One could say an extreme mediocrity exists in much of the masculine in America today, characterized by emptiness, impoverished relational capacity, an overblown or under-developed sense of self, and a life with others that is often devoid of meaning. Such men are filled of things like excess television, excess video games, excess sexual focus, emotional shallowness, and the man’s agenda at the expense of others. No words for feelings. Violence. Privilege for privilege sake, which results in decadence, and in the end decay, and finally death. The Western world, which in bell hooks’ terminology, is inherently white, supremacist and patriarchal, is currently experiencing this decadence, decay, and death. The great psychologist of the twentieth century, Carl Jung, gave a clear and also fear-invoking expression of the masculine and the feminine. In Jung’s conception the masculine is symbolized by the logos, which he referred to as the power to make meaning, to be meaningful, and to be experienced as meaningful by loved ones and by the collective humanity around us. Not the super-rational Western man, incapable of emotion and in fact regret, but a man who lives deeply, loves well, and is well loved. A question then rises, how many men do you know who are experienced as meaningful in their relationships with women, with their children, with others?
Now this brings me, in a postmodern sense, to the good involved in multiple views, and also to the Jesuit and Quaker notions of the need for persuasion rather than coercion, listening rather than over-talking, and the idea that among many “goods” the essence of the mature person is to seek “ultimate good.” I think we can branch Jung’s typology out and encounter some of the current complexities that exist in human relations by noticing that all of us have both masculine and feminine within us, and the extent to which we hide or subdue either of these, we suffer. Jung himself pointed out this tenacious aspect of human fallibility, that when we deny our faults, we are consumed by shadow. When we are consumed by shadow we in effect project our shadow onto the world with harmful results—we refuse to take responsibility for life and in fact block others rather than inviting them to help us change and become more whole. To be more whole is to be more capable of honoring the feminine and the masculine in ourselves. For Jung, when we choose denial, instead of living a responsible life of responsible love and appropriate power with others, we fall into blaming our own mediocre life on others, the environment, or God. Jung felt denial (the inability and in fact unwillingness to recognize our own faults and change) was the most stubborn of all human faults. But we protect ourselves with good reason, he said, because to look at our own evil or our own shadow directly, is, Jung felt, self-shattering. Therefore we avoid it at all costs. And if we decide to face the shadow, we must do so with great care. Even so, Jung said the way to better ground is relatively simple. In order to heal our fear of our own shadow, and heal our inability to love and serve life deeply and well, we must have two things: insight and good will. In the language of family, we need understanding and love. At this crossroads of understanding and love, according to Jung, the human and the divine are one.
Jung conceived of the feminine as the eros, but not the blown-out glammed and glitzed porn culture of American media and overblown masculine agendas. Rather, he conceptualized the eros as the womblike existence that gives peace, the life-giving sacrificial essence willing to undergo almost anything in order to preserve life, the wild mystery at odds with all who might try to come against the the child, the family, or the future together. For me, Mochis comes to mind, the Cheyenne woman warrior whose ferocity is legendary. After the Sand Creek Massacre in the late 1800s in which US Cavalry slaughtered Cheyenne elders, women, and children and mutilated their bodies, Mochis took up the ax and fought as a warrior and killed many for 11 years until she was captured and shipped by train to Florida where she was incarcerated by the United States Army as a Prisoner of War. My mother comes to mind, with her bravery and her heart of irrevocable forgiveness, and my wife with her vitality and her essence that is more fire than water. Not to mention my Czech grandmother. In our family, we call her the Great One.
I think we can see today that often the masculine has tried to subdue and in fact overtake the feminine. The masculine is infatuated with a pseudo eros, an eros he himself has pumped up to proportions that amount to oblivion. That brand of masculine cannot face its own feminine, for to do so would shatter him and he would then have to integrate the feminine, honor the feminine and in fact truly love the feminine in order to be healed and whole. In like fashion the feminine has often usurped the masculine, setting itself against the masculine through bitterness, anger, and condemnation that amounts to giving the man pariah status, sometimes claiming not only in the core of relationships, but also at national and international levels, that the man is meaningless and in fact absurd. That form of feminine cannot face its own masculine, for to do so would be too shattering and would then require the feminine to integrate the masculine, to take him in with care and enduring affection, to truly love in order to be healed and made whole. In my experience working with women and men as a systems psychologist for the past 15 years, we carry mutual disintegration in our hands. Understanding and love are required if we are to embrace and love both the feminine and the masculine, inside ourselves, and in our relationships with others.
The story collection, American Masculine, delves into the mystery some, and depicts men who are often desolate, void, violent, and at odds with the feminine and in effect, at odds with themselves. These men, like myself, and many men I know, desire to move and change and become capable of giving and receiving love. But to become humble sometimes requires being humbled. I know such men, whose shadows extend and do harm, and who have sometimes been graced to come into a deeper and more redemptive love, and who have wept at the beauty that exists when they let themselves be shattered and let themselves emerge from that long journey into something new. I admire them, and hope to be with them when the dawn comes.