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Tuesday, 7 March 2017


The psychotherapist and visionary Sheryl Paul, drawing on the work of Carl Jung, talks of different ‘characters’ that inhabit the mind. One of these characters, I believe, is akin to the Nazi. Consider this poem by Stephen Dobyns:


The Nazi within me thinks it's time to take charge.
The world's a mess; people are crazy.
The Nazi within me wants windows shut tight,
new locks put on the doors. There's too much
fresh air, too much coming and going.
The Nazi within me wants more respect. He wants
the only TV camera, the only bank account,
the only really pretty girl. The Nazi within me
wants to be boss of traffic and traffic lights.
People drive too fast; they take up too much space.
The Nazi within me thinks people are getting away
with murder. He wants to be the boss of murder.
He wants to be boss of bananas, boss of white bread.
The Nazi within me wants uniforms for everyone.
He wants them to wash their hands, sit up straight,
pay strict attention. He wants to make certain
they say yes when he says yes, no when he says no.
He imagines everybody sitting in straight chairs,
people all over the world sitting in straight chairs.
Are you ready? he asks them. They say they are ready.
Are you ready to be happy? he asks them. They say
they are ready to be happy. The Nazi within me wants
everyone to be happy but not too happy and definitely
not noisy. No singing, no dancing, no carrying on.
[from Velocities, Viking Penguin Books, 1994]

There is a Nazi in me. There is almost certainly a Nazi in you too. It is that part of us that can’t tolerate any perceived imperfection, that sees the world in starkly binary terms. It is that part of us that projects our own insecurities onto the world around us, and would rather annihilate that world than confront the monster within. (Indeed, there is a school of thought that postulates a possible Jewish ancestry as the source of Hitler’s vehemence.)

Do you deny that there is a Nazi in you? Are you horrified by the notion? That horror and denial are themselves facets of the Nazi. The Nazi in you can’t cope with blemishes. It believes itself to be pure, to be free from reproach. It believes itself to be entitled to “the only bank account,/the only really pretty girl.” And not for nothing did a whole society become enraptured by Hitler. His ideas obviously spoke to something very primal in us.

The challenge for us is to not let the inner Nazi win. For as I indicated at the beginning, there are other characters in us too. There is the inner Mother Theresa and the inner Gandhi. There might be an inner Casanova. There might even be an inner God or Jesus – Jung speaks, for example, of the “God archetype within.” So we have a choice. Perhaps we could smash the inner Nazi with our inner Stalin:

Does that not make us simply one of them? Won’t this produce an endless loop of self-loathing and self-reproach? After all, depression, as they say, is “anger directed inward.” Or we could break the circle with love, with acceptance and tolerance for what we cannot change about our fundamental nature. In other words, we can attempt to integrate all of the characters within us. Here is a workshop idea. Read Dobyns’ poem above, then have a think about some of the characters – good or bad –  within you. Using Dobyns’ structure, write a poem about ‘The X Within Me’. Here is my attempt:

The baby within me needs to be fed.
The baby within me wants to suck its thumb on the bus.
The baby within me wants to shit itself
and for nobody to mind.
The baby within me demands love and care
and to give nothing back but puke and noise.
It wants songs and laughter and lullabies.
It wants to be the only one to be allowed to cry.
The baby within me wants to cover its eyes
and in doing so make the bad guys
go away. The baby within me wants to play.
The baby within me can’t see black and white,
doesn’t perceive future or history.
The baby within me is innocent
and never proven guilty.
The baby within me is cooed over
by the judge and jury.
The baby within me hears its name as gospel.
The baby within me is learning to smile.

Here is a selection of lines produced by some of my students during a trial run of this workshop:

          The Hulk within me
          releases the bull whenever I get angry
          The dancer within me
          makes me think of sunshine and rainbows
          My eyes and my thoughts
          reflect the animal in me - 
          I am a liger, a hybrid
          The baby within me
          is a special gift
          The Spiderman within me
          swings from building to building
          saving the city from danger.

(Going back to the Nazi within, here is one final note. Jews sometimes refer to themselves as ‘God’s chosen people’. This pernicious phrasing has been at the root of much antisemitism and suspicion through the ages. In any racial sense it is obvious nonsense. In any theological sense it is fraught with problems. I don’t buy it at all. But consider this: every time I judge someone for their perceived imperfections it is incumbent upon me, ‘as a Jew’, to remember that not long ago my mere existence was perceived as just such an imperfection. This is not some kind of unique ‘chosenness’ but it might well amount to a  unique responsibility.)