[Part of a series, this essay breaks from those that precede it and offers a “one-stop” overview of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow. Now Available]
Healing America’s Narratives presents the case that the mood of the United States of America in the third decade of the 21st century is inevitable when considered through the intersection of the lenses of history, developmental psychology, politics, and spirituality. Our current dysfunction, while worrisome, is not surprising.
More to the point, the nation is cursed and blessed with competing (not just different) narratives that, even at their most oppositional, share aspects of a collective Shadow — that which is denied, repressed, unknown, or unacknowledged, and projected onto others. America’s specific Shadow elements include ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, bullying, violence, greed, excess, and untrustworthiness — each of which is present in varying degrees throughout history, amid current events, and across the political spectrum. These elements arise historically and currently through an unhealthy manifestation of masculine energy and a virtual absence of healthy feminine energy.
The book’s title and subtitle posit that in order to heal these narratives, Americans will have to recognize, own, and integrate our individual and collective Shadows. To heal, as used here, means coming to terms with things as they are — that is, accepting what is true, even if we don’t like it or we disagree with it. Healing begins when I accept that I just broke my arm (rather than railing against how it happened); curing or fixing commonly takes place with the help of an orthopedic surgeon. Each has its place.
In order to authentically heal it’s important that each of us comes to terms with our cultural givens and the extent to which we have accepted, revised, discarded, or developed beyond them. “Cultural givens” refers to the view of the world given to us during our earliest years by family, community, schooling, and religion, or lack thereof — all within the context of the time and place of our birth. In order to become healthy adults, it’s necessary to question what we’re given as kids, and then choose to accept, revise, or discard it based on our own direct experience of the world.
This questioning can be exhilarating at best and terrifying at worst. Paying attention to several qualities can help us as we question. Briefly:
- Skillful means invites the mechanic to tighten the bolt just enough without stripping the threads, and the surgeon to make the incision just deep and long enough (and on the correct patient). It requires us to interact with children in developmentally and chronologically appropriate ways.
- Development, as used here, reminds us that how we view the world impacts what we see and how we see it. Here’s some developmental shorthand: it’s all about me; it’s all about my group(s); it’s all about all of us (humans); it’s all about all that it is (the planet and beyond). To make this even more fun, each of those four ways of seeing can manifest in healthy or unhealthy iterations.¹ Each successive view interprets a given event from an increasingly inclusive, comprehensive, and complex perspective.
- Intentional practice reminds us that habitual thoughts and behaviors impact who and how we are. It makes sense to intentionally practice who and how we want to be.
- Seek the broadest, deepest view available in any given set of circumstances (or at least when it makes sense to do so). Why would you choose to be narrow and shallow in your perspective?²
- Honor the power and paradox of silence. Silencing the voices of others is a time-tested tool of oppression; intentionally practicing silence for oneself is often at the heart of insight, growth, and transformation.
- Truth, in a given moment, is fact- and evidence-based and separate from opinion and how evidence is interpreted. In the words of Parker J. Palmer, over time, “Truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter conducted with passion and discipline.”³
- Love is perhaps the most powerful energy we know. In the book, love has the following traits: “the joyful acceptance of belonging”; “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”; and the absence of fear.⁴
Evidence of America’s Shadow elements is provided in chapters three through ten of the book. Deciding which evidence and how much of it to present was a challenge. Chapters three through seven, respectively, provide very brief, selective histories of women; Native Americans; African Americans; the war in Vietnam; and the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — each of which deserves (and gets elsewhere) more attention than it gets. The rationale for these choices is provided in the book. Chapter Eight provides additional examples of Shadow, every one of which also deserves more attention than it gets. Chapter Nine brings Shadow into our current century in an exploration of polarized, woke, and cancel cultures, and Chapter Ten argues that the 45th president of the United States personally embodies all nine Shadow elements.
Chapters eleven and twelve begin the process of exploring ways out of our current mess, and will be sampled in more detail in forthcoming essays.
So, the book explores nine elements of America’s collective Shadow through selected historical and developmental perspectives on the nation’s 246 years of existence. The exploration is presented through the author’s (my) particular worldview, which is made clear in chapters one, eleven, and twelve. It is not (obviously) an exhaustive history of the country or a final word on any of the narratives it explores; it is an evidence-based exposition of America’s competing narratives and collective Shadow and a guidebook for those interested in healing the narratives and integrating the Shadow.
It’s definitely not for the closedminded and probably not for the faint of heart.
¹The “developmental shorthand” (me; my group(s); all of us (humans); and all that it is (the planet and beyond) are explored more deeply in the text and the endnotes. Regarding healthy or unhealthy manifestations, none of these views is right or wrong; rather, when healthy, they are increasingly inclusive, balanced, and complex. These four are significant reductions of what’s available to humans.
²Also developed further in the text and endnotes, this broadest, deepest view is based in Ken Wilber’s work, and includes considering individual values, beliefs, and behaviors; collective (relational/cultural) values and beliefs; and the natural and human-made environments, systems, and infrastructures within which we live and upon which we have impact.
³Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, (Jossey-Bass, 1998), 104.
⁴ “the joyful acceptance of belonging,” Br. David Steindl-Rast, Gratefulness: the Heart of Prayer, (Paulist, 1984), 167; “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth,” M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, (Simon & Schuster, 1978), 81; and “the absence of fear,” based on Marianne Williamson’s reflections on A Course in Miracles, in her A Return to Love, (HarperPaperbacks, 1993).