Is Being Good, Good Enough?

“To me there is no liberation a tout prix. I cannot be liberated from anything I do not possess, have not done or experienced. Real liberation becomes possible for me only when I have done all that I was able to do, when I have completely devoted myself to a thing and participated in it to the utmost…. A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them. They then dwell in the house next door, and at any moment a flame may dart out and set fire to his own house. Whenever we give up, leave behind, and forget too much, there is always the danger that the things we have neglected will return with added force.”

~ Carl Jung (1875-1961),
Swiss depth psychologist,
in Memories, Dreams, Reflections

 

We all have parts of ourselves which we don’t like. Perhaps it’s the sadness from which our forced laughter distracts us. Or the envy we feel for someone’s good fortune. Or the anger that occasionally bursts forth much to our embarrassment. For many of us, these dark and difficult feelings are unacceptable. They don’t measure up to our assumed standards of decency, goodness, or spirituality. So what are we to do with them?

With the help of the inner critic, many of us will slice and dice ourselves. We cut off and suppress the “bad” parts. Those parts don’t fit our self-image. We don’t like them. We’re afraid of them. So, like a fearful child’s response to a stern parental warning, “Don’t do that!”, we exile our ugliness to the hinterlands of consciousness. Wiping our hands of the emotional messiness, again we present our goodness to the world and to ourselves, while secretly we wish those shunned parts would just wither away.

But this is a magical way of thinking about how to change ourselves. It’s like crossing our fingers and wishing hard enough so that the bogeyman will not rise up from the inner shadows to get us. However this approach suffices, if you think being good is good enough.

Yet, is being good like a well-behaved child the object of our psychological and spiritual maturation? Yes, it’s relatively easy, but is it really good enough? There isn’t a truthful encounter with the givenness of our character as it is in the moment. We have not accepted ourselves with an unconditional positive self-regard. Nothing has changed. Nothing has been redeemed. We have become more parted, not more whole.

Is goodness your measure of your virtue?

 

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