Healing America’s Narratives: Dominos, Defoliation, Death, & Democracy

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Six of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (available October 2022)]

Decades before the 2003 U. S. invasion of Iraq, the United States invaded Vietnam — initially with “advisors” and eventually with bombs, troops, and bullets. After its defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to leave the former French colony, Indochina — as Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia were then known — which it had occupied during the war. After Japan’s departure, France’s attempt to reassert control of the area was thwarted by popular support for Ho Chi Minh. Under his leadership, on September 2, 1945, the “Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” emerged. It borrowed language and concepts from both the American and French revolutions, and it listed grievances against the French colonizers in 1945, much as the British colonists, who would eventually identify as Americans, had done against their British governors in 1776. The Vietnamese proclamation begins:

“‘We hold truths that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’” This immortal statement is extracted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. Understood in the broader sense, this means: “‘All peoples on the earth are born equal; every person has the right to live to be happy and free.’”¹

In 1945 and 1946 Ho Chi Minh wrote repeatedly to President Truman and other world leaders, and at least once to the United Nations, asking for humanitarian aid because some two million Vietnamese had died of starvation in the final years of World War II. The U. S. president, the other leaders and the United Nations did not respond. Ho concluded that “We apparently stand quite alone; we shall have to depend on ourselves.”² When the French began their eight-year war against Ho Chi Minh’s government and its followers in 1946, the U. S., first under Truman and then under Eisenhower, helped arm the French and financed most of the French effort.

With the 1949 Communist victory in China, and the faith that the Viet Minh had in Ho Chi Minh, the U. S. articulated and began to act on the “domino” theory — that if one Southeast Asian country were to succumb to Communism, the rest would follow suit, and that if free elections were allowed, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia would be controlled by Communists. Said differently, the U. S. wanted to stop the possible spread of Communism in the region by preventing free democratic elections.

In April 1953 President Eisenhower had delivered his “The Chance for Peace” speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Widely known as the “Cross of Iron” speech, it celebrates the end of World War II, warns of the Soviet Union’s post-war behaviors, and argues both against the costs of war and for hope, freedom, and democracy. It also includes, less famously than the cross of iron metaphor, these five precepts:

First: No people on earth can be held, as a people, to be enemy, for all humanity shares the common hunger for peace and fellowship and justice.

Second: No nation’s security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations.

Third: Any nation’s right to form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.

Fourth: Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.

And fifth: A nation’s hope of lasting peace cannot be firmly based upon any race in armaments but rather upon just relations and honest understanding with all other nations.³

Beginning almost immediately, and continuing for the next twenty-plus years in Vietnam and in various places around the globe to the present day, the United States would violate Eisenhower’s first, third, fourth, and fifth precepts, and engage an ongoing national debate about the second. The Soviets and Chinese would exacerbate the situation, but they didn’t claim to adhere to these same precepts.

Under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy the U.S. first ignored and then incrementally opposed Ho Chi Minh in the north; set up, supported, and eventually disposed of Ngo Dinh Diem in the south; and increased the presence and levels of engagement of U. S. military advisors. President Johnson, with the financial blessings of Congress, then officially sent U. S. combat forces to Vietnam without declaring war. Johnson and Nixon each escalated specific aspects of the undeclared war both on the ground and in the air. As we know, it didn’t end well.

More than 58,000 Americans, and depending how the counting is done, some three million Vietnamese combatants and civilians lost their lives during the war. Millions more on both sides died due to poisoning from the defoliant Agent Orange.

In 1995 former secretary of defense Robert McNamara published In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam,⁴ in which he explored eleven lessons learned. He would elucidate another set of lessons in his conversation with director Errol Morris in the 2003 film, The Fog of War. The architects of America’s policies and war in Vietnam ignored Eisenhower’s precepts. The post-9/11 architects of America’s policies and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would go on to ignore Eisenhower’s precepts and both sets of McNamara’s lessons learned — which we’ll explore in the next essay. The office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) would eventually publish What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction in August 2021.

I’ll leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions about political and military lessons learned since World War II.

