It’s all Good?


 I had just received a fabulous job offer. It was a dream come true.

  I told a dear friend about it, a Roman Catholic Sister, whose habit of mind was always to penetrate to the heart of any matter. 

 That is what I liked about her - her laser-like ability to see into the essence of things. 

 I had therefore fully expected her to discern with me that I was really on track with this job offer.

 But lo and behold, she did not see in that way, and unleashed upon me the fullness of her discriminating powers.

 She asked a completely disarming question: "What’s the shadow side of your adventure?”

 'Shadow side?... Shadow Side?… It was a phrase I had not heard before.

 And didn’t want to.

 I gulped and inwardly thought: 'What do you mean shadow side?' 

 Why the suggestion of menacing shadows? Why this negativity? Why so unhopeful? Why so pessimistic?

 How about congratulations, Sister, as in: 'Way to go, Al!' - Good on you, mate!'

 What kind of friend challenges you to look at the worst thing about an exciting job prospect? 

 The best kind of friend, I was later able to affirm - the kind of friend who wants you to look squarely at every aspect of something, lest you walk in unaware. 

 It’s the best kind of friend who encourages you to keep looking without flinching. (One’s best friend may not be the one who too quickly starts pouring champagne!)

 But, all I was thinking then was that this was the best job ever! How, I thought, could there be a shadow side to something so, so good

 This job offer, in particular, stood out as the answer to all my hopes and prayers.

 But it was my very certainty, as the Sister was discerning, that was the problem.

 What she was on to was that I was too much basking in the light, and not wanting to think about lions and tigers and bears.

 To shake me a little, the Sister, highly intuitive, and well trained in Jungian psychology, was imploring me to look at the dark side of the venture.

 Her point was to suggest that ‘there’s always a dark side, a shadow side.’ 

 Which is to say that there is always something you’d rather not notice. Something you’d rather not be aware of. 

 Since, as the Sister was picking up, my desire was for light only, I was therefore lost in the light. Blinded by the light.

 My very sense of light was blocking me from noticing the dark side of the alluring prospect.

 My choice therefore at the time to ignore her advise and to remain stubbornly in the light by answering yes to the job prospect, ensured that I would walk straight into the darkest of pits.

 And it took a while to dig out.

 And yet my experience in the dark pit, has served to create a bigger theology and a greater psychology. It has become clear to me that any way of thinking that excludes the darkness is not only incomplete, but dangerous.

 For, as I would put it now - you cannot insist upon summer all year long. Such a stance will blind and paralyze you. 

 Maybe not right away. But eventually, for sure. 

 You will surely fall, if you try to live only in the light of Easter, without also acknowledging the darkness of Lent.

 However great your experience of light, you must be aware that a capacity for darkness remains. (Pride cometh…)

 In light of this experience (and others, too) I have become allergic to excessively positive and hopeful claims from overly sunny people. 

 I don’t believe for a moment those who claim they have overcome the darkness with the light. I am suspicious of any who imagine that in them no darkness remains.

 I’ve been in their state of denial and want never to go there again. 

 I am wary of people who are a little too sunny and smiley, who are quick to claim: “It’s all good.”

 For it’s never all good in this life. If you think so, you’re either lying to yourself, or you’ve overdosed on your medication again.

 So I cringe a little when someone says, “It’s all good!

 Which means that I do a fair bit of cringing, since many people’s favourite saying these days is: "It’s all good. It’s all good.”

 My question: 'Is it?'

 'Is it all good?'

 Well, yes, in some ultimate sense, as Julian of Norwich declares that, finally 'all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. 

 But for now, in this moment, all goodI don’t think so. Sorry. 

 It’s only all good if you’re not quite living on the planet - floating in space somewhere.

 As you say, for example, 'it’s all good,' you’re probably not thinking about the parents of the young man who received, one by one, their son’s chopped-off fingers in the mail from Isis.

 Before you say again, 'it’s all good,' you might pause for a moment to contemplate the severed fingers arriving in the mail. 

 You might, in other words, wake up and shake yourself a little. It’s not all good

 The lesson here is to challenge yourself to be aware that the sunny script you’re following requires a certain delicate balancing act with a darker script.

 Which means that, on the one hand, even if you’ve found the best script ever to live by that, you must also simultaneously imagine a contradicting counterscript.

 No matter how great your dream - your best laid plan - you need to be aware as well of possible nightmare scenarios.

 So wisely determine to put as much energy into imagining the worst as the best. 

 But, as Carl Jung warns, we don’t want to think the worst. We don’t want to consider contradicting counterscripts, or nightmarish dimensions.

 "It’s too frightening a thought,” said Jung, "that man has a shadow side to him." And thus he becomes peppy and cheery to cover it up.

 Jung’s warning is to say that the cover-up never works. You’ll never be able to dispense with the darkness. It’s too powerful a force.

 In Jung’s graphic words, the shadow remains as “a positively demonic dynamism.” 

 If ignored, the darkness will build up and explode. It doesn’t take kindly to being ignored. (Carl Jung, “On the Psychology of the Unconscious.”)

 But you, sweet thing, don’t think so! No monster lurks within you! 

 Which is precisely the delusion that, you can live in Sunnyville while ignoring Darkville. 

 A better way was demonstrated by the leadership of James Burke, the chief executive officer of Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Tylenol.

 It is apparent that he had been worrying about how the company would respond if something went wrong. He was, in the terms of this article, exploring the shadow side of the company. 

 So in 1979, he got his staff together to focus on the company's Credo.

 The Credo was a list of principles to live by, including our "higher duty to mothers and all others who use our products.” (Jerry Useem, in The AtlanticWhat was Volkswagon Thinking?

 The Credo, with its emphasis upon a “higher duty," was the company script. But was it still being followed? Was there a danger of contradicting scripts taking over? 

 Challenging the company’s leaders, he exclaimed: “If we’re not going to live by the Credo, let’s tear it off the wall.” 

 But then, after much discussion, everyone decided to resuscitate the Credo.

 And it was good they did, for, as the story goes, less than three years later, the news reported that people had been poisoned by Tylenol capsules in Chicago.

 Without hesitating, in accordance with the Credo’s emphasis upon a higher duty, all bottles of Tylenol were removed from store shelves everywhere.

 In so doing, the company took a hundred million dollar loss, but kept their reputation.

 I love this tidbit from the story that "Burke, in fact, was on a plane when news of the poisoning broke. By the time he landed, employees were already ordering Tylenol off store shelves.”

 The point illustrated is that by anticipating problems, problems were averted.  

 The contrast is the case of the Challenger space-shuttle disaster where problems were not anticipated. The shadow was ignored.  

 The pressuring script at Nasa was to launch the Challenger on time. 

 As problems came up, (and they did!) they were ignored. 

 The consequence? The Challenger exploded several seconds after lift off. 

 So, is it all good? No. Not all of it. Some of it, yes.

 The point is to have a vision but to be aware of its shadow side. Ever so aware. 


Listen to your Heart, Wildlife