Guidelines for “Adult” Conversation, #3 – Who (You Think) You Are in Conversation – Beyond Culture

Previous essays in this series are available here: &

This third essay continues #2’s exploration of ourselves and our worldviews – those values, beliefs, biases and experiences that inform the lenses through which we see and interpret life. In #2 we noted the often invisible influence of culture; here we’ll zoom in and explore some of what accounts for other discrete differences both beyond and within these cultural influences.

A short list includes genetics (nature); parenting (nurture); personality; health; trauma; multiple intelligences (aka developmental lines); tendencies along the continua of feminine/masculine, interior/exterior, individual/collective; and Shadow. To the extent that we are aware of, choose to explore, and intentionally develop any of these, we will be more or less knowledgeable about ‘who we (think we) are’. Here’s a brief overview of each:

  • Genetics (nature) provides us with some basic input concerning our individual traits, tendencies and possibilities – from physical appearance to various aptitudes.
  • Parenting (nurture), which is influenced by culture, provides us with immediate follow-up regarding how our nature may manifest. Our parents (and other influential adults) provide us with an early view of life that may be more or less accurate and healthy, and which we may embrace, rebel against, or both.
  • Models of personality abound and can be helpful. One view of personality is that it emerges through the strategies we engage as children in order to survive, cope, and thrive in our family (and culture) of origin. Often, some of the things that serve us as children are no longer necessary or helpful in adulthood, and we can thank them and let them go as we develop.
  • Serious, persistent health issues at any age may teach us about vulnerability, mortality, resilience, compassion and hope, as well as anger, resentment, and despair – as may any form of trauma. Our parents’ and other caregivers’ attitudes, as well as the culture at large, often carry powerful messages – helpful or hurtful, true or unfounded, about various types of illness and trauma.
  • Decades of research confirm our ability to develop through intelligences such as linguistic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, moral, kinesthetic, musical, emotional, spiritual and cognitive, among others. We may become highly developed in one or more of these, less so in others. There is not necessarily a correlation between what we’re good at and what we enjoy.
  • One way to speak about feminine and masculine energies (as opposed to the biological females and males) is that healthy women and men can develop a balance of and comfort with the tendencies toward communion, compassion and mercy – typically considered feminine traits, and tendencies toward agency, wisdom and justice – considered masculine traits.
  • Along the continua of interior/exterior and individual/collective, we may find ourselves attracted to and more or less competent with specific elements of what have become known as Ken Wilber’s quadrant model: the interior-individual (the world of my values, intentions, thoughts, beliefs – philosophy, psychology, spirituality); the interior-collective (the world of our beliefs, thoughts, values – relationship, culture, anthropology); the exterior-individual (the world of my physical body, action/doing, sensory experience, biology); or the exterior-collective (the world of environment, systems, infrastructure, ecology).
  • Finally, we repress those traits that our culture or family frowned upon – what it was not okay to feel, be or do when we were young – our Shadow. In every conversation, unaware of what we have repressed, we feel a disproportionate reaction when we notice it in some else: I’m not angry! You, and everyone like you are angry!

Yikes. Amid this complex mess, why even bother trying to have a conversation?

One reason is, in David Whyte’s words, “The conversation is the relationship” in any sustainable, authentic exchange, and while we are focusing on verbal conversation in these essays, the nuances of true conversation transcend and include what we say, as we are asked to “back them words up, pardner,” “put our money where our mouth is,” and “walk our talk,” among other annoying, relevant clichés.

So, before we’ve even touched on the requisite skills and characteristics of civil, open, honest, ‘adult’ conversation, it’s clear that communicating authentically is not for the faint of heart, not for the faint of self-knowing, and not for the feint of authentic curiosity. No quick fix or magic potion works. We have to do the work, which takes time. Engaging any one of the bullet points above is a step in a good direction. Three prospective ways to start: 1) begin with what feels easiest; 2) begin with what makes most sense to you; 3) begin with what you know will be challenging. Then get curious about why you chose as you did.

Finally, and this will resurface in future essays, complement any work you do with getting to know yourself better with a sense of not knowing, especially, but not only with regard to what we call the self. Not knowing is the core of ongoing learning, growth and development. As soon as we “know for sure,” we close to other possibilities. Hold your knowing lightly. Stay open.

Thanks for reading this far.

In #4, we’ll explore the practice of recognizing and suspending preconceptions, judgments and assumptions in conversation.

