In 1948, C.G. Jung wrote to UNESCO describing how analytical psychology could help promote world peace (Jung 1948). He made some practical suggestions that they did not take up.
The nature of international conflict has changed significantly since then. There has been a shift in the balance from war towards terrorism, a shift that was predicted before the fall of the Berlin Wall by a Jungian Analyst (Bernstein 1989). Nevertheless, Jung’s proposals remain relevant today as they provide practical ways in which every citizen can play their part in developing world peace.
What underpinned Jung’s proposals was the idea that unconscious motivations are much more powerful than conscious intent. UNESCO recognise this in part, by acknowledging that “political and economic agreements are not enough to build a lasting peace”1. They have four ways of tackling this problem: education, cultural exchange, scientific co-operation, and protecting freedom of expression. Jung’s proposals would add a fifth strategy – deepening individual self-awareness.
A 5th strategy for UNESCO?
Jung’s idea is based on the premise that conflict per se between two cultures (countries, societies, or religions) is natural or normal. The problem to be tackled is not to remove conflict, but to prevent it escalating into destructive violence, by helping the conflict become productive. Conflict becomes destructive when it is hijacked by unconscious, emotional tendencies that are out of control and have massed together to form a cultural movement. Conflict is productive when both sides recognise the validity of the other, and collaborate to find solutions to their differences.
Although the relationship between culture and the individual is complex, if enough individuals develop greater self-awareness it will have a beneficial impact on international relations. The collective impact of individuals on society can be illustrated with the analogy of acid rain, which can affect the quality of water in a river. No individual drop of rain does significant damage, but the collective effect of all the acid rain is to kill the fish in the river. In a similar way, individual members of a society don’t cause international conflict, but the collective lack of self-awareness of members of society can contribute to the toxification of international relations.
The process of increasing individual self-awareness helps to reduce the collective emotional hijacking that takes place in international relations. It results in a shift from an imbalanced attitude – in which one’s own society is seen as entirely good and the other society is seen as evil – to a more balanced recognition of the good and evil on both sides. This increases the likelihood of finding peaceful ways of resolving international conflict.
Increasing awareness of your unconscious mind
Increasing self-awareness is not easy because, by definition, we are not aware of what we need to learn and, according to Jung, it is a morally challenging task. Also, many popular ways of becoming more self-aware (such as 360 degree feedback) have only a limited impact. They make you aware of how well you fit into the current culture, but they do not raise awareness of what is unconscious for both the individual and society.
Increasing awareness of what is unconscious (for both the individual and the culture) can only be done indirectly, by withdrawing projections, or by looking for the unintended consequences of our actions in the world, or analysing dreams, or interpreting art that is generated by certain types of creative artists who challenge cultural norms. Much of analytical psychology is concerned with raising self-awareness (which Jung described as integrating the unconscious into consciousness).
Increasing self-awareness is a practical and noble task in which you can do your bit for world peace. It contributes to the development of a collective culture that is better-equipped to deal with international conflict.
Berstein, J. S. (1989), Power and Politics, (Massachusetts: Shambala)
Jung, C.G. (1948), Techniques of attitude change conducive to world peace in Collected Works 18 (Hove: Routledge, 1977), pp. 606-613