Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2011.03.22 — Jung The Development of Personality CW17

An interesting Goodreads thread has wandered into a discussion of life after death and childhood learning and parenting.

The nature of this meander brought to mind one of my favourite citations from Jung. I have re-read this many times, and I feel that this ☆☆☆☆☆ book is some of C.G.Jung's most passionate writing. It is from his great book,

The Development of Personal Reality: Papers on Child Psychology, Education and Related Subjects. CW17. Princeton University Press. ISBN: 9780691018386.

I've put an extract of this extended citation into the thread, but Jung's writing is so densely integrated that it is better served with the extended citation.
In somewhat free-handed fashion the last two lines of Goethe's stanza are often quoted:
The Highest bliss on earth shall be
The joys of personality.
This gives expression to the view that the ultimate aim and strongest desire of all mankind is to develop that fullness of life which is called personality. Nowadays, "personality training" has become an educational ideal that turns its back upon the standardized, mass-produced, "normal" human being demanded by the machine age. It thus pays tribute to the historical fact that the great liberating deeds of world history have sprung from leading personalities and never from the inert mass, which is at all times secondary and can only be prodded into activity by the demagogue. The huzzahs of the Italian nation go forth to the personality of the Duce, and the dirges of other nations lament the absence of strong leaders. (Since this sentence was written [1934], Germany too has found her Führer.) The yearning for personality has therefore become a real problem that occupies many minds today, whereas in former times there was only one man who had a glimmering of this question – Frederich Schiller, whose letters on aesthetic education have lain dormant, like a Sleeping Beauty of literature, for more than a century. We may confidently assert that the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" has not taken much notice of Schiller as an educator. On the other hand, the furor teutonicus has hurled itself upon pedagogics (in the strict sense of the education of children), delved into child psychology, ferreted out the infantilism of the adult, and made the childhood such a portentous condition of life and human fate that it completely overshadows the creative meaning and potentialities of adult existence. Our age has been extravagantly praised as the "century of the child." This boundless expansion of the kindergarten amounts to forgetfulness of the problems of adult education divined by the genius Schiller. Nobody will deny or underestimate the importance of childhood; the severe and often life-long injuries caused by stupid upbringing at home or in school are too obvious, and the need for more reasonable pedagogic methods is far too urgent. But if this evil is to be attacked at the root, one must in all seriousness face the question of how such idiotic and bigoted methods of education ever came to be employed, and still are employed. Obviously, for the sole reason that there are half-baked educators who are not human beings at all, but walking personifications of method. Anyone who wants to educate must himself be educated. But the parrot-like book-learning and mechanical use of methods that is still practised today is no education either for the child or the educator. People are everlastingly saying that the child's personality must be trained. While I admire this lofty ideal, I can't help asking who it is that trains the personality? In the first and foremost place we have the parents, ordinary, incompetent folks who, more often than not, are half children themselves and remain so for all their lives. How could anyone expect all these ordinary parents to be "personalities," and who has ever given a thought to devising methods for inculcating "personality" into them? Naturally, then, we expect great things of the pedagogue, of the trained professional, who, heaven help us, has been stuffed full of "psychology" and is bursting with ill-assorted views as to how the child is supposed to be constituted and how he ought to be handled. It is presumed that the youthful persons who have picked on education as a career are themselves educated; but nobody, I daresay, will venture to assert that they are all "personalities" as well. By and large, they suffer from the same defective education as the hapless children they are suppose to instruct, and as a rule are as little "personalities" as their charges. Our whole educational problem suffers from a one-sided approach to the child who is to educated, and from an equally one-sided lack of emphasis on the uneducatedness of the educator. Everyone who has finished his course of studies feels himself to be fully educated; in a word, he feels grown up. He must feel this, he must have this solid conviction of his own competence in order to survive the struggle for existence. Any doubt or feeling of uncertainty would hinder and cripple him, undermining the necessary faith in his own authority and unfitting him for a professional career. People expect him to be efficient and good at this job and not to have doubts about himself and his capabilities. The professional man is irretrievably condemned to be competent.

Everyone knows that these conditions are not ideal. But, with reservations, we can say that they are the best possible under the circumstances. We cannot imagine how they could be different. We cannot expect more from the average educator than from the average parent. If he is good at his job, we have to be content with that, just as we have to be content with parents bringing up their children as best they can.