Selected resources:

  • Among many personality type systems, I’ll mention three: the Enneagram; Myers-Briggs; and DiSC. Of the three, I have the most training in, and tend to use the Enneagram. If you’d like to explore it, visit or and read the details of the types – noting what feels familiar and unfamiliar. Because of how I tend to learn, I recommend not taking online assessments (free samples or paid full versions) until you have some sense of your type. Then the assessments might be helpful. Plenty of books are available as well.
  • One of my favorite authors on Howard Gardner’s work with multiple intelligences is Thomas Armstrong:;
  • For a brief overview of developmental lines, interiors, exteriors, individuals and collectives (and the rest of his AQAL model), see Ken Wilber’s The Integral Vision (2007) a “pocket edition” of which was released in November 2018. See also many additional titles by the author.
  • For an exploration of how culture, illness and trauma can intersect, see Lewis Mehl-Medrona’s Coyote Wisdom: The Power of Story in Healing. Rochester, VT: Bear & Company, 2005 (among other titles by the author); Gabor Maté’s When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley & Sons, 2003; and Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Penguin, 2014.
  • For an overview of Shadow that includes how a culture can have a collective Shadow, see “Revisiting ‘Donald Trump, Collective American Shadow, and “the Better Angels of Our Nature.”’”

Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation #2 – Who (You Think) You Are in Conversation

The introductory essay is available here:

This second essay explores some components that each of us brings to conversation (and everything else we do) – beliefs, values, experiences and biases that make us who we (think we) are. This self-knowing (and paradoxically the ‘not knowing’ that accompanies it) is essential in conversation if we want to be clear on “what is mine,” “what is yours” and “what is ours” when we speak.

In “The Inner Experience” Thomas Merton implores us to “Reflect, sometimes, on the disquieting fact that most of your statements of opinions, tastes, deeds, desires, hopes and fears are statements about someone who is not really present. When you say ‘I think’ it is often not you who think, but ‘they’—it is the anonymous authority of the collectivity speaking through your mask. When you say ‘I want’, you are sometimes simply making an automatic gesture of accepting, and paying for, what has been forced upon you. That is to say, you reach out for what you have been made to want.”

Some forty years after Merton penned those words, Ken Wilber tells us that “You can be listening to someone coming from [a given developmental structure] and it is obvious that this person is not thinking of these ideas himself; almost everything he says is completely predictable…. He has no idea that he is the mouthpiece of this structure, a structure he doesn’t even know is there. It almost seems as if it is not he who is speaking, but the … structure itself that is speaking through him—this vast intersubjective network is speaking through him” [emphasis in original].

Both Merton and Wilber point to the often invisible impact of culture on our individual viewpoints; Wilber’s assessment adds a developmental component that wasn’t available to Merton; and culture is just one of the forces that influences how each of us shows up in the world.

Imagine two adult friends who are the same age, grew up on the same street, went to the same schools through high school and the same place of worship – effectively the same national and local culture through the age of seventeen or eighteen. Now consider the influences of their genetics, health, personalities, parents, siblings, and unique childhood, adolescent and adult experiences, and to what extent they are aware of any of this – and you have the tip of a very significant ‘who I (think I) am’ iceberg.

Some of the ‘explanations’ offered in response to the events of September 11, 2001 in New York City, Washington, D.C.; and Pennsylvania include:

  • The hijackers were jealous of the freedoms, wealth and abundant way of life enjoyed in the United States. As they saw more and more of the manifestations of these freedoms, wealth and abundance via various media, they attempted to destroy what they could not have themselves.
  • God was punishing New York City for its sins – especially homosexuality and the greed inherent in the corporate cultures of Wall Street, Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue.
  • Islam is a violent religion whose followers are unable or unwilling to adjust to the modern world, have no respect for women and consider non-Muslims to be infidels who must be converted or killed.
  • Some Saudis were angry over their king’s welcoming tens of thousands of U.S. troops, rather than raising their own forces (as they had helped Afghanistan do against the Soviet Union) ostensibly to help prevent an attack by Iraq after that country had invaded Kuwait.
  • Israel had masterminded the attack in order to solidify U.S. support against Arab enemies (another version claims the C.I.A conspired with Israel on this), especially since there were increasingly more hints of support in the United States for Palestinians.
  • Thousands civilians had been killed in U.S. military action in the Middle East since 1980, and a group of men figured out a way to fight back against the superior power of the United States, much as colonists had done against Great Britain in the 1770’s.

There are more; these will suffice.

Two ways you can work with this right now:

  1. Spend some time inquiring into what beliefs, values, and experiences might lead someone to hold any one or more of the above responses. Really inquire; don’t just guess or mock those statements with which you disagree.
  2. Reread each of the above bullet points and pay close attention to how your belly, your heart and your mind react to each. What is it about you such that you react as you do?
  3. Do some research into which, and to what extent any, of the responses are true.

