There is a Gollum living on an island in the middle of a cave lake in the bowels of your inner life. Yep: a slimy little hairless creature, both sickening to look at and sympathetic in his or her woundedness, lives inside you.
Gollum is the once-upon-a-time Hobbit turned into a nasty, creepy monster by greed and evil in J. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. We all have one living inside, and in truth, more than one. They are the neglected, repressed aspects of our character and nature we shun but cannot delete, and that we harbor but dare not free.
The problem with our Gollum’s is that the more distant our relationship and knowledge of them, the greater their strength and influence upon us – often in ways we cannot or choose not to see. The alcoholic’s capacity for denial is mythic at this point in our culture, but every one of us has a deep and abiding ability to deny what we do not want to see or know. It is the human Achilles heel. It allows us to eat sugar until our pancreas pukes, to drive carbon-emitting vehicles until we can’t breathe, and to soak crops in chemical fertilizers until our lakes choke into lifelessness on algae. Just about every environmental and health crisis we face is at least in part the result of the human capacity for denial.
As fearsome or loathsome as it may seem, we have to build and sustain a relationship with our Gollum(s). We need to be able to recognize his or her voice when Gollum speaks, growls, or grunts. We need to be able to understand what that unattractive flutter is inside us when someone does something we do not like or we judge to be reprehensible. We must be able to speak softly to Gollum, and listen supportively even as we must also be forceful and insistent at times. In short, we need to be in relationship with those parts of ourselves we would rather ignore, forget, and pretend don’t exist.
Whoever said it first was probably not speaking of himself or herself but it remains apt for our Gollum(s): Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.