I grew up in the long shadow of the Second World War and, like many of my generation, was repelled by the ideological extremism of the Nazi's and their fascist allies. At grammar school I rebelled against the autocratic and hierarchical regime imposed by a very conservative headmaster. I reveled in his obvious discomfort as the socialist government mandated that the school become comprehensive and admit equally pupils of all abilities. I started a satirical school magazine which poked fun at the "old guard, reactionary" teachers and lampooned the traditional values they held dear.
1968 was the year of student revolution and while at university I joined demonstrations for workers rights and against police "brutality". I even had a copy of Mao Zedong's Little Red Book proudly displayed on my bookshelf. As a gay man, my liberal values were especially dear to me. Homosexuality had finally been decriminalized in the UK in 1967 and there was a sense that society was finally moving out of the dark ages and into a more tolerant era.
I remember well the moment I began to question my naively youthful optimism. In my mid-twenties I was working in London teaching English to foreign students. I had rented a room in a house along with four others. One evening a number of people gathered in our shared living room. As I prepared my dinner in the adjacent kitchen I couldn't help overhearing their conversation, which was loud and animated. They were discussing politics, the overthrow of the government, the annihilation of capitalism and the appropriate "punishments" that would be meted out to the ruling elites. It turned out that the house was the meeting place for the south London cell of the International Marxist Group.
I wasn't so much shocked at the content of what they were saying as the vitriolic tone with which they were speaking. It had the same self-righteous fever that I associated with right wing ideologues. The words were different but the energy was the same.
It wasn't until many years later that I understood in a very personal way how over-identification with any ideology, system or way of being means that whatever is opposite gets buried in the psyche and vehemently judged when it appears in the external environment.
In a Voice Dialogue session I had spoken to the part of me that would aggressively fight for gay rights, and have no tolerance for intolerance! Separating from this part and moving back to the centre I felt the stirring of a very different energy on the other side. Moving over, and to my great surprise, I met my disowned inner Homophobe!! I felt like my maternal grandmother - a sexually conservative, Edwardian lady, very upright, principled and respectable. From my mouth came an expression of outright disgust at the very notion that two men could have sexual feeling for each other, let alone act on them. It was "against nature" and an "abomination"!
I got it. The more deeply buried and unconscious the disowned material is, the more extreme the polarization and the more highly charged the expression of what is "right". Only when we embrace the extremes within us - e.g. conservative and liberal, gay and homophobic - will we be able to have a more conscious and therefore a more balanced approach to what life brings us.
Now more than ever it seems essential that we look within to find the source of the extremism in our world.