Hostiles and Charlottesville’s Chrysalis Crisis

It’s been three months since Charlottesville gained worldwide attention for the crisis that took place in our town. That’s when hate-filled outsiders invaded the city, spewed bigotry over the grounds, and brought chaos, violence, and death to our streets. We stood up to reject their opinions, but some were left wounded and dead.

The crisis has passed now and most have adjusted, but others still struggle to heal. Many wonder why the animosity arose, and what it will take to bring forth the healing. Last week, as part of the University of Virginia’s 30th annual Film Festival, I watched a movie that provided some clues to those answers. It’s called Hostiles, and it dramatized how hatred can arise and be healed.

The movie poignantly depicts how hatred takes over people’s hearts and minds, and leads them to commit violence and murder. Christian Bale plays the part of an embittered US Calvary officer who reluctantly agrees to accompany a Cheyenne war chief and his family back to their tribal lands in Montana. The few brutal scenes serve to underscore the trauma and loss that its characters undergo, how they emotionally and mentally wrestle with its residual effects, and how many carry guilt for the cruelty they inflicted.

One tormented person is the main character, Joe, the officer played by Bale, who maintains his ability to keep functioning despite his inner demons about his brutal past. He does so by rationalizing his behavior as just “doing his job.” But over time we see that this defense becomes increasingly more difficult to sustain.

At one point in the movie, another soldier approaches Joe while standing in a nighttime deluge of cold winter rain. He conveys that he can no longer handle his torments. When Joe suggests he come out of the rain, the friend says, “I can’t feel anything.” Initially, it seems the soldier is referring to not feeling the rain pouring onto his head, but to me, it revealed what he needed to heal. He needed to regain his capacity to feel. His heart had become as cold as that rain. He was numb, functioning like an emotional zombie, physically alive, but walking dead.

The emotional healing that is needed after a trauma is particularly difficult for a survivor, and the ability to experience all feelings is critical if that part of the healing is to occur. It not only enables the person to diffuse and work through the various feelings that resulted from the impact of the trauma, but it keeps his heart open. That helps him be capable of empathizing, having compassion, and even being able to move toward forgiving his perpetrators. In addition to emotional healing, there may be a need for physical healing, a change in intellectual beliefs, or a change in moral or spiritual understanding.

These are all key areas of growth I discuss in my book, The Chrysalis Crisis, How Life’s Ordeals Can Lead to Personal and Spiritual Growth. In it I examine ten key areas of development where an individual might need to grow in order to heal after a crisis. Although it can be a struggle to attain, development in these key areas can lead to greater happiness in life.

When growth is prompted by a crisis, I refer to the ordeal as having served as a Chrysalis Crisis. Just as a butterfly’s struggle to free its wings from the cocoon also strengthens them for flight, the struggle to free oneself from the impact of a crisis can contribute to growth and transformation. And that can aid the individual for the rest of their flight through life.

Whether crises arise from racial hatred and intolerance of the ‘other,’ as in Hostiles, or they arise from religious differences, greed, power, or the other lower expressions of human potentials, remember, we also have access to our higher potentials, too. So if you wish to heal from a crisis, or avoid contributing to bringing one about, keep the words of Mahatma Ghandi in mind. He said, “If you want to change the world, start with yourself.”

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