A Species In Denial—Resignation
The destructive effect of the silence from the world of resigned adults
While the issue of the human condition, the issue of the imperfection of the world around them, was devastatingly depressing for nearly all young adolescents, the loneliness of what they were going through was almost as difficult.
Adult humans live virtually in total denial of the issue of the human condition. In fact humanity is a species in denial, effectively a whole race affected by a type of amnesia; were there intelligence in outer space we would be known as the alienated species, so much is alienation our dominant characteristic. ‘Conspiracy theorists’, people who believe there is a great conspiracy on Earth, are often accused of paranoia, yet in fact there is a great conspiracy on Earth, but it is not some secret plan hatched by an elite few to dominate the world, as these theorists often maintain, rather it is this great conspiracy of Page 195 of
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Young adolescents in each new generation tried to understand the paradox and hypocrisy of human life that was visible to them everywhere they looked. For a while they asked their parents why the world wasn’t ideal. They asked, ‘Mum, why do you and Dad shout at each other?’ and ‘Why are we going to a lavish party when that family down the road is poor?’ and ‘Why is everyone so unhappy and preoccupied?’ and ‘Why are people so artificial and false?’ and ‘Why do men kill each other?’ Basically they were asking the fundamental question ‘Why isn’t the world ideal?’ Parents, unable to explain the riddle of the human condition and fully resigned to a life dedicated to denying and evading the whole depressing subject, have not, until now, been able to answer these questions. In fact such questions have always made parents feel so awkward that young people soon learnt to stop asking. Nevertheless these questions are the truly important questions about human life, as George Wald pointed out in the Introduction, ‘The great questions are those an intelligent child asks and, getting no answers, stops asking.’ A WTM Founding Member employed as a nanny recalled these questions from a 13-year-old girl in her charge, ‘I was always crushed as a kid because Mum and Dad couldn’t answer all my questions, weren’t you?’ and, ‘Why are adults so silent. Why can’t they remember what it was like as a kid?’ (personal communication, Aug. 2000). In the soundtrack to the classic 1973 film, American Graffiti, there is an achingly beautiful snippet of dialogue between the legendary 1970s disc jockey Wolfman Jack and a 13-year-old boy who has rung Wolfman’s radio program. It appears at the beginning of the song To The Aisle: ‘Wolfman: Hellooo Boy: Yeahhh Wolfman: How old are you? Boy: I’m thirteeeen, how old are youuu? Wolfman: I’m only 14 Boy: Oh boy, I love you Wolfman.’ While it is hard to convey the nuances in the voices, you sense a feeling of overwhelming appreciation by the boy of Wolfman’s efforts to relate to his world.
The silence practiced by the resigned adult world produced an extremely confusing state of affairs for young adolescents to cope with, adjust to and try to understand. In fact the silence, the denial, was so great they almost invariably could not defy it. Eventually, the coercive effect of the silence combined with the pain of the depression that arose from trying to confront the human condition forced them to resign. Once resigned, the answer to the question of why the falseness existed became self-evident and they became part of the lie and problem encountered by the next generation. As the late Page 196 of
Print Edition Jim Morrison of the rock band, The Doors, said, ‘Nobody gets out of this world alive’ (by ‘alive’ he meant alive psychologically, not physically). The situation is described in the Bible metaphorically in the words, ‘the sins of the father carry on from generation to generation’ (see Exodus 20:5, Deut. 5:9). (It should be emphasised here that, from the greater perspective and tragic as it was, adults’ resigned dishonest way of living was unavoidable and thus not a ‘sin’ in the sense of being something bad, evil or wrong. Understanding the human condition allows humans to understand themselves; it brings healing compassion into their lives; it lifts the historic burden of guilt from the human situation.)
Once resigned to living evasively you could no longer see the evasion, but in their unresigned state children and young adolescents were able to see the full horror of the human condition. The 19th-century novelist, George Eliot (the pen-name of Marian Evans), acknowledged the situation when she wrote that, ‘Childhood is only the beautiful and happy time in contemplation and retrospect; to the child, it is full of deep sorrows, the meaning of which is unknown [to adults living in denial of the human condition].’