You can conduct a similar experiment with any issue, large or small.

In our third essay, we’ll explore several other components that influence who each of us (thinks he or she) is. Our goal is to begin to recognize the lenses through which we see and experience the world.

Thanks for reading this far.


Merton, Thomas. “The Inner Experience.” Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master. Ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham. Mahwah NJ: Paulist, 1992, p. 295.

Wilber, Ken. Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World. Boston: Integral-Shambhala, 2006, p. 277.

Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation – An Introduction

This is an introduction to a series of essays that will explore “Guidelines for ‘Adult’ Conversation,” which we might also refer to as “Doing More Good than Harm in Conversation,” or “Disagreeing (and Agreeing) with Civility.”

The initial purpose of this writing, which will undoubtedly evolve as the essays unfold, is to become increasingly better able to deeply listen to others, and authentically express ourselves, in ways that foster understanding, appreciation and respect for everyone who is present, and everyone who is not. With some few exceptions, “we” seem to have lost the ability to disagree with each other without engaging in personal insult, labeling and sweeping generalizations. We also seem to have lost the ability to agree with each other without engaging in personal insult, labeling and sweeping generalizations directed toward those who are not present, with whom we disagree.

This loss of ability (or lack of skill, or chosen laziness, or…) is evident among just about anyone who wishes the world were different, who knows who’s to blame for how it is, and who’s sure that he or she is not part of the problem, but rather a victim, a prospective savior, or both. I had initially begun listing specific groups (elected officials, news commentators, etc.) after the word “among,” and then realized the list would be too long and inevitably incomplete. So, whether you believe that Conservative Republican Fascists, Liberal Democrat Commies, Independent Infidels or some combination of these are to blame for everything that’s wrong, YOU are part of the problem. That sentence is an example of what these essays will argue against doing.

“Adult,” as used in this essay, refers to several specific characteristics that, while they may require a certain chronological age, are available to folks across a spectrum of ages. The word, again, as used here, may refer to folks who see the world through a “traditional” religious worldview, a “modern” scientific worldview, a “postmodern” egalitarian worldview, a “post-postmodern” integral worldview and beyond, or some blend of these. That is to say that “adulthood” refers as much to how one holds beliefs as to what one believes.

There are other ways to define “adult”; I will continue to clarify how I’m using the word as these writings unfold. Cutting to the chase, the guidelines (which will be explored in detail in subsequent essays) include, but are not limited to:

  • Getting to know yourself and your worldview – your values, beliefs and biases, and what experiences and other learnings inform them, and committing to this as an ongoing, lifelong process.
  • Related to the above, recognizing and suspending your preconceptions, judgments and assumptions;
  • Avoiding insults, labels and/or sweeping generalizations (note penultimate sentence in 3rd paragraph, above);
  • Getting clear on and honoring the difference between opinion and fact, where fact refers to an event or characteristic that reasonable competent individuals, regardless of their beliefs or opinions, agree on, and opinion refers to the meaning(s) an individual ascribes to a fact;
  • Related to the immediately preceding, providing specific, factual and preferably personal examples to support your opinions (as opposed to characterizing, generalizing and interpreting others’ opinions);
  • Getting and staying genuinely curious about yourself, others and the world;
  • Engaging (listening, speaking and asking) in order to learn, understand and clarify, and not to teach or persuade (unless teaching or persuasion has been agreed upon by participating parties in the conversation);
  • Committing to finding those places in which you actually agree with the other (similarities), and not just where you disagree (differences);
  • Agreeing to, and actually staying focused on, the specific content of the current conversation;
  • Feeling into and listening for the emotion(s) behind your own and others’ words;
  • Allowing yourself to understand, feel, embody and tell the other’s story as if it were your own (which goes significantly beyond the idea of walking in another’s shoes – which is a good place to start and useful, and has limitations that we’ll explore);
  • Honestly exploring and assessing how what you promote and what you protest impacts others, especially others who are “not like you” – in the broadest meaning of that phrase. Another way to state this is “Who stands to lose, and how and what will they lose, and who stands to win, and how and what will they win, if what I promote truly manifests and what I protest truly disappears?”

As these essays unfold, I am committed to exposing and owning my own worldview – those values, beliefs, biases and experiences that inform how I experience and interpret life. We’ll see how that goes.

Thanks for reading this far.

Coming Soon: Getting to Know Yourself and Your Worldview

Teaching, Coaching, Poetry…

… and moving the larger conversation forward.

I was fortunate to meet and sit down with Vin Dacquino this past week. Though we’d just met, our respective geographic, professional and personal similarities allowed us to speak as though we were old friends.