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¹“Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam” (September 2, 1945); multiple sources online; here’s one: http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/ps/vietnam/independence.pdf

²Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, (New York: Random House, 1988), 148–53. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: Harper Perennial, 1999/1980), 469–71. Sheehan puts the number of letters and telegrams from Ho Chi Minh to Truman and his Secretary of State at eleven over an 18-month period and notes that Britain, China and the Soviet Union also ignored his requests for help at the time. China and the Soviets would later provide financial and military assistance when the U.S. began financing France’s efforts. “We apparently stand quite alone; we shall have to depend on ourselves,” Sheehan, 149. Zinn includes an excerpt from one of Ho’s letters, 470–71. The U.S. State Department classified and locked away the correspondence, which would not become public until the publication of the Pentagon Papers, Sheehan, 152–53.

³President Dwight Eisenhower, “The Chance for Peace,” April 16, 1953. Audio: https://www.eisenhowerlibrary.gov/eisenhowers/speeches. Text: https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/dwighteisenhowercrossofiron.htm. Accessed June 5, 2021.

⁴Robert S. McNamara, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, (Vintage, 1996), 321–23.

The Fog of War, Errol Morris, director, (Sony, 2003).

⁶John F. Sopko, et. al., What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, August 2021) vii-xi, https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/lessonslearned/SIGAR-21-46-LL.pdf

Healing America’s Narratives: Slavery, Civil Rights, and Whose Lives Matter

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Five of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022)]

In the conventional history of the United States, we tend not to hear or read too much about the actual moments of invasion of African communities, the violent kidnappings, the wretched conditions for those who made it onto the ships, the watery graves of those who died in transport, the felt experience of any one of these human beings amid those unimaginable episodes, and the many subsequent episodes of being bought and sold and charged with forced, unpaid, backbreaking daily labor. That sentence itself does a feeble job of capturing the enormity of the horror inherent in these acts.

Amid our current cacophony of divisive voices screaming at each other through often narrow, partial views regarding race, racism, antiracism, critical race theory, and whose lives matter, it’s essential to remember how we got where we seem to be and to consider where we may be going from here.

Remember that, in order to convince slave state planter-politicians to sign what would become the U.S. Constitution — providing them with additional seats in the House of Representatives and additional electoral votes in presidential elections based on the number of enslaved humans they owned — the “three-fifths compromise” effectively valued each enslaved person as three-fifths of a human being. These individuals, who had been torn from their homes and their families, were deemed to be worth 60% of a full human being for tax and representation (of their owners) purposes. Without slave labor, wealthy plantation owners and politicians would not have fared as well as they did — if fare well they would have at all.

Remember that the Emancipation Proclamations in 1862 and 1863 announced but could not enforce the freedom of formerly enslaved people.

Remember that the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which made slavery unlawful in 1865, was followed almost immediately by the formation of the Ku Klux Klan in Pulaski, Tennessee, and remember that the U. S. was among the last of the slave-trading and slave-owning countries to ban both trading and owning enslaved human beings.¹

Remember that the 14th Amendment in 1868 guaranteed citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States, prevented any state from depriving citizens of life, liberty, or property without due process and from denying any citizen equal protection of the laws. Notice and remember that 150-plus years later, our nation still struggles to manifest this particular destiny of equality.

Remember that the 15th Amendment in 1870, which granted formerly enslaved males the right to vote, was followed by decades of lynchings, beatings, local Jim Crow policies, and Black Code laws, especially in the South. Remember that such abominations prevented U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote (and other rights) — through threats and violence, convict leasing, and low level bureaucracy that included “testing” that no white man, including the testers themselves, had to endure or could have passed as a prerequisite to voting.²

Consider that, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, between 1877 and 1950 some 4,425 lynchings of blacks by whites occurred in the United States.³ In the previous twelve years — euphemistically referred to as Reconstruction, an additional 2,000 lynchings took place, including thirty-four mass lynchings.⁴ Historically, lynchings have included beatings, burnings, shootings, stabbings, hangings, and other torture, sometimes in combination, and were often announced in advance in local newspapers and on posters, and attended by hundreds and sometimes thousands of white spectators, including children.

Fast forward to the third decade of the twenty-first century and one disturbing observation (among many): it’s a step in the right direction that a white police officer, Derrick Chauvin, was found guilty of murdering George Floyd, who was black, and that Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan, all of whom are white, were found guilty of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a black man. Had these two murders been the first of their kind — outside any historical context — they would warrant our outrage and grief. That they occurred in the historical context of two-hundred-plus years of American proclamation, declaration, legislation, and opinion regarding discrimination is the catalyst for tens of thousands of individuals gathering and grieving in public, and not just in the United States, in the name of equal protection and justice.

Yes, we have made progress as a nation, and we still have much work to do. Both are true. For an expansion of this essay that includes a more detailed look at race in the U.S. military, critical race theory, and antiracism in the context of collective Shadow, see Chapter Five in Healing America’s Narratives.

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  1. For a list of countries and the dates they ended slave-trading and (usually subsequently) slave-owning, see: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-slavery/chronology-who-banned-slavery-when-idUSL1561464920070322
    For an overview/timeline of slavery and civil rights in the U.S.
    see https://www.ushistory.org/more/timeline.htm
  2. Ferris State University provides examples of literacy tests from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. See if you can pass:
    Alabama: https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/pdfs-docs/origins/al_literacy.pdf
    Louisiana: https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/question/2012/pdfs-docs/literacytest.pdf
    Mississippi: https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/pdfs-docs/origins/ms-littest55.pdf
  3. Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America, 39–47. These pages provide statistics along with some narrative. The volume’s 90 pages provide a searing look into its title and is also available online: https://lynchinginamerica.eji.org/report/
  4. Equal Justice Initiative, Reconstruction in America, 6–7, 40–55. As with all of EJI’s publications, these pages are representative; the volume warrants a full reading. Also online: https://eji.org/report/reconstruction-in-america/https://eji.org/report/reconstruction-in-america/

Healing America’s Narratives: Trails of Tears and Broken Treaties

[Part of a series adapted from Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022). This essay is an overview that scratches the surface of Chapter Four of the book.]

Some five-hundred-plus years ago, European explorers began bumping into land masses now known as South, Central, and North America and the islands of the Caribbean. The indigenous inhabitants of these areas include the Taíno, Aztec, Lakota, Yucatán, Iroquois, Inca, Nez Perce, Huron, Apache, Cherokee, Navajo, Olmec, Inuit, Toba, Quechua and Chibcha, among many, many more.

These peoples had been on these lands for some 10,000 to 20,000 years when the English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French met, interacted with, and eventually colonized them.¹ Slaughter, rape, removal, and betrayal often characterized the colonization process, which in contemporary parlance is a literal cancelation of people and culture. The invaders interpreted what was different as “lesser” (or, as some might say today, not “woke”) and perceived the unfamiliar humans as “innocents,” “savages,” or both.

A pattern emerged: arrival, intrusion, violence, commerce, acquisition of land through treaty, and acquisition of more land through violence and treaty betrayal. As more Europeans arrived or as something of value was discovered in or on the land, the Europeans and then the Americans broke treaties and took what they wanted.

In his enforcement of the 1830 “Act to provide for an exchange of lands with the Indians residing in any of the states or territories, and for their removal west of the river Mississippi,” Indian killer, slaveowner and president, Andrew Jackson, promised that “There, beyond the limits of any State, in possession of land of their own, which they shall possess as long as the Grass grows or water runs. I will protect them and be their friend and father.”² Estimates put the total number of humans removed during the 1830s at around 100,000, with 15,000 deaths along the way.³ Said differently, an infant, a child, a woman, or a man was forced to leave home 100,000 times and travel hundreds of miles in horrible conditions. More specifically, some 2,858 refugees were forced to travel some 1,200 miles by steamboat and some 12,496 were forced to travel by foot and wagon for 2,050 miles over three different routes.⁴ Their friend and father didn’t protect them.