A Newsweek article that discussed childhood stress was bordering on the truth when it said, ‘Parents are frequently wrong about the sources of stress in their children’s lives, according to surveys by Georgia Witkin of Mount Sinai Medical School; they think children worry most about friendships and popularity, but they’re actually fretting about the grown-ups’ (May 1999).
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry articulated the child’s point of view beautifully in his celebrated 1945 book The Little Prince, when he had the Little Prince say, ‘grown-ups are certainly very, very odd’ (p.41 of 91).
Resigned adults have not been able to deal with childhood trauma because they have not been able to deal with the dilemma posed by human nature. Being resigned, they were committed to blocking out the truth of what it was that was tormenting children, namely the false world of adults. Resigned and unresigned minds have lived in two completely different worlds. Children and adults were like different species, each almost invisible to the other. Robert Louis Stevenson described the situation thus, ‘And so it happens that although the paths of children cross with those of adults in one hundred places every day, they never go in the same direction; nor do they even rest on the same foundations’ (quoted in the introduction to the 1997 Spanish film, The Colour of the Clouds).
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Print Edition The ‘silence’ of resigned adults had a devastating effect on young adolescents. Psychologists coined the word ‘codependent’ to describe someone who is ‘reliant on another to the extent that independent action is no longer possible’ (Macquarie Dict. 3rd edn, 1998). By far the main reason for codependent situations amongst humans—in fact the word ‘codependent’ would almost certainly not have been created had this reason not existed—was that adult humans lived in denial of and were silent about their resigned, alienated state. Of course this denial, lie, silence was not something that people could avoid. In fact, for the most part people have not been aware of their alienation. If the alienated realised they were alienated they would not be alienated—they would not have succeeded in blocking out and denying their corrupted condition. To the extent that people had some awareness of their alienation and its dishonest, artificial, superficial and extremely evasive (of so many fundamental truths) behaviour they tended to believe that the reason for their behaviour was self-evident to others. Being largely unaware of the existence of alienation and that it varied in degree from person to person, everyone tended to believe that everyone else was like themselves, and therefore through experiencing life the way they were experiencing it, others would empathise with their behaviour. The truth of the extreme differences between people in their degree of alienation has been one of the main truths that humans have lived in denial of.
The fact is, people have differed greatly in their degree of alienation, which, incidentally, is a situation that will continue until understanding of the human condition heals alienation. This difference in alienation was most pronounced between those who had not yet resigned to a life of denial of the human condition and those who had. The difficulty for those who had not yet resigned and were not alienated, and also for those who had resigned but were less alienated than others, was they had no way of either understanding or appreciating the distorted behaviour of people who were more alienated than themselves. If the more alienated would not be honest about their dishonest, artificial, superficial and evasive behaviour—which, as explained, they were not able to be until now—then the more innocent and thus less alienated were at a loss to appreciate their behaviour. This placed the more innocent and less alienated in a potentially codependent position. If the alienated would not admit that their behaviour was false or non-ideal and carried on as if there were nothing unnatural or distorted about it, then the more innocent Page 198 of
Print Edition had to decide which of the two of them was right. Was the more alienated person’s insinuation that their behaviour was not false and non-ideal right, or was the more innocent person’s view that it was false and non-ideal right? How did the more innocent resolve this question?
As has been mentioned, part of the resigned adults’ world of denial was denial of the truth that humans once lived instinctively in a cooperative state. This past cooperative period means that humans now carry within them an instinctive expectation of encountering a cooperative, loving, trusting world. Someone with an uncorrupted, instinctive self or soul, that is, someone who is innocent, therefore expects others to be cooperative, loving and trustworthy. In encounters between the innocent and the alienated where the alienated said, in effect, that they were not at fault then, in their instinctive generosity and trust, the more innocent were left believing they must have been at fault, they must have been in the wrong. In their naivety, generosity and trust, they would question their own view, not the more alienated view. The more innocent did not know people were lying. Their more trusting nature made them susceptible to believing the more alienated were right, rather than accepting their own view of the situation.
