Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Broken Village: The Five Year Old American Psyche

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I have recently been reading a book by Francis Weller. The book is titled The Wild Edge of Sorrow. Weller is a psychotherapist who lives in California. I met Weller a few years ago at an annual event of the Minnesota Men's Conference. Chapter Three, entitled The Five Gates of Grief, recounts the following story:

"While I was in Malidoma's village, I met a young woman, about seventeen years old, with an extensive burn scar across her face. This did not seem to make her self-conscious; quite the contrary, she was ebullient, happy and outgoing. One day I asked Malidoma about the scar. He said, 'It was terrible. Her mother threw boiling water on her in a fit of rage.' I asked what happened after that. He said, 'The village responded immediately and let this young girl know that what happened had nothing to do with her, that her mother was wrong to do this, and that she was loved and cherished by the people.'

At that point I understood something critical about belonging and shame. Many of us have had experiences of violation and injury, not unlike this young woman. The difference between her experience and ours is that she had a village that immediately responded and dissipated the pain of a shameful act. In other words, what occurred to her remained superficial; it did not penetrate beyond the skin and become a part of her story (my emphasis). She carries a scar, but her soul is intact. Her village could see her value and helped her to remember her essence.

Without a village to reflect back to us that we are valued, these ruptures are interpreted in silence, in a vacuum, and the conclusion we often come to is 'I must have deserved this treatment' or 'I was somehow responsible for this.'"

I have been reflecting on the value of a village in my own life. I have been fortunate to never experience boiling water scarring my face. But I have experienced severe injury nonetheless. I experienced psychic injury due to what I have recounted elsewhere here in my blog. I have described such psychic injury using the words of the field of mental health, namely trauma. The "village" I had access to as a child was not all that functional. After my father was nearly murdered I internalized a lot of shame. Though I did not realize it I subconsciously thought that others in my neighborhood thought of me as "that kid whose father made such poor choices that he couldn't even keep himself alive." I thought of myself in that way. I didn't have a healthy village of my own to mirror back to me my own value.

Healing your own individual life can be quite a journey. I know the experience of this. Healing an entire community or nation is an even greater endeavor. I believe Weller touches upon some immense wisdom in his book about grief. We need a healthy 'village' to help create healthy adults. When such a community is lacking the long-term consequences can be extremely devastating.


I have been considering the village metaphor in a different way as well. I have thought about the relevance of this village metaphor to the current socio-political reality here in the United States. When I spend the smallest bit of time bearing witness to news from the unfolding 2016 presidential race I seriously want to throw up. I think much of America has lost its collective mind. I interpret the appeal so many find in Donald Trump as evidence of a collective American psyche that is deeply wounded...and deeply afraid.

The long row of televisions so common in some gyms these days was hard to look away from today. But I did avert my eyes when I saw CNN's coverage of Trump's so called foreign policy speech. I couldn't hear his speech but instead gathered the gist of what he was saying by the sound bites that would appear in text on the screen. Trump would have us believe that he will put American interests first. It would seem Trump is determined to appeal to the xenophobia and wounded feelings so visible in the American psyche today.

There is at least one big problem with Trump's perspective: it doesn't embrace the rest of the world as somehow being of equal value. The Trump doctrine (if you can call it that without bursting into laughter) would appear to have us believe that the United States is the world. I suppose Trump thinks it best to help Americans forget about the other five billion plus other people outside our borders. By demonizing or ignoring the rest of the world it would appear Trump has discovered a path to victory.

Have Americans become so paranoid, cruel and stupid that Trump might actually win in November?


I think I will be reflecting on the metaphor of the village for a while. Weller's writings make for great material to ponder.

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