That’s a synopsis of one example. Here’s a list of several more, among many: the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 (broken amid a gold rush shortly after it was signed); the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre and the retaliatory 1866 Fetterman Massacre; the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 (broken in 1874 with the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, and again in 1877 with the Congressional “act to ratify an agreement with certain bands of the Sioux Nation of Indians and also with the Northern Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians” in direct violation of Article XII of the 1868 treaty, effectively taking the Black Hills without consent of 75% of adult male Indians).⁵

By 1890, the 60 million acres of the Great Sioux Reservation, as identified in the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty, had been reduced to about 22 million acres in 1877 due to government’s and prospectors’ interest in gold and other minerals, and then further reduced to 12.7 million acres through the Dawes (General Allotment) Act of 1887. The Dawes Act ended the tribes’ communal holding of land and allotted set acreage to individual Indians, who were required to farm the land for twenty-five years. Any land that was not so allotted would be sold to the public.⁶

Less than thirty years after the 1890 slaughter of some 150 children, women, and men at Wounded Knee, Choctaw men whose parents and grandparents had been removed from their land in the 1830s enlisted to fight in World War I and became the first “Code Talkers,” using their native language so enemy spies could not understand messages. Some thirty-three tribes, most famously the Navajo, would similarly serve in World War II.

Fast forward to 1980: the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that in 1877 the U.S. government had in fact illegally taken the Black Hills in violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The ruling upheld a 1979 Court of Claims decision that called on the U. S. to pay $17.5 million plus 5% annual interest, which at the time totaled about $106 million. The Sioux refused to take the settlement, which is now worth more than $1 billion, asserting that the land was never for sale, that money was not just compensation, and that the value of the gold, timber, and other resources removed from the area is significantly greater than the money offered.⁷ The issue remains unresolved in 2022.

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1. Adam Rutherford. “A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas.” Atlantic. October 3, 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/10/a-brief-history-of-everyone-who-ever-lived/537942/. Accessed March 8, 2021. The article is adapted from Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. New York: The Experiment, 2017.

2. Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States 1492-Present, (Harper Perennial, 1999/1980), 133–34.

3. Elizabeth Prine Pauls, “Trail of Tears,” Encyclopedia Britannicahttps://www.britannica.com/event/Trail-of-Tears, Accessed February 10, 2021.

4. Claudio Saunt, Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory, (W. W. Norton, 2020), 280.

5. Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, Article XII: https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/fort-laramie-treaty#transcript

6. Miles Hudson, “Wounded Knee Massacre,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 22, 2020, https://www.britannica.com/event/Wounded-Knee-Massacre Also: The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Dawes General Allotment Act,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Dec. 4, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Dawes-General-Allotment-Act. Accessed April 23, 2021.

7. Numerous legal, historical and journalistic sources exist for this story. See Kimbra Cutlip, “In 1868, Two Nations Made a Treaty, the U.S. Broke It and Plains Indian Tribes are Still Seeking Justice,” Smithsonian Magazine, November 7, 2018, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/1868-two-nations-made-treaty-us-broke-it-and-plains-indian-tribes-are-still-seeking-justice-180970741/; and Tom LeGro, et al. “Why the Sioux Are Refusing $1.3 Billion”, PBS News Hour, August 24, 2011, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/north_america-july-dec11-blackhills_08-23 Accessed May 4, 2021.

Healing America’s Narratives: Fear of the Feminine & the Subjugation of Women

[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Three of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow (October 2022)]

True for a boy as well, a girl born in 1774, 1862, 1917, 1963, 1971, 2001, 2017, 2022,* or any other year received cultural givens and expectations that were unique to the time, place, and familial, ethnic, racial, and financial circumstances of her birth and childhood. That she was born a biological female provided an additional given that would impact what was expected of and available to her.

While an investigation of any aspect of our collective national Shadow discloses disturbing manifestations of what we refuse to see in ourselves, the fear of the feminine and the subjugation of women are both disturbing manifestations and foundational elements of America’s Shadow. More to the point, it is the persistent absence of the qualities of the healthy feminine, further undermined by the relentless presence of the qualities of the unhealthy masculine, that encourages and amplifies and may very well be the primary cause of America’s collective Shadow. Specifying “healthy” and “unhealthy” above is essential to this argument.

