When I was a kid, there was this cartoon trope in which a little angel and a little devil would be seen occupying each of the shoulders of a person who was trying to make a choice.
The angel was encouraging the fellow to do the right thing and the devil was insisting that he follow his basest impulses and indulge in greed, aggression, or whichever of the deadly sins happened to be on the table.
Even in cartoon land, it was understood that human beings have the potential to follow their “angelic,” or good side or their “devilish,” dark side.
They could be kind, caring, responsible individuals or they could be selfish, greedy and aggressive. Even in cartoon land, it was clear that whichever side of ourselves we end up expressing always comes down to a choice.
Idi Amin, Hitler, the Duvaliers, Osama Bin Laden, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson — all of these individuals seemed to naturally gravitate toward the dark side of their personality.
Some people inspire us to choose the good side of our psyche, acting like the angel on our shoulder. They make us want to care about humanity and the planet and be the best versions of ourselves.
Other people act like the devil on our shoulder, encouraging us to be our worst selves. They make us want to sink into greed, aggression, hatred, jealousy, depravity.
We all have had experiences of being inspired to be our best selves or our worst selves by the people we look up to. Examples of love and generosity very often will inspire acts of kindness and caring; examples of hatred and aggression often inspire more of the same.
It’s great for humanity and the world when people in positions of power and influence are encouraging the good side of human nature. When these people are sharing their messages of compassion, tolerance and inclusiveness, people are happier and the world is a much better place.
Conversely, it’s extremely bad for humanity and for the world when people in positions of power and influence are encouraging us to act out the dark side of our personality. This promotes hatred, divisiveness, intolerance, marginalization, criminal acts, selfishness, cruelty, greed and war.
Sadly, today, the supposed leader of the free world seems to be doing just that.
With his constant vitriolic tweeting, his outrageous, hateful statements and his repugnant behaviour, especially toward women and non-white, non-Christians, Donald Trump appears to be encouraging all of his followers to be their very worst selves; to be hateful, spiteful, petty, selfish, greedy and extremely aggressive.
Is Mr. Trump responsible for all of the bad things happening today? Of course not, but as the supposed leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, he sets the tone. As a statesman, he’s responsible for being an example to others, and it’s quite clear to everyone what this example is.
When my patients have grown up with parents who are terrible role models, I suggest that they look elsewhere for people to emulate. There are plenty of kind, caring, helpful people in the world today who can inspire us to be our best selves.
I suggest that those who are looking to Mr. Trump for their guidance ought to perhaps start looking elsewhere. They’re listening to the devil perched on their shoulder and he’s leading them astray. The fate of the United States, North America and even the world, might well depend on their making a better choice.
Check out my latest podcast. Julie Lythcott-Haims discusses how we became helicopter parents and how to switch gears and give kids what they need to grow up into high-functioning adults.