Thanks, Vin, and to the whole crew in Carmel, for your hospitality and generosity.

Revisiting “Donald Trump, Collective American Shadow, and ‘the Better Angels of Our Nature'”

Revisiting “Donald Trump, Collective American Shadow, and ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’”

PDF available here.

October 28, 2018 “Revisiting” Introduction:

In early September 2016, after the current President of the United States had been nominated by the Republican party as their candidate, I wrote the following piece concerning his embodiment of the collective American “shadow.” Now, over two years into his presidency, I am called to revisit and update this writing. What I’ve done below is to present the original and follow it with the update – thus, the original remains intact, with several minor corrections. The endnotes for the 2016 piece end with #17; the notes for the 2018 piece begin with #18.

September 2016


As with any written statement, what follows is filtered through the author’s worldview – in this case, mine – the result of my experiences, beliefs, values, relationships and aspirations, and also those aspects of myself of which I’m not aware – my Shadow (more about this below). To the extent I’m self-aware, my worldview at its best is global, perhaps universal, and embraces the importance of paradox for 21st-century adults – it allows me to see and hold simultaneously, as true, apparently contradictory facts and opinions. At its worst, where it only is nowadays under significant stress and when I forget myself, it can be ego- or group-centric – in the sense of “knowing” that I am, or my particular group is, good and right, and everyone else or all the other groups are bad and wrong.

These lines capture one example of what I mean by having a global or universal worldview:

[Someone] who feels and speaks from 
exactly the same gut-wrenching heartache
when the first-grader, the police officer, the
black man, the soldier, yes,
the human being
dies a violent death
in Bethesda or Baghdad,
Singapore or Sandy Hook,
San Bernardino or Saigon,
Hiroshima or Harlem…
[read more]*

As his words and actions filter through my worldview, my sense is that the 2016 Republican candidate for the presidency embodies the collective Shadow of the United States of America – those cultural traits that this country sees “out there” in others and denies in itself. My biases tend toward the strength that’s found in truthfulness, clarity, belonging, compassion, empathy, vulnerability and in the broadest sense of the word, love.

Something that I did not write in the September 2016 original and want to make clear here is that I grew up in the greater New York City area, in Yonkers, and became aware of Donald Trump, who’s eight years older than I am, when he began appearing in the New York tabloids on local television stations as a young heir, millionaire and real estate developer. I found him superficial then – something of a buffoon, and feel that he currently is grossly ignorant about many basic areas that healthy folks of any political persuasion would want in a leader.

I am fully aware that there are quite a few more worldviews out there. The diversity available at the intersections of genetics, experience, ethnicity, ancestry, beliefs, values, development, etc. etc. etc. is daunting. My desire in a leader is that he or she understand at least as much of “the world” – in the broadest, deepest sense of that word, as I do. Preferably more. My request is that anyone who responds to this writing actually reads it in its entirety and then responds, in fact, to this writing – and not to something that I have not said or intended here. If you have something to say about the Democratic candidate, the current president, your Uncle Bob or any other issue, please don’t share that here. Write that somewhere else.



In mid-March, 2003 I sat with Animas Valley Institute’s Bill Plotkin, Geneen Marie Haugan and others at the Merritt Center in Payson, AZ for 5 days of “Sweet Darkness: The Initiatory Gifts of the Shadow, Projections, Subpersonalities and the Sacred Wound.” On the evening of our first day there, America began bombing Iraq, and while we were working on our respective individual Shadows and projections during our time together, our country’s collective Shadow and projections – the evil “out there” – what we tend to see in all those other nations, groups, cultures and people, provided an opportunity for recognition, ownership, and integration.

“Shadow,” as I’m using it here, refers to disowned or repressed aspects or traits of an individual or group that the individual or group doesn’t recognize in itself and unknowingly tends to “project” onto to others (whether or not the others actually embody the projected trait – sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t). If I tend to have a disproportionately highly charged emotional response to someone I experience as “angry,” there’s a good chance that I’ve repressed or disowned my own anger. Until I recognize this, and work to integrate it, it will follow me around and allow me to see all these angry people everywhere I go, oblivious to my being the one constant at every scene of all this anger. Everyone else is angry. I’m not.

So, the behavior or trait itself, whether considered healthy or unhealthy, is not Shadow; the repression/ denial, and then projection of the trait or behavior onto others – again, whether or not they actually have or do it, is Shadow. There’s more to Shadow; this will suffice for now.

