At once a charisma and a curse

Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?

Oh… no!

Well, you asked for it.

It’s a long quote, translated from German into English. To make it worse it’s Carl Gustav Jung – so nobody’s going to read it. Farewell, Gentle Reader! But since it’s concerning faithfulness to the law of one’s own being, I am forced to admit that this is the quote I return to again and again:

Clearly, no one develops his personality because somebody tells him that it would be useful or advisable to do so. Nature had never yet 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 developing personality obeys no caprice, no command, no insight, only a brute necessity; it needs the motivating force of inner and 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, not 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 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.

When I first read this I was going through a really bad time. I was trying to psychoanalyse myself – for two years, whilst driving back and forth to work, in sunshine and in blizzard. I’d drive along talking to Jung, talking to God, grieving for and talking to my lost lover and soul-mate – conversation after one-sided conversation, trying to explain – to me, via the three of them, why I felt like – and often dreamed I was – the driver a bus hanging over the edge of a cliff. Or that outcast chimp – you know, the one the other chimps attack if it gets near the food; the one that’s about to starve – or get eaten by the Lion – or whatever it is that eats chimps.

It was not until I read – and re-read – the above paragraphs from The Development of Personality that the ‘click’ occurred and I began to heal. Maybe it had been necessary – all this. Maybe it was worth it. Maybe I was metamorphosing into something new. Maybe I ought to fight the good fight. And he had been through it before me. I might be alone, but I was not, and never again would be, the only.

 

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