This Thanksgiving, with national division everywhere, I'm going to be thinking about the bad guys, villains and adversaries, battles and conflict. I'm going to be thinking about my own dark side, and the suffering it can create when unacknowledged and unchecked. This is actually quite in keeping with the original spirit of Thanksgiving, a holiday of unity created in its modern form by Abraham Lincoln at the height of a bitter American Civil War.
Who is the villain of Occupy Wall Street? Some might say Mayor Michael Bloomberg, or Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, both of whom ordered large paramilitary raids on peaceful protesters. Some might say the police, or the bankers, or those at the Chicago Board of Trade who held up signs saying "1%" and threw McDonald's job applications at the protesters below. Some might say corporations, or "the system", and yet others would say those who engage in drum circles late at night or do illegal drugs in a public place and endanger others. Some might simply say, the 1% who use much of society's resources for their own purposes.
I would point to the concept of the villain itself as the villain. For a villain, "the other", lets us avoid dealing with the dark part that resides in each of us. Here's my friend Deepak Chopra in his book The Shadow Effect: "The dark side of human nature thrives on war, struggle, and conflict. As soon as you talk about winning, you have lost already."
We all have dark thoughts -- individually and as a nation. Fear, lust, anger, jealousy, deceit drive much of our decision-making. Yet, these are parts of ourselves we run away from. As a society, we have crafted a culture and set of institutional arrangements to deny this part of ourselves. This is why it has taken so long to even admit we have a problem of wealth inequality. It's the denial of the dark part of ourselves. But diabolical energy is part of human spirit, because we are dualistic beings. You cannot know honesty without knowing deceit, good cannot exist without evil, and life is not life without death. Our challenge is to reconcile all of these forces as they all exist in each of us. Any institutional arrangement that denies this, that relies on images of perfection bereft of the shadow, will inevitably be dominated by the very forces of that darkness. Namely fear of the shadow, ironically.
This is The Shadow Effect.
We have been conditioned to fear the shadow side of life and the shadow side of ourselves. When we catch ourselves thinking a dark thought or acting out in a behavior that we feel is unacceptable, we run, just like a groundhog, back into our hole and hide, hoping, praying, it will disappear before we venture out again. Why do we do this? Because we are afraid that no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to escape from this part of ourselves. And although ignoring or repressing our dark side is the norm, the sobering truth is that running from the shadow only intensiﬁes its power. Denying it only leads to more pain, suffering, regret, and resignation. the shadow will charge, and instead of us being able to have control over it, the shadow winds up having control over us, triggering the shadow effect.
In other words, if we resolve to Occupy Ourselves -- to acknowledge all of ourselves -- especially our darkest aspects -- only then can we stop the fear that is running ourselves and our society.
Whether we are dealing with Joe Paterno at Penn State or any number of politicians doing the bidding of their donors, that is what we are seeing. In attempting to run away from the shadow, Paterno allowed more harm to come to the program and to the children of his region. The scariness of these issues compels leaders to avoid them or deny they exist altogether. Whether it is Michael Bloomberg and the obvious need to reform a corrupt banking system or Joe Paterno and his compulsion to participate in a mass cover-up rather than confront the terrifying issue of child rape, the things that scare our leaders the most whether it is bank reform or sexual assault are the issues we most need to tackle. And those issues can only be tackled if we acknowledge they exist. It's only by acknowledging our shadow that we can prevent our shadow from running our live. We must occupy ourselves.
Even the 99% versus 1% rhetoric lets the shadow take control. For we cannot pit one faction against another and expect anything but deep bitter divisions. We must end our collective denial, and recognize that wealth inequality is something we all must invest in solving. As a society, it is time to end our collective madness, and recognize our darkness. This does not mean we must admit we are evil people, no, that is not right, but to admit that our lust and darkness is a passionate undercurrent in determining how we behave and who we are.
Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday to do this. It was Abraham Lincoln who during the Civil War proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving. That was a time of deep division, of bitter recriminations, and of villains. And yet, he said what we might adhere to today, in his second inaugural.
We can succeed only by concert. It is not "Can any of us imagine better?" but "Can we all do better?" Object whatsoever is possible, still the question recurs, "Can we do better?" The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.
This Thanksgiving, I'm going to occupy myself a little more. Perhaps if we all occupy ourselves a little more this Thanksgiving, together we shall save our country.