Friday, February 22, 2013

The Provisional Life

"The Provisional Life" is a phrase of Carl Jung's that is a keeper, though so much of his philosophy was not.  The website Lexicon of Jungian Terms defines it thus ...

PROVISIONAL LIFE:  A term used to describe an attitude toward life that is more or less imaginary, not rooted in the here and now, commonly associated with puer psychology.

"Puer" psychology meaning the psychology of the puer aeternus, or eternal child, the Peter Pan Syndrome.  What is the eternal child?  It's simply the slackers and losers and narcissists who are all around us.

The reason this is an example of one of the areas where Jung's insight was searing and valuable is that there is one giant difference between childhood and adulthood, between puer (the boy) and vir (the man) - as well as vir-tue, the virtue that mature men and women should strive to attain.

The difference is this:

  • A grown child leads a Provisional Life.  He is never invested, never completely interested, never "all in".  From fear and diffidence, he always keeps the essential part of himself out.  He (or she) may be charming, alluring and even captivating (narcissists are good at this), but he or she will always be untrustworthy, because he or she will only engage with you with a proviso, or on the provision that he can back out any time, namely once things get rough for him.

  • By contrast, an adult goes "all out" for others by going "all in" in life.  And the best example of this is martyrdom.  

Compare what Erich Fromm said about the Bored vs. the Interested.  It's really two ways of describing the same thing.

And yet if we do the adult thing, if we go all in, we're bound to get hurt.  Going all in means loving - loving friends, neighbors, and life itself - not for their own sake, but for God's sake; and love is simply the Cross.  Peter Pan won't love Wendy because that requires a risk that is more real than the imaginary battles with a pirate.  He hopes to avoid the suffering, the cross, the essence of mature life, but all he ends up avoiding is a real life with Wendy, and a real love of life.  He ends up avoiding the greatest adventure.

If he could get the hang of the thing his cry might become 'To live would be an awfully big adventure!' but he can never quite get the hang of it - J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

4 comments:

Joey Higgins said...

If he could get the hang of the thing his cry might become 'To live would be an awfully big adventure!' but he can never quite get the hang of it - J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Isn't that a line from, "Hook?"

Wendy Moira Angela Darling/ Granny Wendy: So... your adventures are over.
Peter: Oh, no. To live... to live would be an awfully big adventure.


This obviously doesn't change the post, nor am I trying to argue that Peter Pan syndrome isn't a valid analysis.

Benjamin. said...

Yes, Joey, it is. I even looked it up the first time I saw the post because I recognized it.

Benjamin. said...

Evidently it was in Barrie's play, as said by the narrator.

Kevin O'Brien said...

The quote is from the very end of the play version of "Peter Pan" by J. M. Barrie. It's from the final stage directions.