The life story each of us tells is part of a larger story unfolding around us. Take a moment to reflect on where we are, what is going on around us, and what it all means; this is what will give us the clues we need to recognize the guiding forces of our time. If you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s pretty well known that, since the 1960s especially, a new way of seeing the world began to take shape and move to the forefront of our attention.
The Civil Rights Movement, a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War to end slavery, focused on the deep, lingering inequalities that persisted from before and since then. In the midst of this struggle for equality came this vision of oneness from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.
And now, a half century after that, we still have bloodshed in the streets over civil rights, and a new emergent movement, Black Lives Matter.
Yet, this vision echoed Black Elk’s vision of the 1930s, whose life story become a rallying cry on and off college campuses during the 1960s, too: “The sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”
This vision, in one form or another, has been around almost as long as humanity itself. But it has come on strong in the recent past.
In the 1970s, anthropologist Margaret Mead, writing on safeguarding diversity, expressed this as “the vision of a human community, who together make up the unity of the human race.” She envisioned a global community in which the contributions of each culture are complimentary and there are no outsiders.
In the 1980s, psychologist and psychoanalyst Erik Erikson expanded on his theory of identity development by calling for a future all-human, all-inclusive identity, through which we would recognize—and become—what we already are: one species. When we work toward a wider identity, he said, our narrower identities of ethnic, national, and other origins need not become endangered, but can become fulfilled as we identify with all of mankind.
By 1969, it had seemed like reality had caught up with this truly age-old vision. The moonwalk, and the remarkable new photos sent back from the moon, made it possible to view the Earth in a way only previously imagined, as a shimmering globe floating in the heavens with no visible boundaries between us. We knew then, from our own experience, and with our own eyes, that humanity is one. Our new view of our world—from the moon—confirmed what the great visionaries and prophets of earlier times had told us from their journey to their depths.
It was soon after this, when I made one of my visits to Joseph Campbell’s home, that he gave me his book Creative Mythology. In the beginning of the book, he offered his reflections on having completed the four-volume Masks of God:
I find that its main result for me has been its confirmation of a thought I have long and faithfully entertained: of the unity of the race of man, not only in its biology but also in its spiritual history, which has everywhere unfolded in the manner of a single symphony, . . . irresistibly advancing to some kind of mighty climax, out of which the next great movement will emerge. And I can see no reason why anyone should suppose that in the future the same motifs already heard will not be sounding still—in new relationships indeed, but ever the same motifs.
This may be a stretch for some, but not at all for so many others. If “the unity of the race of man” is the primary archetype of the myth, or sacred story, of our time, what are the supporting archetypes that we would have to be able to recognize in the new relationships Campbell alluded to? Wouldn’t the secondary archetypes of such a vision have to be those that would promote and sustain such a vision of collective unity? And if so, how are these archetypes, or guiding forces, of our time shaping your life story?