Thirteen years after that mid-March “Sweet Shadow” gathering and bombing, the citizens1 of the United States of America once again have an opportunity to see their disowned and repressed traits embodied not in a pre-emptive attack on another nation – which was rationalized through a series of lies about weapons of mass destruction, and which continues to manifest in 2016 in such a way as to make the Middle East and, in fact, the entire world more unstable and susceptible to acts of terrorism – but in the presidential candidacy of one man.

In the first case, despite the reports from two separate teams of U.N. weapons inspectors – the first led by a U.S. Marine Veteran, Scott Ritter,2 whose team reported that no such WMD existed, and the other, David Kay,3 whose report corroborated Ritter’s – the U.S. began bombing Iraq on March 19, 2003, and on May 1 of that year, President Bush, standing before and below a banner that read “Mission Accomplished” told the world that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”4

What’s the View Like for an ‘Ordinary’ Iraqi (or Vietnamese) Citizen?

The number of Iraqi civilians who were killed in those 6 weeks, and who died subsequently as a result of the destruction of much of the country’s infrastructure, remains a debatable issue – ranging from a low of around 151,000 to just over a million5^ – depending upon what is counted, how it’s counted and who is counting. Beyond Iraqi civilian deaths, by the end of 2004, “attacks on American forces averaged 87 per day, and the American death toll had passed 1000.”6^ As of September 11, 2016, 4,499^ American men and women in uniform had died in Iraq since the invasion, and of that number, 4,013 occurred since 20047^ – 8 months after ‘the United States and [its] allies [had] prevailed.’

The careful selection of “Major combat operations” at the beginning of that statement allows it to carry at least some morsel of truth, depending upon what “major” means to the respective speechwriters, the speech “deliverer” and the speech receivers, but it’s painfully clear that no one has prevailed and that the mission has not been accomplished, since the destabilization of Iraq still facilitates regular terrorist acts in that country, and over time has led to the emergence of the group now known as ISIL or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The ‘ordinary’ Iraqi teacher, nurse, carpenter, student – citizen – lost both a dictator and a moderately stable, if not fully “free,” middle class existence, and lives now amid the rubble of the American invasion and the daily possibility of firefights, terrorist attacks and an extensively disabled infrastructure. Many Iraqi’s are grateful for the demise of Saddam Hussein, and many – especially, but not only, male children who saw their families, neighborhoods and country decimated by American bombs – see the United States as evil and an aggressor. Some Iraqi’s hold both these views simultaneously – paradox, which, for anyone trying to get to the heart of and deeply understand the “truth(s)” around this issue, as opposed to win an argument, is essential.

Many of us in America are unable to see our country from the perspective of such an ‘ordinary’ Iraqi. While we felt the events of September 11, 2001 deeply, the impact of 13 years of ongoing terrorism and violence after eight months of attacks seems to be beyond our scope of understanding – and empathy.

Another example of the American projection of “evil out there” is Vietnam. While 40-plus years later, many of the architects of the American involvement there, including the late former Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara, have admitted the futility of that campaign, and many veterans – both those who volunteered and those who were drafted – have returned to Vietnam and met with their former foes, recognizing that they are more alike than different, our willingness to incessantly bomb that nation – with both human targets and the napalm-based attempts to defoliate the forests so the enemy could not hide, was seen as “evil” by many people on the planet and in the United States, and marked a divide that saw returning veterans being treated like criminals by antiwar activists while both Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses perpetuated the war which claimed 58,220^ U.S. military lives and, depending on how the counting is done, over a million^ Vietnamese military and civilian lives on both sides.8

The “Evil Out There”

The Republican candidate for President in 2016 has, in what seems to be a surprise even to him, self-selected to become a lightning rod for the fear, bullying, bigotry, misogyny, violence, intolerance and xenophobia of the collective American Shadow.9 He is allowing those of us who do, in fact, hold racist, sexist, violent and generally bigoted beliefs to find a champion in him – or at least in his rhetoric, and he is allowing others of us to look in horror – sometimes surprised horror, and sometimes not, at his language, his promises, and his apparent willingness to say anything – even when it is obvious that he either does not know what he’s talking about, he does know and he’s lying, or some combination thereof.

The Republican candidate personifies the bully that the United States, and any insecure, fearful and powerful individual or entity, can be – albeit without the ability to back up his rhetoric with strong action. Bullies tend to bully due to fear of their own inadequacy, weakness and competence – their sense of not being “enough,” and they tend to whine when someone stronger, more adequate, more competent shows up and does what has to be done to stop their bullying. Donald Trump did this during his party’s primary debates. He initiated the insults directed toward his opponents and toward the moderators, and then claimed he was being treated unfairly when someone criticized him. He claimed the role of victim amid his often inarticulate, fragmented, bullying insults.

