Peace, Connection and Facing Our Shadows
We’ve all heard the battle cry, “If you aren’t with us, then you are against us!” Where does this “us vs them” mentality come from? Why is everything about choosing sides and being against something? There is no peace in a world of such ways of thinking. I listen to my favorite teachers of conscious living and leaders of mindfulness. They agree that we are not separate individuals, but rather all connected as a universal, collective whole. There is no “us vs them” in higher conscious living. When we can see beyond our daily stresses and troubles, there is a greater force that connects us all. Within this collective connection, there is peace.
But in times of strife and challenge, when we need to come together, even more, it seems like we are all living divided and separate lives. Why does this happen? Covid has been a big source of divisiveness. Donald Trump was king of divisiveness during his four years in office. World leaders start wars. American politics are driven by two side of the aisle, and we must choose: are we a republican or are we a democrat? Black vs white, men vs women, gay vs straight, rich vs poor, pro-choice vs pro-life, vaxers vs anti-vaxers. The list goes on of how society divides us up. How are we supposed to feel connected to others with this march of divisiveness constantly playing in the background of our lives?
In our litigious society of lawsuits, arguments, and contentions, we are surrounded by the “us vs them” mentality. It’s always someone else’s fault. One side is sure that they are right, and the other side is wrong. We will go to court to prove it. With blinders on, one side will refuse to see the other side’s point of view. How can we possibly come together?
Well, we connect when we realize that a little bit of “them” lies within “us." Those undesirable, dark traits that we are quick to see in others, are also in us. Those characteristics of others that cause us to turn away in disgust or anger, those dark parts of “them” are in fact a very real, though often hidden or denied, part of “us.” We aren’t so different from them after all. A vein of the dark, a thread of the undesirable, exists within each of us.
I may not get along with a co-worker because she’s a know-it-all, is bossy, and believes she is so much smarter than her colleagues. I try to avoid her. But there is a thread of those same traits in me - I just don’t like to admit it. I may condemn my neighbor for being a liar and a cheater, but there’s a thread of lying and cheating that I also possess. I may call my ex-husband a narcissist, but there is a vein of narcissism in me as well.
These are our own demons. Those traits that we bury so deep we refuse to take ownership of them, are our dark side. They are our shadows. Even if only a very thin thread of anger, hate, evil, selfishness, deception - those threads are still a part of us. And they are what drive the divide between “us” and “them.” It’s difficult to identify ourselves as being like another person who we dislike. As Carl Jung has been quoted, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” When we see that irritating quality in others, we need to look for it in ourselves - it’s there. This is facing our shadows. When we can realize and accept our dark side and understand that our neighbor is not so different from us, then there is a little less separation between us, a little less “us vs them” mentality.
Traits that I can’t stand in others include arrogance, superiority, and intimidation. There is no way I can accept those words as describing me. Yet those are what are a part of my dark side is. They make up a small thread of a vein that runs through me. You don’t have to like your dark side, but you want to accept it as a part of you. Embrace your shadow. Let the dark coexist with the light because that is what makes us whole. To glimpse your shadow side, think up three words that you would never use to describe yourself. Words that if you saw them plastered on a billboard on the highway next to a photo of you, you would be mortified, angry, and deny that that photo was you. There is your shadow side. Then try to work on making friends with your dark side. Let the dark coexist with the light because that is what makes us whole. As Charles Eisenstein has said, “Peace is the capacity to hold the parts [of ourselves] that we are uncomfortable with.”
Differences should not divide us
The world is made up of differences: differing opinions, different ways of living, of eating, praying, and loving - we are all different individuals. With all this apparent divisiveness, how can it be that we are all one, all connected? It is because we all possess the same veins of love and hate, good and evil, ugly and beautiful, selfish and selfless – these are all the dichotomies of being human, and they all lie within each of us. The start of peace, and of connection with others comes with the ability to listen to others and understand that in every other person, in every one of “them” is a little bit of “us.” When we stop to listen to others, to hear their stories and where they have come from, their experiences, the programs they have been indoctrinated with, their personal histories – this allows us to begin to understand them.
This is similar to what I encourage parents to do with their kids – to understand their inner essence. By understanding a child’s essence, we can then understand the driving force behind their acts and their behavior. We catch a glimpse into why they do what they do. And so it is with adults, especially adversarial adults. There is always a reason for their actions and behavior. We may or may not agree with their reasoning, but it’s a start in bringing “us” closer to understanding “them.” When we can take a moment to stop and consider where “they” are coming from and try to understand their story, perhaps we will feel a little less separate and a little more connected.
Have a Conversation
Having conversations with people who we don’t agree with is difficult. Many people don’t want to listen to the other side. This often comes from fear – fear of what they don’t know or understand, or fear of seeing an old familiar issue in a new way. But getting beyond the thoughts of “what an ignorant idiot” or “they don’t know what they’re talking about,” and stopping to actually listen to their point of view, can be a humbling act of trying to understand. Even if we don’t agree with them, especially if we don’t agree with them, we can at least try to let go of our own judgments and move forward by working to understand. When we take the time to listen, we are taking a step in a positive direction.
Finally, we can start by focusing on what we all agree upon. Talk about what we all want, our shared values. We all want peace, we all want freedom, food, and safety; we all want better education for our kids, and a better health care system for our loved ones. We can mostly agree on wanting the same fundamentals in life. How we get there and how we achieve these goals is where the disconnect starts to happen and where the challenges lie. But connection begins with a conversation. Open communication, one conversation at a time will chip away at the “us vs them” mentality and someday will allow us to coexist as the collective we are.
Parenting Expert - Holistic Health Practitioner - Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
Do you sometimes wonder if you’re doing the right thing for your child—making the right choices for them? Are you struggling with how to handle their challenging behavior? Are the time-outs and punishments not working anymore and you don’t know what to do next? Are you worried about your child because of their behavior at home or getting in trouble at school?
I get it. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to raise a child with ADHD. I know what it’s like to be a working mother. I’ve raised three kids through divorce. And none of it is easy! Parenting is not easy. But it doesn’t have to be a struggle.
I am Julie Hatch, a licensed pediatric nurse practitioner and a holistic health practitioner of Chinese Medicine. I have over 30 years of working as a nurse practitioner, and over 30 years of raising three awesome kids!
I started my parent coaching business, Mums on a Mission (M.O.M.), because I saw an urgent need to help parents understand and handle child-raising challenges, and to help them connect with their kids in a new way that takes the stress and strain out of parenting.