The fact is that the high ideal of educating the personality is not for children: for what is usually meant by personality – a well-rounded psychic whole that is capable of resistance and abounding in energy – is an adult ideal . It is only in an age like ours, when the individual is unconscious of the problems of adult life, or – what is worse – when he consciously shirks them, that people could wish to foist this ideal on to childhood. I suspect our contemporary pedagogical and psychological enthusiasm for the child of dishonourable intentions: we talk about the child, but we should mean the child in the adult. For in every adult there lurks a child – an eternal child, something that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention, and education. That is the part of the human personality which wants to develop and become whole. But the man of today is far indeed from this wholeness. Dimly suspecting his own deficiencies, he seizes upon child education and fervently devotes himself to child psychology, fondly supposing that something must have gone wrong in his own upbringing and childhood development that can be weeded out in the next generation. This intention is highly commendable, but comes to grief on the psychological fact that we cannot correct in a child a fault that we ourselves still commit. Children are not half as stupid as we imagine. They notice only too well what is genuine and what is not. Hans Andersen's story of the emperor's clothes contains a perennial truth. How many parents have come to me with the laudable intention of sparing their children the unhappy experiences they had to go through in their own childhood! And when I ask, "Are you quite sure you have overcome these mistakes yourself?" they are firmly convinced that the damage has long since been repaired. In actual fact it has not. If as children they were brought up too strictly, then they spoil their own children with a tolerance bordering on bad taste; if certain matters were painfully concealed from them in childhood, these are revealed with a lack of reticence that is just as painful. They have merely gone to the opposite extreme, the strongest evidence for the tragic survival of the old sin – a fact which has altogether escaped them.

If there is anything that we wish to change in our children, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. Take our enthusiasms for pedagogics. It may be that the boot is on the other leg. It may be that we misplace the pedagogical need because it would be an uncomfortable reminder that we ourselves are still children in many respects and still need a vast amount of educating.

At any rate this doubt seems to me to be extremely pertinent when we set out to train our children's "personalities." Personality is a seed that can only develop by slow stages throughout life. There is no personality without definiteness, wholeness, and ripeness. These three qualities cannot and should not be expected of the child, as they would rob it of childhood. It would be nothing but an abortion, a premature pseudo-adult; yet our modern education has already given birth to such monsters, particularly in those cases where parents set themselves the fanatical task of always "doing their best" for the children and "living only for them." This clamant ideal effectively prevents the parents from doing anything about their own development and allows them to thrust their "best" down their children's throats. This so-called "best" turns out to be the very things the parents have most badly neglected in themselves. In this way the children are goaded on to achieve their parents' most dismal failures, and are loaded with ambitions that are never fulfilled. Such methods and ideals only engender educational monstrosities.

No one can train the personality unless he has it himself. And it is not the child, but only the adult, who can achieve personality as the fruit of a full life directed to this end. The achievement of personality means nothing less than the optimum development of the whole individual human being. It is impossible to foresee the endless variety of conditions that have to be fulfilled. A whole lifetime, in all its biological, social, and spiritual aspects, is needed. Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being. It is an act of high courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of existence coupled with the greatest possible freedom for self-determination. To educate a man to this seems to me no light matter. It is surely the hardest task the modern mind has set itself. And it is dangerous too, dangerous to a degree that Schiller never imagined, though his prophetic insight made him the first to venture upon these problems. It is as dangerous as the bold and hazardous undertaking of nature to let women bear children. Would it not be sacrilege, a Promethean or even Luciferian act of presumption, if a superman ventured to grow an homunculus in a bottle and then found it sprouting into a Golem? And yet he would not be doing anything that nature does not do every day. There is no human horror or fairground freak that has not lain in the womb of a loving mother. As the sun shines upon the just and the unjust, and as women who bear and give suck tend God's children and the devil's brood with equal compassion, unconcerned about the possible consequences, so we are part and parcel of this amazing nature, and, like it, carry within us the seeds of the unpredictable.

Our personality develops in the course of our life from germs that are hard or impossible to discern, and it is only our deeds that reveal who we are. We are like the sun, which nourishes the life of the earth and brings forth every kind of strange, wonderful, and evil thing; we are like the mothers who bear in their wombs untold happiness and suffering. At first we do not know what deeds or misdeeds, what destiny, what good and evil we have in us, and only the autumn can show what the spring has engendered, only in the evening will it be seen what the morning began.

Personality, as the complete realization of our whole being, is an unattainable ideal. But unattainability is no argument against the ideal, for ideals are only signposts, never the goal.

Just as the child must develop in order to be educated, so the personality must begin to sprout before it can be trained. And this is where the danger begins. For we are handling something unpredictable, we do not know how and in what direction the budding personality will develop, and we have learned enough of nature and the world to be somewhat chary of both. On top of that, we were brought up in the Christian belief that human nature is intrinsically evil. But even those who no longer adhere to the Christian teaching are by nature mistrustful and not a little frightened of the possibilities lurking in the subterranean chambers of their being. Even enlightened psychologists like Freud give us an extremely unpleasant picture of what lies slumbering in the depths of the human psyche. So it is rather a bold venture to put in a good word for the development of personality. Human nature, however, is full of the strangest contradictions. We praise the "sanctity of motherhood," yet would never dream of holding it responsible for all the human monsters, the homicidal maniacs, dangerous lunatics, epileptics, idiots and cripples of every description who are born every day. At the same time we are tortured with doubts when it comes to allowing the free development of personality. "Anything might happen then," people say. Or they dish up the old, feeble-minded objection to "individualism." But individualism is not and never has been a natural development; it is nothing but an unnatural usurpation, a freakish, impertinent pose that proves its hollowness by crumpling up before the least obstacle. What we have in mind is something very different.

