Why trying to be good just won’t work!

The best we can aim for is to become the person we are intended to be… and surely part of that is about being authentically human. That’s why it won’t work trying to be ‘good’. If we try to be good we are merely suppressing the shadow and the parts of us that we don’t like or that others don’t like about us.

I’m reminded of the prayer I was taught to say every night during childhood which culminated with asking Jesus to make me a ‘good girl’ well behaved and loving everyone – presumably including those about whom I had ambivalent or mixed feelings or really hated. And there lies the route to guilt, shame, repressed anger and upset. Being ‘good’ as a child is about becoming compliant and this is where Winnicott’s theory of the false self comes in.

Both Winnicott and Jung are helpful about what Jung calls the ‘intractability and polarity of the human psyche’. Jung points to the parable found in the Phaedrus, where Plato (through his mouthpiece, Socrates) shares the description of the different natures of the black and white horses and the attempts of the charioteer or the soul to steer and control in order to reach the destination. Plato saw the horses as representing the mortal and immortal and the destination as the ridge of heaven where Truth and Beauty might be seen.

We are now thankfully more aware of the implications of the descriptions of deformity, colour/race and class/breeding but one can still get the gist of what was meant by Plato:

One horse is good; ‘upright and clean-limbed, carrying his neck high… in colour he is white, with black eyes; a lover of glory, but with temperance and modesty; one that consorts with genuine renown, and needs no whip, being driven by the word of command alone.’

In contrast the other horse is deformed and obstinate. Plato describes the horse as a ‘crooked of frame, a massive jumble of a creature, with short neck … black skin and grey eyes; hot-blooded, consorting with wantonness and vainglory; shaggy of ear, deaf and hard to control with whip and goad.’

After much effort the soul/charioteer tames the wild horse in the face of beauty. For Jung this was problematic because for him there were always the opposites so if there was beauty there would also be ugliness. All this takes me back to the Victor White and Carl Jung disagreement which I wrote about  a couple of years back…for the priest Victor White God was all good – above good and evil; but for Jung there would be inevitably the shadow side of God.

Jung rather took the analogy of the horses to represent the opposites and the attempts to manage the psyche. At the level of the psychological the charioteer could be seen as the ego trying to control the two parts of oneself.

St Paul understood about the struggle in the psyche: ‘For I do not do the good I want to do, the evil I do not want to do…this I keep on doing (Romans 7:19).

How hard it is to acknowledge and accept what being human is …