The feminine, as used here, tends more toward a concern with care, embrace, collaboration, mercy, and compassion, among other traits; the masculine tends more toward a focus on rights, independence, individualism, justice, and wisdom. While this not an exhaustive list, notice that each tendency, whether it’s considered feminine or masculine, can be beneficial in its healthy manifestation and that all of them are descriptive, not prescriptive: we can observe them, but we’re not suggesting that any woman or man is “supposed to” embody the respective feminine or masculine tendencies in a certain way.

While the historical subjugation of women is visible to any honest person who is willing to look, the fear of the feminine manifests in less obvious ways. This essay posits that those men who primarily manifest unhealthy versions of masculine traits like rights, independence, individualism, justice and wisdom — which historically have resulted in dominance over, violence against, and subjugation of women and others — often fear healthy feminine traits like relationship, care, mercy, and compassion as emasculating rather than integrating. More specifically, cisgender, heterosexual males who historically have been conditioned to “be men” (i.e. stereotypically unhealthy masculine) experience both a strong attraction to the power of the feminine in women and a fear-of-emasculation-based aversion to the feminine in themselves. They mistake healthy feminine-masculine integration as emasculation, which terrifies them, so they subjugate what they fear.

The white, British, Christian, male founders and earliest leaders of the United States were captives of their cultural givens (as we all are of our own). Their Bill of Rights did not explicitly demonstrate any care about or for women; their Declaration of Independence did not embrace women; their proclamations of freedom and justice for all included no mercy for women, and the significant wisdom inherent in the Constitution they framed lacked compassion for women. These statements are true as well for the Africans they kidnapped, brought here, and enslaved, for their enslaved descendants, and for the native peoples whom they betrayed, expelled, and slaughtered.

And, yes, it’s easy to look from the third decade of the twenty-first century with the benefit of much of what these founders gave us and invited us to subsequently discover and amend, and point out where we think they came up short. They had the benefit of neither the documents they created nor the learnings from subsequent fits and starts of implementing those documents, as we do, in our 246 years of history. Their documents remain remarkable; their human shortcomings were real. Both are true. We have progressed in our movement toward equality for women; we still have a long way to go. Both are true.

*Selected (among many) years that directly or indirectly impacted the lives of girls and women:

  • 1774: two years before the nation’s ‘birth’;
  • 1862: the Emancipation Proclamations & three years before the Thirteenth Amendment freed enslaved women (and men);
  • 1917: three years before the Nineteenth Amendment would give women the right to vote;
  • 1963: two years before the Voting Rights Act would begin to enforce the Nineteenth Amendment, especially in the former slave states;
  • 1971: a year before Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 would make it illegal to discriminate based on sex in any educational or federally funded program;
  • 2001: the September 11 attacks impacted the direction of the country for women, girls, men, and boys;
  • 2017: a record number of women decide to run for Congress, and most of them win in 2018, many in response to the behavior of the U.S. president;
  • 2022: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York continues her efforts, begun in 2013, to change the way sexual assault cases in the U.S. military are adjudicated.

Our Collective National Shadow

[Adapted from Chapter Two of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow by Reggie Marra (October 2022)]

In mid-March, 2003 I sat with Animas Valley Institute’s Bill Plotkin and others in Payson, Arizona, for five days of an experience entitled “Sweet Darkness: The Initiatory Gifts of the Shadow, Projections, Subpersonalities, and the Sacred Wound.” On the evening of our first day there, the United States began bombing Iraq. So while we were exploring our respective individual Shadows and projections, our country’s collective Shadow and projections — “the evil out there” that we tend to see in other nations, groups, cultures, genders, colors, orientations, and people — was on full display, providing us an opportunity for recognition, ownership, and integration at the national level as well.