Clearly no one develops his personality because someone tells him that it would be useful or advisable to do so. Nature has never been taken in by well-meaning advice. The only thing that moves nature is causal necessity, and that goes for human nature too. Without necessity nothing budges, the human personality least of all. It is tremendously conservative, not to say torpid. Only acute necessity is able to rouse it. The development of personality obeys no caprice, no command, no insight, only brute necessity; it needs the motivating force of inner or outer fatalities. Any other development would be no better than individualism. That is why the cry of "individualism" is a cheap insult when flung at the natural development of personality.

The words "many are called, but few are chosen" are singularly appropriate here, for the development of personality from the germ-state to full consciousness is at once a charisma and a curse, because its first fruit is the conscious and unavoidable segregation of the single individual from the undifferentiated and unconscious herd. This means isolation, and there is no more comforting word for it. Neither family nor society nor position can save him from this fate, nor yet the most successful adaptation to his environment, however smoothly he fits in. The development of personality is a favour that must be paid for dearly. But the people who talk most loudly about developing their personalities are the very ones who are least mindful of the results, which are such as to frighten away all weaker spirits.

Yet the development of personality means more than just the fear of hatching forth monsters, or of isolation. It also means fidelity to the law of one's own being.

For the word "fidelity" I should prefer, in this context, the Greek word used in the New Testament, πíστις [pistis], which is erroneously translated as "faith." It really means "trust," "trustful loyalty." Fidelity to the law of ones own being is a trust in this law, a loyal perseverance and confident hope; in short, an attitude such as a religious man should have towards God. It can now be seen how portentous is the dilemma that emerges from behind our problem: personality can never develop unless the individual chooses his own way, consciously and with moral deliberation. Not only the causal motive – necessity – but conscious moral decision must lend its strength to the process of building the personality. If the first is lacking, then the alleged development is a mere acrobatics of the will; if the second, it will get stuck in unconscious automatism. But a man can make a moral decision to go his own way only if he holds that way to be the best. If any other way were held to be better, then he would live and develop that other personality instead of his own. The other ways are conventionalities of a moral, social, political, philosophical, or religious nature. The fact that the conventions always flourish in one form or another only proves that the vast majority of mankind do not choose their own way, but convention, and consequently develop not themselves but a method and a collective mode of life at the cost of their own wholeness.

Just as the psychic and social life of mankind at the primitive level is exclusively a group life with a high degree of unconsciousness among the individuals composing it, so the historical process of development that comes afterwards is in the main collective and will doubtless remain so. That is why I believe convention to be a collective necessity. It is a stopgap and not an ideal, either in the moral or in the religious sense, for submission to it always means renouncing one's wholeness and running away from the final consequences of one's own being.

To develop one's personality is indeed an unpopular undertaking, a deviation that is highly uncongenial to the herd, an eccentricity smelling of the coenobite, as it seems to the outsider. Small wonder, then, that from earliest times only the chosen few have embarked upon this strange adventure. Had they all been fools, we could safely dismiss them as idiotai , mentally "private" persons who have no claim on our interest. But, unfortunately, these personalities are as a rule the legendary heros of mankind, the very ones who are looked up to, loved, and worshipped, the true sons of God whose names perish not. They are the flower and the fruit, the ever fertile seeds of the tree of humanity. This allusion to historical personalities makes it abundantly clear why the development of personality is an ideal, and why the cry of individualism is an insult. The greatness has never lain in their abject submission to convention, but, on the contrary, in their deliverance from convention. They towered up like mountain peaks above the mass that still clung to its collective fears, its beliefs,laws, and systems, and boldly chose to go their own way. To the man in the street it has always seemed miraculous that anyone should turn aside from the beaten track with its known destinations, and strike out on the steep and narrow path leading into the unknown. Hence it was always believed that such a man, if not actually crazy, was possessed by a daemon or a god; for the miracle of a man being able to act otherwise than as humanity has always acted could only be explained by the gift of daemonic power or divine spirit. How could anyone but a god counterbalance the dead weight of humanity in the mass, with its everlasting convention and habit? From the beginning, therefore, the heroes were endowed with godlike attributes. According to the Nordic view they had snake's eyes,and there was something peculiar about their birth or descent; certain heroes of ancient Greece were snake-souled, others had a personal daemon, were magicians or the elect of God. All these attributes, which could be multiplied at will, show that for the ordinary man the outstanding personality is something supernatural , a phenomenon that can only be explained by the intervention of some daemonic factor (pars 284-323).
I think that Jung was angry, and not just passionate,when he wrote this. But it certainly has created me a great deal of thought and self reflection on the nature of my parents' and teachers' educating me, and on my own slothful torpidity.

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