Me and my Shadow

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When I went to see The Zone of Interest I wondered in the first ten minutes if I would be able to sit through the whole film.
For those unfamiliar with the movie, it is the story of Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, and his family, who live next door to the concentration and extermination camp. It is about cognitive dissonance.
The family appears in idyllic scenes by the river. Höss’s wife takes her infant round the large and beautifully kept garden telling the child the names of flowers, holding her so she can smell a rose. We see her twirling before a mirror in the bedroom in a fur coat. She finds a lipstick in the pocket and smears it on her lips. The coat has been taken from someone who is probably already dead.
We never see what happens in the camp. Out of sight, out of mind?
But we see the smoke coming out of the huge chimneys behind the wall separating the house from the adjacent barracks. We hear gunshots and screams. A train arrives.
I came across the following in a Guardian interview with the director of the film, Jonathan Glazer, who is Jewish.
“To acknowledge the couple as human beings,” says Glazer, shaking his head, “was a big part of the awfulness of this entire journey of the film, but I kept thinking that, if we could do so, we would maybe see ourselves in them. For me, this is not a film about the past. It’s trying to be about now, and about us and our similarity to the perpetrators, not our similarity to the victims.”
This is for me what the film is about. It is a warning. To awaken us to our own cognitive dissonance. Where do we look away? Discomfited by injustice perhaps. Or disturbed when we witness the humiliation and maltreatment of another and say nothing.
When do we engage in this kind of behaviour ourselves? Where do we give up any sense of morality when seduced by power or status?
This to me is the burning question of these times. Where does the perpetrator live in me? Where do I leave myself open to the dehumanisation of myself or others? Where am I in danger of surrendering my deepest values in order to maintain my ‘lifestyle’, a facade like the Höss serene family life where Daddy reads his children a bedtime story?
We have to be willing to examine the shadow in ourselves, otherwise we can too easily project it on to the outside world.
Sam Keen wrote a book about this. Faces of the Enemy-Reflections of the Hostile Imagination. It is full of images used to indoctrinate and inculcate hatred of The Other so that it becomes easy to eliminate them once we have annihilated their individuality. Propaganda.
And that is a process that is these days supported by sensationalist headlines intended to create strong emotional reactions, to get ‘likes’ and views. And revenue.
We must be alert to this manipulation and the attempts by others to harness our rage, fear, and feelings of powerlessness for their own end. We must learn to bring ourselves back to our common humanity, to our heart. 💚
Lest we become robots emptied of empathy and willing participants in the destruction of all that we love.
I am working with my dear friend and transpersonal psychologist/therapist colleague, Arielle Warnerto develop ways to nourish and support ourselves and others in these challenging times. This involves a deep exploration of our own shadows and willingness to be present to the pain in the world.
And to celebrate and embrace the love and care which also surrounds us.
Symbolised by the girl in The Zone of Interest who at great risk to herself, brings those in the camp food at night and who was a real person whom Glazer met shortly before she died at 90 years of age.
A sacred gift of nourishment which she took great risks to provide.
Love is there.

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