We’ve been watching an outstanding Showtime series called The Borgias about an infamous Italian family in the 1400’s and 1500’s. The plot revolves around the father, Rodrigo, who became Pope Alexander VI in 1492, his favorite son, Cesare, whom Rodrigo made a cardinal, and Cesare’s beautiful and gentle sister Lucrezia. What makes the show so fascinating is the frank exploration of the dual nature of all three. On one side, Rodrigo is a devoted family man and Christian. On the other, he is absolutely ruthless in his search for power and wealth to the point that he authorizes the elimination of many enemies, some of whom Cesare kills for him. Remember, Rodrigo is the Pope and these things really happened. Talk about the original crime family!
From a psychological perspective, we see that all three characters act from the masculine drive for self-preservation and the feminine drive for species-preservation. Let’s look at the feminine drive: the inborn need that compels us to establish intimate relationships with others. Rodrigo dearly loves his courtesan mistress and mother of his children. He loves his other mistresses. He loves his children, enjoys their company, and consults their wisdom, and when Lucrezia has a son by her husband’s stable boy, Rodrigo is filled with joy and welcomes his grandson wholeheartedly into the family.
Cesare, too, loves his parents and his sister. He also loves a beautiful woman with whom he wants to make a life. And he trusts and is even somewhat fond of the family’s sinister enforcer, Micheletto. In the early stages of Lucrezia’s marriage, despite being repeatedly brutalized by her husband, she tries to be kind to him, and she dearly loves her family, lover and son. She also involves herself in civic projects to better the lives of Rome’s poorest and most disenfranchised citizens. All these are healthy ways of expressing the drive for species-preservation.
The problem for all three is that their masculine drive for self-preservation is so obsessive that while it serves their own family well for a while, in all but Lucrezia it overshadows their feminine drive so thoroughly that they feel no compassion whatever for anyone outside their immediate family or love interests. Even there, it shows up occasionally, for example, in Cesare’s jealousy and hatred for his brother Juan.
We all have both drives, and we all express both in healthy and unhealthy ways. This is what I mean about having dual natures. No individual is all good or all bad. The same is true of governments and religions. When religious and political leaders are obsessed with fulfilling their own unconscious, unmet needs for power and influence they, like Rodrigo and Cesare Borgia, perpetuate dysfunction; but when their compulsion to serve themselves is balanced with a sincere desire to serve others they become forces for peace, healing, and the thriving of all. The thing that makes one behavior healthy and the other unhealthy is simply this: the presence or absence of genuinely benevolent feeling…for the human family and for every form of life.
As Gregg Braden says, “The feeling is the prayer.” It is not our good intentions, or what we think of ourselves, or how we vote, or where we worship, or what we believe and say that proves we’re on the “right” side and connects us to the Ultimate Good. It’s the genuine caring that motivates what we say and do. It’s the compassion. It’s the love. Only when feeling and living with love is our sincere, heart-felt prayer and an equally powerful force in our behavior can we be assured we’re on the side of Right.
It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave