“Character is destiny” is a saying by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus often quoted when assessing political leadership. This presumes that individuals including political leaders exhibit only one true defining persona. James Hillman, a Jungian psychologist, suggests in his book Re-Visioning Psychology that a more useful understanding of personalities is to re-personify personalities into metaphors—embodying and acting through various aspects of ourselves when called upon. No, I am not referring to dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) which is clearly pathological, but to the capability for each of us to live with an inner plurality of personae that respond differently depending on the current situation in our lives. This model of psychology calls on us to embrace different aspects of ourselves to express the diversity of our wholeness while at the same time letting go of the illusion of a unified Self.
Most of the time we present one persona publicly while repressing the less socially acceptable or dysfunctional aspects of our personality. This is a sign of a healthy mature individual. You may feel like behaving like a two-year old by throwing a temper tantrum but are able to repress the impulse to act on that persona in order to present a more effective adult behavior in dealing with a particular issue. However, I am not speaking of behavioral impulses when referring to persona plurality; I am pointing to embracing different HEALTHY aspects of our personality which come forth during particular times in our lives such as developmental stages or moments of crisis.
At these times, if one approaches the moment with the same public persona as always, disaster may result. From a monotheistic psychological perspective, character could well be destiny. However, from a polytheistic psychological perspective proposed by Mr. Hillman, one’s destiny can be shaped. How one responds to a particular life stage or moment in time using a plurality of healthy personae can determine success or failure in life, or at the very least peace or pain in a particular moment. Although one may not be able to completely control and determine the outcome of his or her destiny, one can change the quality of the journey.
The Trickster archetype found in our own Native American cultures appreciates the fluidity of life and has the understanding that we cannot and should not always respond the same way to every situation. The Trickster is open and creative accepting human folly and infallibility without judgment and despair. The Trickster is willing to engage in the dance for the sake of the dance and does not deny the fullness of life. He presents many faces to deal with different problems and even the same problem. He finds the humor, as well as, the seriousness of purpose in addition to the grace in all situations. He is not wedded to one response for every occasion or to affect every outcome.
We all know the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome or response. The Trickster avoids insanity by remaining fluid in intellect and behavior and cultivating the ability to see the big picture and his or her place in it. However, the Trickster is also able to drill down to specifics when necessary. The Trickster intuits which aspects of his persona to embody at crucial moments of engagement for greatest effect.
The Trickster has a dominant persona—a baseline to work from but is not afraid to change it up as required to meet certain goals. A forceful Trickster Ruler as a parent of an adolescent will relax and look for agreement where it can be found instead of where the parent insists it must be found. A Speaker of the House might have tried looking for a debt ceiling consensus between the few moderate Republicans and willing Democrats in the House instead of arm-twisting tea party adolescents. The Trickster in a generally mild mannered person may bring out the Warrior after receiving a diagnosis of cancer for example. OR a normally mild-mannered conciliatory bipartisan president may bring out the proactive Warrior aspect of his persona to fight ideological agendas that guarantee economic chaos and promote the injustice of economic disparity on the old (Social Security), sick (Medicare) and the poor (Medicaid). Sadly, the Trickster is still be waiting in the wings to be summoned.