checks for those buying guns. Also, as of this March 14th, families are now able to sue gun manufacturers for the guns used in school shootings and other massacres which had been outlawed until now.

These are small steps, but major victories over a powerful lobbying group that had amassed too much power and influence over politicians through financial contributions and other support for elections and re-elections as a quid pro quo to support and push through legislation in favor of their interests. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great leaders we have had, but we could not have had great leaders unless they had a great people to follow.” And a few short years later, Harry S. Truman stated, “The people have often made mistakes, but given time and the facts, they will make the corrections.” When people look within, then amass with passion around an issue of concern, they become empowered to change themselves, their environment, their communities, their country and the world.

“The people” did this. These young people held a mirror up to us and said, “Look! You are the enemy!” They challenged us to dig deeper into ourselves, into our souls, to confront the enemy from within. Jung said that our greatest enemy is ennui, more commonly known today as apathy. Through apathy, we allow things to occur as long as they don’t seem to impact our lives. Yet, what we are painfully having to accept through numerous international and domestic terrorist acts and hate crimes is that we are not innocent in our ignorance.  We cannot turn a blind eye and hope someone else is taking up the mantle of the good fight.

In “Aion”, Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung describes the shadow as “a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge.” Becoming aware of our inner demons empowers us to realize we don’t have to be swayed, even dominated by the enemy within.

Noted writer James Baldwin laments: “ I’m terrified at the moral apathy; the death of the heart which is happening in my country. It’s a terrible thing for an entire people to surrender to the notion that one-ninth of its population is beneath them and until that moment when we, the American people are able to accept the fact that I, who have ancestors both white and black, that on this continent we are trying to form a new identity for which we need each other. Until this moment, there is scarcely any hope for the American dream because people who are denied participation in it, by their very presence, will wreck it and if that happens, it will be a very grave moment for the West.” The white nationalist incident in Charlottesville in 1917 revealed how little some hearts and minds have changed since Baldwin wrote this after the race riots and assassinations of black civil rights leaders of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.

In the past year, Americans, indeed the world, has watched and often felt the war of good and evil right in front of us as political divisions, reputations of notable figures, acts of brinkmanship, the veneer of institutional governance and all that have emerged from our shadows, personal and public, have been peeled away, exposing our dark shadow psychological content.

Jung states in “The Philosophical Tree” that “a man who is unconscious of himself acts in a blind, instinctive way and is in addition fooled by all the illusions that arise when he sees everything that he is not conscious of in himself coming to meet him from outside as projections upon his neighbor.” If, in fact, we begin to do the hard work of removing our projections from others, we soon discover our own inner dark angels, and we are not as quick to blame others for their shortcomings. “Such a man [or woman]” Jung says, “knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow, he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.”

Obama eulogized after the Charleston shooting in 2015: “As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.

As we have examined the darkness outside of ourselves parading across our TV and internet screens, we have been confronted with the darkness of our nation. Only by working through what we see and do not like that makes us feel uncomfortable, angry, even rageful, can we bring forth a better nation, our better angels. We can choose to look away, but it is at our peril.

Jung’s words on love and power ring true today more than ever. He said: “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other.” Our issues are not impossible to solve if we bring love to inform our power to act. A recent poll shows 93% of Americans do not approve of our current divisive politics. This means we are allowing only 7% of us to dominate our lives. The Dalai Lama shows us a way out:  to find in our enemies our commonalities beyond our opposing perspectives. This can only be done when we bring compassion to our brothers and sisters whom we regard as Other. Only when we are able to face our enemies within and without are we then able to work through our differences and our fears. If we can, this brings us closer to what the foundations of our democratic ideals are all about and we, the people, through greater wisdom will form “a more perfect Union”.

Janice Quinn, PhD, LCSW, s a Jungian Analyst with a private practice in Arlington, VA. She is a member and past president of the Jungian Analysts of Washington Association  (JAWA) and is a Training Analyst for the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts (IRSJA).


  • Sunday, March 24, 2019 9:54 AM | Phyllis LaPlante
    Janice, many thanks for this excellent essay. You wove together significant strands of the difficulties we face from within and without, both as individuals and as a nation. Compelling use of material from many sources (Jung, James Baldwin, Obama) to support your thesis. Really appreciate the recent poll data and your challenge to us to find "commonalities beyond our opposing perspectives."
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