Through a Jungian Lens

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Understanding Others

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I’ve chosen a different photo today, one that is decidedly more messy, more full of life.  When I first came to China in August of 2006, I took a stroll down this street.  The left side was much like the right side, jam-packed with small shops and apartments that hugged a narrow street, a stark contrast to the city area in which I live which has wide streets with boulevards filled with grass, roses and sculpted bushes.  My first taste of street food was on this street in a little tarp-covered stall that sold noodle and dumpling soup to construction workers for the most part.  It still remains, at least in this small section, a messy place bursting with life.

Understanding all of this “life” that I encounter in China is problematic for me, and probably everyone else as well.  How can I really be expected to understand a foreign culture, let alone my own culture when I struggle with understanding myself.  It is a rare person who can say with honesty that he or she truly understands him or her “self.”

“Understanding oneself is difficult enough; understanding others is their responsibility, if they are inclined to do so and have a mind for it.  What one can know of another is just the tip of an iceberg; the far greater part of anyone’s personal identity is beyond the ken of an outsider.  For that matter, those who have worked on themselves enough to be comfortable with who they are – as opposed to those arrogant souls who are simply narcissistic – do not need, nor do the ask, to be understood by others.  I am what I am; take it or leave it..

The appropriate attitude for a long-term relationship is not understanding, but acceptance.  Each accepts the other, to the extent one can, and makes no issue of the rest.  This is not easy.  It means accepting not only the loved one’s persona, but also his or her shadow and other complexes.  It certainly requires empathy, but it also involves a mutual acknowledgement that one is responsible only for oneself.”  (Sharp, Jungian Psychology Unplugged, pp 74-75)

What I am learning to apply to my relationship with those I hold closest to me in my life, I am learning to use here in China as I build relationships with a country, a swirling mass of conflicting cultures, and the few individuals who see me and are willing to allow me into their orbit of relationships whether as friend, colleague, teacher or simply “laowai.”


8 Responses

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  1. Great post filled w/ insight that resonates… on a number of levels. Thanks, Robert.

    Walt Pascoe

    October 28, 2010 at 8:53 am

    • Thanks for dropping by and adding a comment Walt. I look forward to more from you in the future. I enjoy your “work” thanks to the link that “Twitter” has given me to your work. 🙂

      Robert G. Longpré

      October 28, 2010 at 9:19 am

  2. Thank you Robert, great Post and combining picture.
    To be honest, your former Post about “Intimacy and Space” did not supply me with the usual familiar resonance, I felt sort of “lost” – of course this has nothing to do with you, but my own level of understanding/comprehending.
    Your Post of today however, about “Understanding Others” made my strings resonate again – interesting facts about these differences in the two Posts.
    In your Post about “Intimacy and Space”, you wrote about the individuality of Chinese people, even in crowds.
    Could it be that the Asian Culture brought people up with a sort of inner “cultivation”.
    This inner cultivation prohibits the action of interfering in the “private” of other persons, because (in the founding time of the culture) this is considered to be impolite or even rude.
    The interesting part for me is if this form of non-action is experienced conscious or unconscious by the individual.
    Unconscious in my understanding that it is considered as “tradition” (Collective Unconscious).
    Conscious applied, then “Respect” must be added as conscious also – not as a word as we use in our Western culture with no real value at all – but a (true) deeper sense.

    Opa Bear

    October 28, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    • You are so right about how the Chinese culture looks inward rather than outward. It makes for some interesting “teaching” and “learning” moments here as I engage with the university students.

      Robert G. Longpré

      November 2, 2010 at 6:42 am

  3. this is a very provoking post. having lived in both west africa and thailand for over a year each i remember that tension well, but i also remember feeling like it was precisely because of the cultural differences that people saw parts of me that are normally hidden and vise versa.
    i take some issue with sharp – his language seems very reflective of his name. i think it is more gray than that. yes, acceptance is required perhaps more strenuously than understanding, but i think a loving intimate relationship begs for understanding as well. just as i agree that we all must take responsibility for ourselves, part of long term intimacy is grounded on an aspect of responsibility for other – whether that be a child or a lover…
    and i would argue that while we are not our brother’s keeper, we do have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in whatever form they take to do our best to be awake and present, so that if perchance heaven decides to open up that we can truely see them and understand them
    i am no doubt somewhat naive and perhaps overly prone to rose colored glasses, but i think that if one can expand their “container” large enough, a huge array of new possibilities can come into play.
    i have this memory of sitting on a little motorcycle taxi in thailand after about 8 months of living there, zipping through the busy streets at the end of the day. dust in the air, setting sun, noise and color everywhere and thinking to myself “wow this really IS SO different.” then we stopped at an intersection and two young boys with huge excited faces ran across the road, they had on matching brown “uniforms” and kerchiefs, on thier backs they each had a small back pack, tied to one of them was a wok…
    i laughed so hard at myself, my driver thought i was crazy, but i could not think of how to explain that we have boyscouts too, only they don’t cook out of wok’s!


    October 29, 2010 at 1:13 am

    • Interesting . . . in relationships and in meeting distant others we do have a responsibility . . . for in the end, we are all ONE.

      Robert G. Longpré

      November 2, 2010 at 6:44 am

  4. My favourite streets! Yesterday I was coming back from the new campus, looking at the buildings beside the road, and noticed one row that had what looked like a series of small cement outhouses attached to the wall, but on the roof of the ground (first) floor. Definitely not similar to any other constructions I had seen. I have no idea why these leans-tos are there, and it made me realise that one of the things that keeps me here is that I DON’T understand. I had a feeling that if I understood all the functions and reasons, then it would be time to move on. Difference and the unknown keeps me interested.

    In relationships, does this happen? Maybe when we believe that the ‘other’ is no longer a mystery, that we have heard all the stories, can predict the reactions, the words, then we have become too enmeshed, too familiar, is that when we feel the need to pull apart and move away? We have become ‘one’ and no longer feel the excitement of mystery?

    Lotus Eater

    October 29, 2010 at 8:51 am

    • Thanks, Lotus. Yes, the differences are like magnets for the mind that keep one engaged.

      Robert G. Longpré

      November 2, 2010 at 6:45 am

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