Pacing in the Shadows of Our Finger-Pointing

01/13/2011 09:50 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In reaction to President Obama's call for an era of greater civility and Arianna Huffington's blog of 1/10/2011.

If we begin to think as if the press and each of us have both the ability and the responsibility to be part of the collective immune system, then we need to suspend our team sport mentality when the bell of outrage rings and we start tabulating the wins and losses. As a psychotherapist, I agree. There is a pace required for deep reflection and certainly for collaboration that would mean stopping to hear, not only one another's point of view, but to hear how they have formulated that view, so we can ffinally begin to expand our capacity for empathy.

To be therapeutic (as in healing and mending), addressing our differences must include seeking truth, both the subjective and the factual. This can only be done when we are all willing to be wrong, see our own mistakes, and recognize how much in common we all have. This implies the need for much less harshness of judgment, first towards ourselves since harshness most often results in the backlash of shame, humiliation, ultimate resentment and even revenge.

This becomes an emergency when more and more Americans are becoming evangelical sponsors of domestic and foreign warfare of ideas and ideals, especially when they have no intention of lessening the ferocity of their energies. For any of us, in fact, emotions can too often go unrecognized for their capacity to fuel or deny inquiry, turning into an adrenaline that makes fighting fun, fun to watch, to do and to pay for.

Unwittingly -- and with help from our media that now produces news as a profit center -- we have become addicted to sensationalism, and our attention span lessens as we switch from one disaster to another. Pacing needs assistance. It takes time to get to know another's viewpoint. It takes a slower heart rate, a lower adrenaline and provides less of the thrill and horrors of verbal warfare.

To say that we are all connected is to speak of an ecology not commonly used in the human aspect of our climate. And that would mean owning up to our not only being connected to each other and the rest of the planet, but also the need to include by implication, our search for the diversity existing within ourselves and everyone else.

We already know, and will know more in the coming days, much about the individual psychopathology of Jared Loughner that could have lead to the bloody Tucson massacre last Saturday. But if we watch with horror and then simply promise to be better, we commit a dangerous kind of fraud in not learning more.

It's not about blame, but rather the need to ponder our own violence of commission or omission, our being swept up in the circus atmosphere of show and yell. If we continue to play who's on first and who wins and who loses, then we lose the opportunity to explore the concept of the shadow which, though distressing in content at first, may well save the day.

Ecologically speaking, our job is to become acquainted with the human terrain which influences our decisions and sometimes surrenders us to authority. And, just as we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of history if we don't learn from them, that learning includes the weather systems we still carry from our past, our being stuck in prejudices we need to admit before we can fix.

Amidst so much repetition of the urge for violence and vengeance and glory, we need more than ever the truer story of how we came to hate or fear or have to win as the basis of a brittle self-esteem.

The shadow, Carl Jung's notion of the formation of compartments where we attempt to bury the emotions that we hate or fear, eventually plays tricks on us as any disease process underlying the soil upon which we are building. The feelings fester and erupt into horrific explosions or, even more frequently, they foment into the "reasons" for our hatred of one another. This is the demonizing that comes from the desperation of projecting our hated parts onto others. We see this in marriages of endless fighting and blame, of wars where each party feels utterly innocent, and in any union in which no party will take responsibility for his/her part.

The appeal of coming to know our shadows is that we might be able to stop the exhausting race to be the best, and rather become part of a system in which there is more support for the truth without having so called experts give us orders that change from day to day with the guru of the moment. Most of us yearn to be known, to be seen -- that part of us that many of us loved in the film "Avatar." We long to admit that we don't know, or made a mistake or that we are confused, and to have guidance that respects our inner terrain without building empires over it.

The truth might just set us free, if we make the time and create the supports to help us all metabolize the many shades of feeling that we bring with us into the conversation. This might then be our chance for a true time out; one not meant to induce conforming quickly to the current rules. It might be a chance to evolve and integrate all the feelings of the terrain of human living, without which our promises and odes to change become too hollow.

Even if this might seem like a dream, each real bit of wisdom begins that way, as it becomes translated into practical terms. After all, isn't it the American way to startwith a dream and make it reality?