Many of his supporters and his detractors are scared – the world is changing around them, and while they see themselves as good people, generally tolerant of others who have different skin pigmentations and beliefs, they don’t recognize that their latent prejudices are alive and well. Some of his supporters are outspoken bigots – including former leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and current leaders in a variety of “hate groups” who value a predominantly, if not exclusively, white, male and “Christian”10 world.

People who know us, and especially people who know us well, can see our Shadow and projections much more easily than we can: if I’m angry most of the time, don’t realize it, and am constantly pointing to others’ anger, my friends and family see that pretty clearly (and I’ll tend to deny it). If a country has 90 children, women and men die every day from gunshot wounds11 – a number that is unprecedented among citizens in every other post-industrialized nation on the planet; and a country is the only one to have ever used atomic weapons on another nation; and a country has its history in Vietnam and Iraq as noted above; and a country refers to other countries as an “axis of evil,”12 an “evil empire,”13 and proclaims to the world that “you’re either with us or you’re with the enemy,”14 and seems to perpetrate and perpetuate the illusion that all the “evil” is “out there,” it’s safe to say there’s some projection going on.

And, it’s essential to note that this same country can lay claim to an abundance of some equally important ‘good’ acts and traits as well – including its mobilization during two 20th-century World Wars; including countless billions of dollars in international aid when and where it’s been needed; including, despite all of the above, still being a country that attracts the foundational element of its existence – immigrants who want the opportunity to improve their lives. Again, this writing is focused on the opportunity to embrace Donald Trump’s candidacy as the personification of the collective American Shadow, not in any way to deny that there has been and is significant “evil out there” that needs to be addressed, and there has been and is significant “good in here” of which we can be proud. America has done and does both great harm and great good. Both are true. The denial of either captures a partial view, is dangerous and serves only to perpetuate partial truths toward some selected, limited agenda and end. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds…”15

Donald Trump’s candidacy is allowing us to see and reflect upon uncomfortable aspects of our national culture and choose the direction we would like to take as Americans. His varied messages are fear-based and fear-inciting, and in the words of M. Scott Peck, definitely grounded in an ignorance that could be evil: “The briefest definition of evil I know is militant ignorance. But evil is not general ignorance; more specifically it is militant ignorance of the Shadow.”16 Options abound for us, including the final words Abraham Lincoln spoke in his first inaugural address, inviting us to be touched “by the better angels of our nature.”17


October 28, 2018

As this 2018 update unfolds, the President of the United States of America within a ten-day period has publicly ridiculed and taunted18 a woman who has accused a Supreme Court nominee of sexual assault, has been laughed at (literally) by world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly for proclaiming that “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,”19 and has had his claims of being a self-made billionaire refuted by an ongoing investigation that reveals he has received the equivalent of 413 million dollars from his father’s real estate empire20 – an investigation that was motivated at least in part by his choosing to be the first presidential nominee and U.S. President to refuse to reveal his income tax reports.

In the months during which he began his run to become the Republican candidate, in the months during which he was the Republican nominee, and in the two-plus years since his election, an already divided and dysfunctional Congress has become increasingly more divided and uncivil, the tenor of public discourse – within the government, in the media, and among private citizens has become increasingly insulting, intolerant, aggressive, and territorial, led by a President who uses Twitter to attack people, make demonstrably false statements21, and execute his role in such a way that some members of his staff in the White House remove documents from his desk so he will not be able to sign them – an act seen by some as ethically heroic, and by others as a betrayal. The President continues to discredit the Paris Climate Accord despite agreement from scientists and leaders from around the world (including the U.S. until his election) that climate change, and humanity’s role in it, are real, and require increasingly more immediate action.22

One of his earlier and telling public statements came on February 27, 2017, with regard to his stance on healthcare reform: “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” he added. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” The President of the United States said this aloud in 2017. He may have been the only individual who did not know health care is a complicated issue – a remarkable ignorance in light of his relentless attacks on the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which helped provide access to affordable health care for some 20 million of the 45-50 million Americans who did not previously have such access. In response to the legislation, insurance companies raised premiums on current middle class policyholders and blamed President Obama for the increase.

In light of these specifics, perhaps his most chilling success is his ability to say things on the record (i.e. recorded), accuse his opponents of what he is saying or has just said, and convince his supporters that he is right – the very essence of the “projection” aspect of shadow mentioned in the first part of this essay.23 Of course, having followers who are willing to be complicit in perpetuating the projection is necessary, and the United States has no shortage of adults who, while following the leader (and not just this Republican leader), are happy to take him at his word, and ignore any evidence that suggests that “truth,” like health care, might be a bit more complicated.