Another element that put the more alienated person in a much stronger position than the more innocent one was the fact that, while innocence has not known about the state of alienation, because it has never experienced it, alienation has known about the state of innocence, because it came from there. While those in the alienated state could not acknowledge the state of innocence, because it was too confronting and exposing of their alienation, they intuitively knew what was going on, knew that the innocent person was struggling with their lies. While the world of denial and its alienation was a devastating mystery to innocents, it was no mystery to the alienated and as such they were not going to be affected by the innocents’ point of view in the struggle between what the innocents were saying was right and what the alienated were saying was right.
Since the emergence of consciousness and with it the human condition, the more alienated have, sometimes unwittingly and sometimes deliberately, bluffed, seduced, and ‘sucked in’ the more innocent by their more corrupted behaviour; they have made the innocent doubt their thoughts, they have even made them believe and suffer from feeling that they must have been the cause of the Page 199 of
Print Edition alienated person’s behaviour, such was the generosity and trust of innocence. These experiences of guilt, pain and hurt had the potential to destroy innocence, thereby adding to the ranks of the corrupted and alienated. This has been the essential pattern of behaviour in so-called ‘dysfunctional’ families. Also, as is explained in Beyond in ‘Stage 2’ of the ‘Illustrated Summary of the Development and Resolution of Upset’, and as will be explained in the first section of the next essay, ‘Bringing peace to the war between the sexes’, men have had a more egocentric role in the battle to overcome the human condition than women, which left women in a more innocent position in the battle and thus often codependent to men.
Various codependent situations occurred in relationships as a result of these differing levels of innocence and alienation in humans, but the most pronounced was the codependency between unresigned young adolescents and resigned adults because it was in this situation that the difference in alienation was the most extreme. This already extreme codependency was further compounded when the alienated adults were the adolescent’s parents, because parents were the people in whom innocents placed their greatest trust. The greater the difference in the levels of alienation and the greater the degree of trust in the relationship, the more extreme and devastating the codependency would be. Even very young children suffered from being codependent to their parents; in fact, if resigned adults realised the degree to which children blamed themselves for their parents’ behaviour and situation, they may have been too afraid to have had children. You can sense, in Lisa Tassone’s letter, the relief from at last being told what is going on in the resigned adult world; at last someone had ‘spilt the beans’, let the truth out, broken the silence.
The Simon and Garfunkel’s 1964 song The Sound of Silence contains the line, ‘Fool, said I, you do not know—silence like a cancer grows.’ The silence of the resigned adult world has been murderous to young people. One reason children so enjoy Roald Dahl’s books and Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince (which has sold more than 50 million copies and was the third most-read book of the 20th century, after the Bible and the Koran), is because they acknowledge that the world of adults has been a monstrously weird and awful place. Dahl and Saint-Exupéry took the child’s view of the adult world and tried to alleviate children’s suffering by exposing the truth about the horribly false, vicious and distorted adult world. Completely unaware of their own terrifying, corrupt and dishonest state, many parents feared the horror Page 200 of
Print Edition in children’s fairy tales would terrify and corrupt their children, but in fact children found some relief in the honesty of the stories. Adults use humour in a similar way, indeed humour only exists because of human alienation. For the most part, adult humans maintain a carefully constructed facade of denial but every now and then they make a mistake and the truth of their real situation is revealed, providing the basis for humour. When someone falls over, for instance, it’s humorous because suddenly their carefully constructed image of togetherness disintegrates.
Now that the human condition has finally been explained, it is at last safe to completely and permanently break the terrible silence of the adult world of denial; it is safe to tell children why it was necessary for the adult world to be so corrupted, dishonest and awful, and in the process admit all the denied truth about that world. Parents can at last compassionately tell children the truth about themselves—and the result will be that children will no longer have to die inside themselves in a sea of silence and lies, nor will they have to resign. This will enable a new kind of human, free of soul-hurt and psychological damage, to grow up and populate the world.