Thank you for this concise essay/article, Benjamin. I’m always fascinated by the interplay of light v. dark within the human psyche. As a novelist and poet, even as a visual artist, I constantly play with these themes in my work. I’ve found that those who think in very black and white terms have a dangerous and overfacile concept of the world around them. Paradoxically, they seem to be less compassionate and grounded than those who contemplate and acknowledge the nuance and shades of gray within the human spectrum of behavior and emotion.
I wrote an article a while back called “It’s All Dark,” and I explore this concept as well. As a student of Jung’s model of psychotherapy, among other people and things, I love discussing the “shadow” v. the subconscious, and how they both work in concert, at times within our lives. The subconscious mind, not our conscious minds, drives the bus, so to speak, 85% of the time in our every day lives. That’s more than tend to believe, or want to believe, for that matter. but it’s the truth.
My take on the photo on your computer: I think you needed to look at it to remind yourself of who you really are. The Self you CHOOSE to be, consciously, day by day. The man who takes the “high road;” the man who has faith, believes, and does good in the world through his art and presence, even his parenting. I see nothing strange about you studying the image as you did.
We ask our soldiers to put aside basic parts of their humanity to do their jobs, then offer no assistance when they return to the sanitized, insular, provincial everyday-ness of society. The transition must be as jarring as the initial transition to places abroad as a soldier. It’s a crime, IMO, that we don’t do a better job of helping our men and women in uniform transition back into society, and help them process the traumas of which they were a part, directly, or indirectly.
Sp I “get” why you kept the photo. I get that it’s still inside of you It’s a part of you, and there is nothing for which you need to feel ashamed — as I’m sure you know. I hope you know. Even if the answers to all of your questions about that man are “yes,” which, frankly, it probably is. The important thing? You ask the questions.
It is only by contrasting our “worst selves” that we are then able to measure and create who we ultimately want to be, and within that examination, find the potential of our greatest selves within the muck of our psyches, deeds, choices, and souls.
The people who scare me? Those who proclaim to have no dark side. Those who proclaim to “know” the unknowable. The hubris of certainty. If you think about it in an historical context? The most evil, vile acts against humanity have all come from the arrogance of certainty.
The quote from the beginning of your article could be applied to any story, any work of fiction. “If you come away from a book thinking you have all the answers, it’s the wrong kind of book. You’ll know you’ve read the ‘right’ kind of book when, after reading, all you have is questions.” — “God,” a character in my upcoming poetry collection (coming out next spring).
Again, thank you for the thought-provoking piece. I enjoyed it very much.