More immediately, as this writing comes to an end, avowed Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc, was arrested and charged with sending pipe bombs, none of which detonated, to at least twelve prominent Democrats whom Trump has insulted and/or lied about over the past decade, including President Obama and Vice President Biden.24 Trump seems unable or unwilling to own that any of his rhetoric might encourage his more extreme, less stable followers to act on his words. That the Republican members of Congress remain equally unwilling and unable to publicly and unequivocally disavow the Republican President’s speech and behavior is more disturbing evidence of their putting party before country, a bias not limited to Republicans, and of both parties projection that the “evil” is out there somewhere, and not within.

In perhaps his greatest moment of a lack of self-awareness, in response to a mass shooting on October 27 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – a tragedy that is unfolding as I type this – Trump said, “It’s a terrible, terrible thing, what’s going on with hate in our country, frankly, and all over the world. And something has to be done,”25 again, completely oblivious to the implicit and explicit hate that he has espoused with his words these past three-plus years. The hatred and intolerance is somewhere out there, frankly all over the world, he is just an observer, and it has nothing to do with him. Projection indeed.

Finally, in country that has recently seen powerful men toppled, across diverse industries and ethnicities, due to their sexual harassment and/or assault of women, and in some cases, of other men, Trump, before being elected, is on the record bragging about his own history of grabbing, and ability to grab women sexually because he’s a star.26

In the two years that separate the original version of this writing and this revisited update, with the help of some friends and colleagues, we sent a copy of Killing America: Our United States of Ignorance, Fear, Bigotry, Violence and Greed to the President, the Vice President, and each member of Congress and the Supreme Court. Mailed on September 4, 2018, the book’s poems provide specific images of the last 25 years of our culture of ignorance, fear, bigotry, violence and greed in the United States. The Trump presidency has encouraged and continues to encourage these five qualities to rise from the bowels of the country and be spoken and acted upon by anyone who embodies them, from the most violent, racist bigot on social media, right up to the primary and fortunately temporary occupant of the White House. As distasteful and dangerous as these hateful acts and words are, their enormous visibility right now provides us with other, healthier opportunities for action and speech as well, including, and not limited to our right to vote on November 6, 2018.

It is up to each of us to choose Lincoln’s better angels of our nature – before it’s too late.



*from “A New President”
This poem has since been revised to include all three branches of the federal government. “Broken Branches” appears in Killing America: Our United States of Ignorance, Fear, Bigotry, Violence and Greed (2018); you can find an earlier version of the poem online here:

1Use of the word “citizens” is noted here because “American citizens” and/or “the American people” are ambiguous, if not meaningless phrases due to the diversity of beliefs, developmental worldviews, ethnicities, etc. that makes up the United States, or any nation or large group. I recognize that not every “American citizen” would agree that Donald Trump personifies the collective American Shadow (or even that the country has a collective Shadow). I believe, and provide evidence here, that he does, and it does.

2Scott Ritter  Much more available online.

David Kay Much more available online.

4 The quote, and the entire speech, are available from news sources around the world.

5^ Again, depending on what is counted and who’s counting there have been between 163,545 and 182,685 documented civilian deaths due to violence in Iraq between 2003 and 9/11/16. The numbers continue to increase weekly, if not daily.

^Regarding notes 5, 6, 7 & 8: One of the most insightful comments on what gets lost when we hear or speak about large numbers of deaths comes from Rabbi Marc Gellman’s remarks at the September 23, 2001 Prayer Service at Yankee Stadium: “On that day — on that day, 6,000 people did not die. On that day, one person died 6,000 times. We must understand this and all catastrophes in such a way, for big numbers only numb us to the true measure of mass murder. We say 6,000 died, or we say six million died and the saying and the numbers explain nothing except how much death came in how short a time. Such numbers sound more like scores or ledger entries than deaths of human beings.

“The real horror of that day lies not in its bigness, but in its smallness. In the small searing death of one person 6,000 times, and that one person was not a number. That person was our father or our mother or our son or our daughter or our grandpa or grandma or brother or sister or cousin or uncle or aunt or friend or lover, our neighbor, our co-worker, the woman who delivered our mail or the guy who put out our fires and arrested the bad guys in our town. And the death of each and every one of them alone would be worthy of such a gathering and such a grief.”

6^Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, et al. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. New York: Portfolio-Penguin, 2015 (p. 130). Beyond this particular quote, General McChrystal’s book unfolds a powerful look at evolving leadership that takes into account the business world, academic research, powerful lessons from NASA, the airline industry and military history, all of which inform his experience and evolution as Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force. The contrast between the author’s leadership perspective and that of the current candidate (now the President) is striking.

