From the Editor: What Makes a Person Good? – The Shadow

Roman King | U.S.

Humanity is an incredibly complex machination, and yet there is this tendency to take massively complicated systems and concepts and break them down into something within the realm of common understanding. Such is the tendency of human morality. The subject of morality is infinitely complex and philosophers and psychologists have argued for millennia about finding a place of an agreement; despite this, the average person can somewhat understand the difference between a “good” and “bad” person. The outward actions of a person determine what a society views them as; if a person acts on their positive conscience, they will be seen as a good person, and if a person acts on the dictions of their unconscious shadow, they will most likely be seen as a bad person. For many people, this is where the thought process ends, because most unenlightened people care for nothing but the instant gratification of the society they participate in. This is incorrect. Incredibly so, as a matter of fact. The measure of “goodness”, for lack of a better term, usually comes not from outward actions, but the levels of strife and turmoil within a person’s ego. The truth is much more complex and requires critical and uncomfortable thinking about the traits that make up your unconscious being.

Carl Jung was a notable Swiss clinical psychologist, and he wrote often on the “shadow”, the part of a person’s personality that the conscious ego does not identify with. Generally speaking, the shadow consists mostly of traits the conscious ego rejects, for whatever reason (fear of social ostracization, lack of utility, etc.). For most people, then, the shadow is where undesirable traits generally lay in the mind. Greed, jealousy, what have you. In some way, this is a necessary defense mechanism because most healthy people are at least capable of realizing that these traits aren’t something to actively express. The shadow serves a very important purpose and recognizing it is an important step to self-realization and self-determination. In Civilization in Transition, Vol. 10 of Carl Jung’s Collected Works, he writes “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.” If a person is truly to be enlightened, he must be familiar with his entire self. This isn’t as easy as it seems, however; this requires a person to confront his/herself, and this can truly be a frightening and horrifying thing to do because we don’t want to acknowledge that we are capable of this. It seems, to the unaware eye, or perhaps the fearful eye, that there would be nothing to gain from embracing their Jungian shadow; why would I want to have the dragon as a tangible part of my personality when I could simply be “good”? Well, for one, “good”, in this context, oftentimes has nothing to do with the mental stability of the self, and is nothing but an empty epithet to give the impression of positivity, but this isn’t even the largest problem with ignoring your shadow; the true issue is much darker and much more catastrophic than simply being shallow.

As much as we might not like to admit it, the shadow is a part of ourselves, and it will always be there. It will be there no matter how much we attempt to construct walls around it; despite any efforts we might not throw at it, it will always be a part of our personality and it will always be a crucial part of who we are as humans. It seems so obvious when you put it in these terms, but an object is not whole if it does not have absolutely all of its components. This is different from removing unwanted components from a machine that would function better without them; this is the acceptance of critical pieces of the personality that, no matter how undesirable you find them, must be tackled eventually. You ignore the shadow at your own peril. For whatever reasons you continue to block off the shadow, the less complete you are, and the less stable you are. The shadow is necessary because truly good people are able to turn into monsters in a dire crisis. A truly good person realizes these undesirable traits and their existence, comes to grips with them, and then — and this is the crucial thing — they reign them in and control them. They can take the shadow, which is often times a miserable, dark corner of the mind full of suffering, and utilize it. This increases mental independence, social independence, and the ability to grow as a person. Think of it in these simple terms; it is much better to have a pet dragon, a domesticated dragon that you can use to your own benefit than to be defenseless against the world. This is in direct contrast with the Good™ Person, who is nothing but a doormat and a puppet for other people’s narratives and rhetorics. I mentioned how ignoring your shadow is truly a catastrophic tragedy, and this is how. Think of a house. The house that you have pictured in your mind’s eye right now is your personality. Generally speaking, you want your house to be something you can live comfortably in. You want a clean, organized house; something that you can come to grips with and understand the chaos and suffering that is life. You might even want that house to look nice. You might want this house to have nice shades, a good looking roof, hedge work and bushes in your front yard. This is all well and fine, but what is a house without a foundation? What is a house without supports to keep it standing through disaster? If a tornado blows across your house, you want your house to be able to at least defend itself against the onslaught, if not capable of entirely surviving it. The shadow serves a similar role. I made a brief mention that life is suffering earlier, and I think there is truth to this assertion. This is significantly different than suggesting that life is meaningless; there is definitely meaning and lessons to be learned in tragedy — and if you subscribe to this, the meaning of life is to justify this suffering and to find a reason to continue moving forward by your own machinations. One of the only ways you will ever find this justification is to find a place to build yourself off of so that you might make it out the other end alive.

“Good” people, that is, people more concerned with appearing good or ignoring their shadow, might, for a long time, find some amount of success in being an agreeable yes-man. There comes real gratification with making other people happy, there really does. There will always come a point in time, however, where tragedy will strike, and that person will be completely knocked off of their feet. They will be handed a place to stand, and the odds are that it will be by a person or force that does not have their best interests at heart, and they will be forced to do something incredibly terrifying — they will have to confront themselves about who they are. They will have to confront their demons, and they will not be prepared for it. It very well might ruin them for an extended period of time. This isn’t to say that one should go about and adopt the shadow as their conscious ego; that’s a one-way ticket to sociopathy. You very well can confront your deep unconscious and look it in the eye without losing some of your conscious, positive good to it, and that’s where a person will begin to fully realize themselves and point themselves in a direction that can complete the human urge for fulfillment.

A person absolutely cannot be completely good if they refuse to acknowledge their own unconscious. A person cannot even begin to dream of being at peace with themselves, to begin the spiritual transition from crawling to walking, without actually being a whole person. Those that are nothing but empty, shallow caricatures of what the unintelligent masses want to see are exactly that; empty and shallow. There is absolutely nothing to gain from ignoring your shadow; all you do is put yourself at the mercy of existential crises, and that is a battle that you are absolutely better off not fighting if you can help it. Truly good people actually have a place to stand, and that place to stand is there because they have confronted themselves and acknowledged the existence of their undesirable traits. The question of whether or not a person is good isn’t one to be answered by cosmetic, outsider traits, because those public, cosmopolitan masks of goodwill people put up in order to fulfill the wants of other people are nothing but masks and are meaningless in answering the question of who and what a person is. Truly good people are stable beings, which is what translates into good action, which is what baseless “good people” try to impersonate and act like. To conclude, the true good person is that who has faced themselves, come to grips with the horrors within, and uses that uncouth knowledge to attempt and grow and better themselves as moral human beings.