Shadow Side Saturday: When resentment and envy lead to bullying and ostracism?

I’ve noticed a somewhat disturbing trend among some police procedural shows – especially ones like Cold Case and Criminal Minds – very often the victim of the crime was a shining spirit, a unique and special individual. It’s as though they are sending a subtle (or maybe unsubtle) message that to be special, to rise above the average is worthy of punishment. It’s reminiscent of slasher flicks in which the rowdy, promiscuous and out of control teens are killed but the virginal “good girl” is spared.

You can see this message reinforced on any schoolyard in the country (maybe even the world); the mob mentality. Whenever a child is different – smarter, “nerdy”, awkward, vulnerable, the pack turns on that child. They mock and ostracize the child. Some children learn to adapt and blend in order to survive. Others suffer and eventually snap resulting in horrific situations like Columbine or suicide. There are some who endure, convinced that they will reap the benefits of their unique gifts as they grow older. They are often called adaptive children. They can look at the most horrific situations and see the silver lining.

I sometimes ponder if this type of attitude towards those who are different is because they hold up a mirror to us and we don’t like what we see.  In work situations, I’ve often seen it when a new employee full of new ideas and enthusiasm runs smack into the wall of apathy and dissatisfaction sometimes found in long-term employees.  The newcomer is mocked and derided for being so optimistic.  What is wrong with hopefulness and optimism?  Nothing, unless you have already jettisoned yours.  Why do resent someone else’s success?  Because we see it as a negative commentary on our current status.  Are we not as successful because we didn’t try as hard?  Is it really all about being in the right place at the right time or knowing the right people?  I’m not sure.  What I know is that I often feel an initial flash of resentment and envy at someone else’s good fortunes.  It doesn’t last and I usually acknowledge it but that doesn’t stop it from occurring.

Sometimes even the targets of this type of bullying can become bullies and ostracize peers if the circumstances are right. Have you ever seen a group of artistic students who mock the jock who wishes to participate in their activity? Or the “nerds” who mock the popular beauty queen? Is this a defense mechanism or revenge for past moments of ostracism? I’m not sure. This is certainly a much more complex topic than I can address within the confines of this blog.

What I do know is that I’ve caught myself doing it. When I attend events like the Tarot School’s Readers Studio, I have noticed that the larger the group, the most I self-select with whom I interact. I become more clique-ish and clubby. If I catch myself doing this I often make efforts to stop the behavior but it is usually so unconscious that I don’t realize it. It’s not an aspect of my personality of which I am proud. In fact It’s something I wish to minimize or eliminate altogether.

I would like to challenge anyone reading this blog post – let’s eliminate this tendency to mock or ostracize those who are different from us. Children are not the only ones who bully – adults are just more subtle about it. Let’s try to minimize this shadow in the world and teach children by our own examples. Reach out to someone who is different from you. Who knows maybe you’ll learn something transformative from them.

Of serial killers and the dark side of the human psyche

Serial killers & cult leaders- I’ve been interested in serial killers and other societal deviants for a long time.  I can still remember reading the book Helter Skelter when I was about 10 years old.  I can vividly recall the fear and terror that gripped NYC when the Son of Sam David Berkowitz was randomly killing in the late 70s.  The Jonestown massacre in Guyana still holds a fascination for me.   I even studied forensic psychology in college (in fact I have a masters degree in it).  I’ve often wondered what is says about me that I am drawn to such darkness in human nature.

Even while studying psychology I knew I had no desire to be a therapist.  I just wasn’t sympathetic to the neurosis and petty problems of most folks (what can I say – I was very arrogant and fairly young).  I didn’t even necessarily want to work with the criminal population.  I think my pursuit of a  psychology degree was an effort to understand what makes people tick.  I was drawn to the darker aspects of human behavior because on some level I believed if I understood it then I could avoid falling victim to it.  The fact that I had already fallen victim to one act of violence as a child was also a motivating factor.

