Carl Jung believed that the most dangerous capacity within humanity was the tendency to become one-sided. The refusal to acknowledge the inevitable messiness of ourselves and life itself can give rise to a ruthless judgmentalism that murders vitality. "The perfect is the enemy of the good", wrote Voltaire. So often in our search for perfection, monsters are born. I think of teenaged girls I have known who have starved themselves to the point of death in a search for a physically impossible ideal. I think of cherished friends who still carry the burden of shame for misspelling a word or peeing in their pants as children. I think of the adults who sat trembling on the piano bench of my music studio as long-buried memories of their knuckles being wrapped with rulers for playing a wrong note washed over them and froze their ability to play. The political and religious leaders whose quest for perfection led to such horrors as the Final Solution of Nazi Germany and the Spanish Inquisition illustrate how dangerous the capacity for one-sidedness truly is. When we believe that anything or anyone is all good or all bad , a tyrannical consciousness arises that at best, blinds us to messy beauty of reality and at worst, imposes a cruel dictatorship that creates a hell on earth.
The great wisdom teachers have a capacity to honor and hold the paradox of both sides of life: it beautiful and brutal, harsh and sublime, full of unbounded grace and devastating heartbreak. Inside each of us is both the sinner and the saint, a sage and a fool. Thich Nhat Han, Buddhist teacher and survivor of the horrors of the Vietnam War, exquisitely conveys this idea in his poem "Call Me By My True Names" when he urges us to identify with both victim and victimizer, urging us to name the totality of human experience and acknowledge the intense interweaving of joy and pain.
Below is a videotape made of Thich Nhat Hanh reading his poem. As you listen to it, hold this dear man in your own compassionate heart: he lies in a hospital in France where he is recovering from a brain hemorrhage.