“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
Viktor Frankl and his wife Tilly were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944 and later he was sent to a camp associated with Dachau. He and his entire family were deported to concentration camps. He was the only one to survive.
It has been said that we live in a culture that encourages us to look for “the easy and even the easiest of the easy, but the challenge is to hold to the difficult.” Everyday life presents many situations that can constitute difficulty for us; there are few exceptions. All of us find the ups and downs of our lives to be challenging and there are times when they seem to be more than we bargained for and we desperately seek to find relief.
But, our culture tells us that we can find relief by numbing ourselves with things such as shopping, drugs and alcohol, sex, work and anything that can remove the tension caused by the unwanted state that we find ourselves having to face. We are encouraged to choose numbness over deep inner reflection which might lead us to a better sense of ourselves and others.
Presently we find ourselves as a nation in the midst of much political turbulence, perhaps more than most of us have seen in our lifetimes. It is right for us to pause and reflect upon what we are being called upon to do as well as how we are to be in this present moment.
Though one cannot say why Frankl survived the death camps and lived to pen many wise words which will be with us for a long time — clearly his words can help us because they are not a simplistic formula penned by a person who knows nothing of suffering.
Recently, I read the results of a study which was designed to assess happiness. It determined that people were the happiest when they had a sense of meaning in their lives that propelled them to act in certain ways rather than when they only had the external material things that are often associated with happiness. This is interesting to reflect upon because our fear of losing externals causes us to be destabilized in times such as this one.
Most people in America will agree there is a lot of fear propelling us at the moment and that it was fear that helped bring us to the point of having a president-elect that over 60 million of us cannot fathom. However, though this time is not pleasant in any shape or form, indeed it may be what we need to call us to deeper levels of meaning — both personally and collectively.
We have become a nation that is out of control. We claim to be a democracy when we actually have come to the place where we are ruled by the rich and powerful who are basically disinterested in the welfare of the people and the common good. We use far too many of the world's resources and have done so for decades. We are violent and export that violence around the world. We have lost touch with compassion for neighbors unless there is a major disaster.
It appears that we are being called to accountability. Just as individuals have to live authentically, so do nations. We are being forced to search for meaning. Suffering will call us to look beyond the externals. It will call us to look beyond the past and open ourselves to a new way. Perhaps we cannot see that way today, but “potential meaning” is beckoning for us. Hopefully we will accept the call.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.