It seems to me that humans believe we are civilized and intelligent enough to rise above our more animal nature.  However two psychologists, Stanley Milgrom and Phillip Zimbardo, each conducted a well-known and disturbing experiment looking at how humans behave in various situation.  Milgrim’s experiment studied human behavior in response to authority figures.  He set up various scenarios but the core of this experiment was that the subject was put in a room and instructed to ask questions of another person and to issue a shock if the answer was incorrect.  The results were disturbing – in the initial study 65% of the subjects administered the highest shock voltage even when clearly uncomfortable.  Over the years this experiment was replicated in different cultures and with different parameters but with very similar results.  It makes me wonder why we are so willing to take actions we consider unethical or uncomfortable because an authority figure instructed us to do so.

Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison Study, an experiment in which volunteers were randomly assigned to either the guard or the prisoner group.  Neither group was given much instruction in how to behave or what to do but it quickly became apparently that left to their own devices, the “guards” began acting sadistically and cruelly.  The “prisoners” began exhibiting signs of depression and rage.  The experiment, scheduled to run for two weeks, was canceled after 6 days because the results were disturbing and it was decided it was causing harm to the volunteers.

What fascinates and frightens me about both these experiments is how quickly we are willing to commit cruel, sadistic and atrocious acts either because we have been told to do so or because we feel that our “role” requires it of us.  Some elements of this may be due to the influence of peers or an internal desire to appease authority figures but it forces me to wonder just how civilized and humane we really are.  Is our willingness to engage in these behaviors really the result of a deep, hidden and unacknowledged desire to hurt others?  Maybe we all have a dark side that revels in cruelty and viciousness.  We learn to control it over time because we learn that such behaviors are unacceptable but those desires are still there – dormant and awaiting a chance to express themselves.  We all want to believe we would never commit certain acts but in reality I think that we might depending upon circumstances.

In fact I believe that one of the reasons some people need Lucifer or Satan is because it’s an effective way to project those nasty, dark, vicious aspects of our personality onto an external figure.  We’re not evil, we did something evil due to Satanic influences.  Or like the young accusers of Salem who behaved in shocking, socially unacceptable ways claiming witches were making them do it.  It’s always the fault of someone or something outside of ourselves.  It’s also made me realize that humans will use various excuses – “I was following orders”, “it’s my job” and even “the devil made me do it” to excuse viciousness and cruelty.  It’s why some are drawn to cults – they can submit to a more dominant personality and not feel the need to make decisions or be responsible for their behaviors.

One thing I’ve learned about my explorations into the dark side of the human psyche is that awareness of it helps me restrain it.  Not all the time but enough to be considered tolerable.  I am fully cognizant of my dark side.  Sometimes I even embrace it and allow it some form of expression that won’t hurt anyone else.  What I’ve also accepted is that it’s not the result of the influence of anyone or anything else.  It’s part of who I am.  It is also not an excuse for cruel or vicious behavior.  Knowing the cause of something is not an excuse.  Having an addiction does not excuse the behaviors that result.  Instead of trying to correct the behaviors we have a tendency for find excuses for them (which is a topic for another day).  I think it’s time to cut through the bullshit.  We’re all a blend of dark and light.  We all have mean, vicious aspects to our personalities.  What makes us human is our ability to know that and change our behaviors so that we aren’t hurting others simply because we feel like it.  We have the ability to shine light on the darkness and not lose ourselves in its embrace.

I think I made it through the darkness (2 of Cups R + 3 of Swords – Deviant Moon)

37 Deviant Moon 3 of Swords

 

After yesterday’s reading I began wondering if darker decks produce darker interpretations. If I were using a “happier” deck for my readings these past few weeks (such as the Whimsical) would I have felt so lost in a dark place? I don’t know. Did the cards reflect my dark mood or contribute to it? I tend to lean towards the former interpretation. I was drawn to a darker deck, in this case the Bohemian Gothic, because I’ve been feeling trapped in a dark and lonely place. Not a very pleasant sensation but luckily these bouts don’t tend to last very long for me.

Today I actually do feel a bit more optimistic and chipper. Why? I have no idea. I decided to change decks in honor of the Full Moon so now I’m using the Deviant Moon Tarot. It’s still dark but it’s quirkiness modifies the darkness somewhat. The reading doesn’t seem especially hopeful but I think I know exactly what it means and it’s okay.