Who’s the Bad Guy? Complexity, Mental Health, and Creating Peace

Posted on Posted in My Thoughts

I just watched another movie about the French Resistance, and was left with a complex emotional and mental reaction. At first, I felt sad and disgusted at the horrible acts people commit in war, for country, and for ideology. I wondered, “why do I continue to traumatize myself with these stories of suffering?”
But as I continued to think and feel into the effects of the movie, some other pieces came to light. One was a deep gratitude for the blessings I have in how rich and lucky my life is right now. Seattle is really a wonderful place to live, I am surrounded by many people doing great things with their lives, I get to have lots of fun and help people live richer lives for my livelihood, and so on.
This brought up a close companion of feeling lucky and blessed… feeling guilty. How can I feel lucky and happy when many people in the world, in my city, in my neighborhood, in other countries and neighborhoods are suffering so profoundly? This is such a difficult issue, but in this moment it calls for balance in me. In the same way that the movie left me feeling sad and angry, there is a place for feeling disturbed by all the messed up situations in the world. Feeling these uncomfortable feelings get us talking, moving, acting.
A common companion for this line of thinking and feeling is powerlessness or feelings of inferiority. “I could never be as great a person as Martin Luther King Jr., or Gandhi, and I don’t want to be assassinated or have my home bombed”. It’s as if acting to make the world a better place is based on being a perfect person, a larger than life figure, or a martyr.
This is reinforced by our out of whack political process, which roasts and defames every aspect of the life of anyone who runs for political office. Just these few aspects create a grim picture of hoping for and creating peace in our time.
But, when examined more closely, it becomes apparent that many of these common myths are based on dualistic thinking. Dualistic thinking is an important function of the brain, but a pretty primitive one as well. It is important to discern when we are threatened or unsafe. This is one of the reasons why WWII movies are so popular, because the Nazi’s make really clear bad guys, and back in the 1940’s gave our country a really clear mandate to join the war. Page forward to 2012 where we are finally pulling out of Iraq, and still waging war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 9/11/01 gave the United States another jolt, and a new bad guy, terrorists. The best we could figure out was that Al Qaida was responsible for 9/11. They were based out of many different countries, but we decided that the best way to go after terrorists would be invading Afghanistan, and for some reason Iraq.

It is clear now, 11 years later, that the “bad guys” aren’t in just one place or from one ethnic background, in fact we participate in some bad things ourselves. Case in point, the Cafe Racer, Batman Colorado, and Empire State shootings. The recent shootings in New York City are one of the clearest examples of the type of complexity I’m point out. Many of the people wounded in that situation were shot by police, trying to shoot a gunman, who was a guy who had just been fired from his job and was distraught and angry. The former examples from Seattle and Colorado were also clear cases of mental illness.
Even though teachers such as Thich Nhat Hahn, Jesus, Mohammed, etc. have been saying it for a long time, I think that we are beginning to figure out that anger, disconnection, mental illness, and small mindedness are the real enemies.
Many people have wrestled with these demons, discovering that when we are honest with ourselves, we all have a bit of “bad guy” in us. When you make this discovery it is scary to say the least. Is the best resolution in this case to kill the bad guy, even if it is yourself? Some people, sadly, decide yes. But I think it becomes clear to many people as well, that when we bring our shadows home, when we see that the things we hate so much in others are reflections and projections of that which we despise in ourself, we need a better solution than just trying to kill or get rid of that part of our selves.
This is the work of therapy. Counseling is an opportunity for each of us to find more sustainable, kind, and life affirming solutions to the evil that we find in our world and in ourselves. Carl Jung called it reclaiming our shadow. Jesus asked us to look at the log in our own eye before calling out the splinter in the eye of the other.  This is one reason why I find it of the utmost importance to do my own work, the work that I facilitate for others.  Still, there are many paths that lead up the mountain.

Whatever approach we take, seeking responses to these tough questions and experiences within ourselves require lots of energy, support, creativity and compassion. My hope is that I can bring more of these things into my life, my families, and the people that I am priveledged to work with. I also hope that you are cultivating these qualities in your life and that you find them more and more on your journey. Keep up the good work!