7^4,499 American military deaths as of 9/11/16 (4,013 of those from 2004-2016)

8^This site provides one starting point for calculating deaths in Vietnam:

9Examples of the candidate’s statements are abundant and ongoing. This link is just one source, chosen because it correlates his language with his loss of support from Republican leaders. A sampling of the statements follows.

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” – June 16, 2015, on undocumented Mexican immigrants.

“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”- July 18, 2015, on AZ Republican Senator John McCain, former pilot and POW in Vietnam.

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.” – November 12, 2015.

““Now this poor guy, you ought to see this guy.” (Mr. Trump jerked his arms around in front of his body and used a mocking tone to imitate a disabled New York Times reporter.) – November 24, 2015

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
– December 7, 2015.

“I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” – Feb. 6, 2016

“I don’t know anything about David Duke. O.K.? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.” – March 3, 2016 after fromer Ku Klux Klan leader Duke endorsed aspects of Trump’s message.

“I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, O.K.? I’m building a wall.” – June 6, 2016 on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, a federal judge overseeing a suit against the defunct Trump University.

“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.” On the parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, whose family is Muslim and who was killed in Iraq, after they denounced Mr. Trump at the Democratic National Convention July 30, 2016

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” – August 9, 2016 implying a connection between the right to own guns and stopping Hillary Clinton’s ability to nominate judges should she win the election.

“He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS. I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”   – Aug 10, 2016 referring to President Obama

10See the Southern Poverty Law Center’s database for more on the individuals and groups who have publicly supported Trump’s messages: The use of “Christian” to refer to these groups is misleading, as is the use of “Muslim” to refer to individuals or groups who claim to kill in the name of Islam. In both cases, Christian and Muslim, these groups have bastardized the religion they reference – whether in ignorance of the religion or in an intentional attempt to legitimize their bigotry/hatred/violence.

115-year average, 2010-2014: Injury Prevention and Control: Data and Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

12“axis of evil” was used by President George W. Bush in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union address to refer to Iran, Iraq and North Korea:

13“evil empire” was used by President Ronald Reagan to refer to the Soviet Union. He later recanted his use of the phrase:

14President Bush repeated several iterations of this statement: The fallacy of his simplistic “either-or” and “no in-between” stance played itself out in real time as many nations who “were with us” and joined the alliance to find those responsible for the September 11 attacks, were neither “with us” nor “with the enemy” when the United States chose to attack Iraq in March 2003.

15Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago. “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Accessed via

16M. Scott Peck. The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997 (p. 74).

17President Lincoln’s final paragraph reads: “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

18  (widely reported throughout the media).

19 (widely reported throughout the media).

20 (NY Times special investigation; widely reported throughout the media).

21See note 9 above, for examples of Donald Trump’s relentless comfort with deceit: November 12, 2015 & August 10, 2016 entries. See also:






Text, other than that cited in other sources, Copyright © 2016, 2018 by Reggie Marra


Narrative Healing: Transcending the Illness Narrative

April 7, 2018 – 9:45 AM – 3:00 PM
$15.00 – cash or check at the door
Lunch Included
Bring your pen, paper, laptop or whatever you write with and on!

Unitarian Society of New Haven
700 Hartford Turnpike
Hamden, CT 06517
See Map Below.

“It is true that the mind is restless and difficult to control, but it can be conquered… through regular practice and detachment” (6.35) – The Bhagavad Gita, c. 500-200 BCE.

Workshop Description: The power of story to heal was understood 2,000 years ago. We now have over 30 years of research that confirms this philosophical, intuitive understanding. This workshop will engage you in your own narrative healing process, introduce the salient history, philosophy and research, and prepare you to write and revise your story from a salutogenic, rather than pathogenic, perspective. Deepen your abilities to embrace your own healing and nurture that of your clients, patients, students or loved ones. Find out: do you have your story – or does your story have you?

Whether you are navigating your own personal healing, coming to terms with the ongoing cultural and societal healing that is necessary to address American violence at home and abroad, or the larger global issues of pain and suffering, story matters. Your narrative impacts what you see, how you see and what you can do next. Join us on April 7 for an experiential introduction to narrative healing.

Remember your pen, paper, laptop or whatever you write with and on!

Reggie Marra will facilitate this workshop and also read selections from his forthcoming book, Killing America.

We appreciate your paying by check or cash at the door.
A light lunch is included.


Thanks to Karen Swanson and the folks at Hope’s Nest / the Unitarian Society of New Haven for making this workshop happen.

Please let Karen know if you plan to attend:
Please contact Reggie if you have content-specific questions: