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27 4. The Dilemma of the Human Family: A Cycle of Growth and Decline IVOR W. BROWNE AND T.J. KIERNAN The following article, ‘The Dilemma of the Human Family: A Cycle of Growth and Decline’, is reprinted from the Journal of the Irish Medical Association, vol. LX (Jan. 1967), No. 355, p. 1. The coauthor is T.J. Kiernan, who was Irish Ambassador to the United States during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. At that time he became interested in the work of Carl Jung and wrote a Jungian commentary study on Irish mythological stories. The commentary was published in his book The White Hound of the Mountain. Because of this, he was interested in the whole developmental aspect of the family. THE living organism is in a constant state of struggle, its situations constantly changing, its efforts for equilibrium continuously operating. When this struggle relaxes, something is wrong. It ceases only with death. The situation of the human family is analogous, with one important difference. The living organism is a unity where cooperation of the parts is normal and easy. The family is a unity of personalities where cooperation is at best an uneasy balance. Holy scripture promises a reward to children who love their parents but not to parents who love their children. The need for parents to love and, therefore, protect their children furnishes the parent, particularly the mother, with an affective appetite which needs satisfaction through giving love and care to the child. The child’s need is of a different order, for security of food, shelter, clothing and such basic necessities. This tapers off as development proceeds and a strong and seemingly genetic appetite makes itself increasingly felt, reaching its full expression as the child emerges into adolescence. This is no less than an appetite for freedom. It is an appetite or urge not only for the limited measure of freedom meant by non-dependence, but is the mainspring of that idealism which often occurs at adolescence when the human person The Writings of Ivor Browne 28 is endeavouring to make a new and difficult transition from that of dependent childhood to independent manhood and womanhood. This shifting of equilibria runs all through life and is the reason why life and struggle are necessarily co-existent; but in the human person there are certain major shifts which are critical to development (or, in the falling period of life, to decline, which is really another aspect of development, since on our planet growth is dependent on decay and is, therefore, a development from decay). These major shifts, and in a very particular way the shift of adolescence , must have a marked effect on the family balance. Hence the dilemma of the human family, arising from the fact that the human family is a cycle of growth and decline, each cycle in turn making way for growth of new cycles derived from the original family but separate from it. Just as for the individual, the healthy norm is to ‘grow old gracefully’ and indeed gratefully, so also for the wellbalanced family. So much of mental disorder is blamed on the stress of modern living (which is often, as put by an American beatnik, merely the stress of ‘worms living in a jar of warm butter’) that it is worth putting the human family dilemma in its wider context. One may go back before and beyond Abel and Cain and have a look at the international significance of the ‘stepmother’ in folklore. To illustrate from an Irish tale, ‘The Golden Apples of Loch Erne’, analysed by Heinrich Zimmer (1956): the good wife and mother dies; the king marries again, meaning the introduction of a stepmother for the good boy, who is a potential hero and who very much wants to take up the challenges of life which will make him what he wants to be, a hero. Every boy is a potential hero and every girl is a potential heroine. Likewise, every boy and every girl is good until a ‘stepmother ’ is introduced to create disorder. What the old folk tales tell us is that every mother is a potential stepmother and every father a potential stepfather. The commentary on this tale by Kiernan (1962) in The White Hound of the Mountain explains: Since Conn’s mother is perfect, it is necessary to introduce a crisis to separate him from her. In the original tale, she dies and is replaced by a stepmother. The real...


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