23 March 2016

A continuation of a conversation

So here once more for me is Ralph Waldo Emerson and the essay “Compensation” (see my earlier blog post!). There I explored compensation as the ‘counterbalance, the rendering of an equivalent,” and suggested that in his essay Emerson adjudged opposites as the same. The good is contained in the bad and cannot be defined without identifying its opposite. But if the good contains evil then how does it become possible to define either good or evil?  Or I offered that compensation refers to the balancing of forces in the universe resulting in what I referred to as a cosmic equilibrium. Finally I said that compensation refers to that which is given in recompense, as some form of payment for something received. And I suggested that the implication I received was that payment must always be made: nothing happens without consequences and for those consequences  responsibility must be taken.
     I read in D.W. Winnicott’s essay “Aggression, Guilt and Reparation” an idea that seems immediately derived from (akin to) the ideas in Emerson’s “Compensation.” But Winnicott references Melanie Klein’s work, “The Depressive Position in Emotional Development,” where she situates destructiveness inherent to human nature and where Winnicott credits her with having “started to make sense of [destructiveness] in psychoanalytic terms.” Winnicott acknowledges the destructiveness in the human being and uses it as a way to discuss the development of a sense of gullt.
     Winnicott attributes the sense of guilt to the sense of destructiveness that every human inevitably experiences even from very early in a life. After all, Winnicott says, the infant does desire to ‘eat up’ the mother. Guilt arises from an acceptance of full responsibility for these destructive ideas in the development of the individual. But wonderfully Winnicott does not limit development to the child but includes the entirety of life. He says, “In dealing with this development [of the sense of guilt], we know we are talking about the whole of childhood, particularly about adolescence; and if we are talking about adolescence, we are talking about adults, because no adults are all the time adult. This is because people are not just their own age; they are to some extent every age, or no age.” Indeed!
     Winnicott argues that to be healthy, which is to say, to achieve integration, it is necessary to accept all of our feelings, even the destructive ones. Not to do so results in our need to project our destructive feelings outward and rather than accept our destructive feelings, we seek to find those objects of which we disapprove of outside of ourselves. However, there is a price to be paid for this projection: for the compensation, so to speak. “This price,” says Winnicott, “being the loss of the destructiveness which really belongs to ourselves.” That is, we lose the sense of integration that is our health.
     And so over the years and the oceans, Emerson and Winnicott suggest to me the same things. Emerson says that “every transaction must be paid for;” and Winnicott cautions that we must take responsibility for our destructiveness if we would be whole. We must take responsibility for everything, and the assumption of that responsibility is the payment we make for a healthy life.


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