Jungian analyst Robert Johnson refers to “persona” as “what we would like to be and how we wish to be seen by the world.…our psychological clothing” — the mask we wear. He refers to “ego” as “what we are and know about consciously” and to “Shadow” as “that part of us we fail to see or know…. that which has not entered adequately into consciousness.”¹

In A Little Book on the Human Shadow, Robert Bly posits that behind each of us in childhood, “we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag.” In order to keep our elementary-school teachers happy, we continue to fill the bag, and in high school we further fill the bag in order to please our peers. “We spend our life until we’re twenty deciding what parts of ourself to put in the bag, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to get them out again. Sometimes retrieving them feels impossible, as if the bag were sealed.”² Bly points out that “There is also a national bag, and ours is quite long…. we are noble; other nations have empires. Other nations endure stagnant leadership, treat minorities brutally, brainwash their youth, and break treaties.”³

So, Shadow refers to disowned or repressed traits of an individual or group that the individual or group doesn’t recognize in itself and unknowingly projects onto others, whether or not the trait is considered positive or negative and 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 — it’s in my invisible bag.⁴ Until I recognize this dynamic and work to integrate my anger, anger will follow me around and allow me to see all these angry people “out there” everywhere I go, while I remain oblivious to being the one constant at every scene of all this anger. Everyone else is angry. I’m not. Oops.

Finally, the word shadow is sometimes used to refer to negative or undesired traits that we don’t like about ourselves. We might refer to these traits as our “dark side.” These undesired traits that were never in or that we’ve already retrieved from our invisible bag are not what we mean by Shadow in this essay.(6) We don’t know our Shadow is there. Our repression and denial are not conscious choices. Collective Shadow, as used here, refers to elements that are common to individuals in the United States. A nation does not have a discrete psyche or Shadow. A nation’s Shadow exists in the collective impact of individual Shadow elements that are common to many — not necessarily all — of its citizens.

As developed in Healing America’s Narratives, the collective Shadow of the United States historically and currently includes at least nine traits: ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness. Chapter Ten of the book argues that one man — a former president — embodies all of these traits and that his life unintentionally presents us with a gift: an invitation to recognize, own, and integrate our national Shadow amid our ongoing American experiment.

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1. Robert A. Johnson, Owning Your Own Shadow, 3–4.

2. Robert Bly, A Little Book on the Human Shadow, 17–18.

3. Ibid., 26.

4. Anger is not necessarily a “bad” thing; it is clarifying. What can go wrong is how we understand and what we do with our anger.

Cultural Givens & the View From Here

[Adapted from Chapter One of Healing America’s Narratives: The Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow by Reggie Marra (October 2022)]

Everything we do or say arises through our worldview, which arises through our experiences, beliefs, values, relationships, aspirations, and development. It includes those aspects of ourselves of which we’re not yet aware — our Shadow. Each of us, in our earliest moments and years is given a view of the world — “cultural givens,” — direct experiences of and beliefs about the world that our family of origin holds to be true. These experiences and beliefs include everything from ethnicity to local community to religious belief (or lack thereof) to national citizenship to our parents’ personalities to geography, climate, and year of birth.

It is possible to embrace these givens and live our lives without ever questioning them. It is also possible, and advisable, from the perspective of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, to embrace these givens early on and then, most commonly in adolescence and beyond but sometimes earlier, to reflect on them, challenge them, and see how they hold up against our direct experience of life.

An example: my current worldview is not the one I was given at birth and began to accept in early childhood. That worldview held that I was living in the greatest country in history and tended to favor being Italian-American, Catholic, and a New Yorker, among other characteristics. Our intention here is not to criticize our cultural givens. Criticizing our earliest views and ways of being in the world makes as much sense as criticizing an acorn for not yet being an oak or an infant for not yet being an adult. There is, however, a time to wake up, grow up, clean up, and show up. In waking up, we commit to seeing ‘what is’ through various states of consciousness. In growing up, we develop by seeking and taking increasingly inclusive, comprehensive, complex, and balanced perspectives. In cleaning up, we recognize, own, and integrate Shadow. And in showing up, we live authentically and help others. You get the idea.

The obvious (and easy to forget) importance here is that every person born anywhere and at any time since humans first appeared has his, her, or their own set of givens — in every location on the planet, with or without religion, and in poverty and wealth. Makes sense, yes? Each of us has a given story — an initial set of givens — whether or not we are aware of it. Some of it is given in order to simplify a complex world for young children; some of it is given as literal truth by the adults who believe it; and each of us continues to be given more input through late childhood, adolescent, young adult, and adult experiences and observations. What we choose to accept, embrace, revise, or reject is up to us. Each of us is responsible for our choices, acceptances, embraces, revisions, and rejections. No one is exempt.