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Reply To: The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.”


I, too, appreciate James’ recommendation of Daryl Sharp, who has been mostly off my radar. But I’d like to follow up on a reflection from your earlier response:

It’s impossible to ignore the events of the past several days, which show us a Mr. Putin who apparently believes that he is acting in an heroic manner, but like Ciardi’s hero, he is saving the Ukraine in two. Berthold Brecht wrote in his The Life of Galileo, ‘Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.’ Because the land that needs a hero suffers on two fronts, first from the circumstances that evoke its cries for deliverance, and secondly, large portions of the land and its people themselves will suffer from the Hero’s acts of ‘saving them.’ The hero business is always a rather messy one.”

Thank you for going there, Brad!

All eyes seem riveted on the tragedy unfolding in eastern Europe. But rather than focus on the faux heroic mantle Putin assumes (which brings to mind his American disciple’s claim that “I alone can fix it”), I’d like to turn my attention to Ukraine, very much an unhappy land sorely in need of heroes.

And heroes there are, in droves! Not individuals on a seemingly abstract psychological journey, but people in the flesh engaging in literal, real world heroics – not celebrities or sports figures, nor characters in a film or other work of fiction, but so many living lives just like us, exhibiting in deed and act courage beyond the ordinary, even in the face of certain death, on behalf of family, friends, country, and the idea of democracy and freedom – all playing out in real time across our screens.

No wonder songs have been sung and stories told about heroes from time immemorial! It is so incredibly affecting  to observe a true act of heroism. The example of Volodymyr Zelensky (who shares the same first name as Vladimir Putin – which ironically means “to rule with greatness” or “renown prince”), who knows that he and his family are targeted for elimination but nevertheless declined the offer to evacuate to lead his people (“The fight is here; I don’t need a ride – I need ammunition!”), outgunned, outmanned, and outspent, against an enemy bent on destruction, has proven contagious. His heroism galvanized an entire population, and even persuaded several European leaders to change direction and take dramatic and drastic actions at great risk to their own economic well-being. (Heck, even Switzerland has dropped their longstanding neutrality!)

Zelensky, a comedian whose prior governing experience consisted of playing a president on TV, had been no great shakes as a leader up to this point. He hadn’t been able to get a handle on the corruption he promised to end, didn’t stand up to Trump’s strong-arming, and seemingly went out of his way to avoid antagonizing Putin, ending up with approval ratings below 30% as of December – but with the invasion he heard the Call, and rose to the occasion.

Would the Ukrainian people have held firm if he had followed the example of previous presidents who fled when the proverbial sh*t hit the fan?

The plight of the the Ukrainian people has awakened my compassion, just as it has so many around the world. But it’s not just sorrow I feel in solidarity with their pain and loss. I can’t help but also be uplifted and inspired by such real world heroism, large and small, magnified many times over.

There are no doubt archetypal forces in play.

In the Jungian model of the psyche archetypes are unable to directly access, or to be directly perceived within, mundane reality — but when patterns that evoke an archetype arise in an individual’s life, a complex set of behaviors are constellated, in effect adding flesh to the archetype as it comes to life in the individual, compelling actions that the conscious ego would never contemplate. Indeed, two weeks ago it seemed inconceivable, possibly even to Zelensky himself, that a professional comedian and past winner of the Ukrainian Dancing With the Stars contest, so far out of his depth, wouldn’t flee the country, under the rationale of “leading a government-in-exile” – but, as he tells it, this “accidental hero” had no choice but to stay and stand with his people.

Just as these intense and shattering circumstances constellated the expression of the Hero archetype in Zelensky, the same for his people – and, indeed, that archetypal energy seems to have rippled out across Europe, reaching our shores and elsewhere as even nations previously aligned with Russia take a stand.

Heady times, this rare measure of nearly global consensus.

Will that be sustained once the crisis is past? Who can say?

Most heroes, once they come back down to earth, turn out to have feet of clay; it takes many years of sustained tempering to forge the soul of a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King. Should he (and Ukraine) survive this ordeal, Zelensky the War Hero may still turn out to be a mediocre chief executive, and Europe may yet settle back into the status quo.

But then again, strong winds are blowing. Could just be an illusion created by the numinous feel of those archetypal energies, but I can’t shake off the impression that a night-sea change is underway.

Maybe you are on to something when you quote Bogey in Casablanca, as indeed,

It seems that destiny has taken a hand.”