The Struggle

‘To those human beings who are of any concern to me’ wrote Nietzsche in The Will to Power, ‘I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities—I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished’.

Speaking not out of hate but of love, he continued,

I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not—that one endures.

Nietzsche located the worth of human life in how one deals with and transcends the problems they face. Implied in his wish for suffering upon his friends is an understanding that we do not grow and better ourselves in a comfortable life. It is only through the struggle (with ourselves, with our demons, with the demands of the world) that we develop and mature.

It is precisely this ‘struggle’ that Jung captures in his discussion of the biblical story of Jacob in Genesis 32:22–32. Jacob, who pretends to be his brother to steal his father’s blessing, is walking along a riverside at night when he encounters a man. They ‘wrestle’ until day break whereupon Jacob is injured at the hip. As the sun rises, Jacob finds he wrestled not with a man but an angel. Jacob is allowed to leave, but is given a new name, and walks away with a limp.

Jung saw in the allegory of Jacob a tale of the human psyche. It is said they ‘wrestle’, but the passage is also translated as ‘struggle’ in other Bibles. Jung believed that as humans, we are constantly wrestling or ‘struggling’ with powerful forces within ourselves. We struggle with our fears, desires, repressed memories and all the rest that we have designated to ‘the shadow’. But, if we endure this struggle and refuse to run away from it, eventually the shadow will be illuminated and the struggle will be over. It is not for nothing that Jacob receives a new name. Because after the struggle, we become a new person.

Jung sees the limp, not as a sign of weakness but as a sign of strength. The limp testifies that Jacob has struggled, survived and has been humbled (later bowing 7 times to his brother) in his struggle with the angel. We carry the scars of past battles (mental and physical, as those who have self-harmed surely know). The scars are not defections but symbols testifying to our capacity to endure and keep growing.

As with Nietzsche, Jung saw in the struggle precisely the material that will furnish better people of us. Like Nietzsche’s hero, Jacob is victorious for one reason and one reason alone: he endures.

While we may want a comfortable and cosy life, it is precisely a life of ease and gratification that leaves us ill-equipped to live, for it is a fact that existence is irrevocably bound up with incredible suffering; and instead of turning away from this fact, if we can face it, look it in the eyes, and wrestle with it, we will become humbled and strengthened by the experience.

Unlike Nietzche , I do not wish more suffering on those I love, for we all already suffer enough. All I wish is that they do not walk away from the struggle, because in the struggle we find ourselves, define ourselves, and transcend ourselves.

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