CHAPTER 13 OF VIKTOR FRANKL
"THE PROPHET OF
"FRANKL AGAINST FREUD"
"TRAINING OR EDUCATION: BASED
ON FRANKL'S PRINCIPLES
FOR OTHER CHAPTERS ON VIKTOR FRANKL
"FRANKL AGAINST FREUD"
[About the author: Genrich L. Krasko is a solid state physicist currently working as a Research Scientist for US Army Research Laboratory (Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD). Dr. Krasko is spending the 1997-98 academic year as a Visiting Scholar with the Department of Nuclear Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA (e-mail: email@example.com ). Note added in 2000: Dr. Krasko has retired, however he is still affiliated with MIT's NED.]
"For too long we have been dreaming a dream from which we are now waking up: the dream that if we just improve the socioeconomic situation of people, everything will be okay, people will become happy. The truth is that as the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for." Viktor E. Frankl, "The Unheard Cry for Meaning"
Exactly one year ago, on 2 September, 1997, stopped the heart of one of the greatest man of the 20th century - the psychiatrist, psychologist and philosopher Dr. Viktor E. Frankl. Life of Viktor Frankl was not a usual life. He lived three lives in one. And the three of them were extraordinary and incredible. (Durbin: This article was originally written in 1998)
A humble medical student in the late 20th, a disciple of first Sigmund Freud, and then Alfred Adler, Viktor Frankl eventually challenged their authoritarianism and was expelled from both schools.
The originality and deep humanism of his thinking had enabled him to develop his own approach to human soul: he became founder of the so-called "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy." Thrown into a Nazi death camp in 1942, he, by the extraordinary combination of his spiritual strength and his will to life, had managed to survive and thus became a living proof of the main thesis of his philosophy: a man can live only so far as he has a meaning in his life. Numerous books written by Viktor Frankl after the liberation where he formulated and discussed the logotherapy - his new approach to psychotherapy - were translated into dozens of languages and sold throughout the world in millions of copies. Viktor Frankl was the one who, over 50 years ago, diagnosed the existential crisis, that haunts both the post-industrial and the developing world in the 20th century, the crisis of meaning in human lives. A society becomes severely ill when the will to meaning in peoples' lives becomes frustrated, giving way to what he calls "the existential vacuum." Unfortunately this diagnosis and the ideas Dr. Frankl so passionately discussed in his books and, in fact, to which he devoted all his life, are but completely forgotten and unknown to the general public. Although hundreds of dedicated women and man, most of them psychologists, do keep the flame of Viktor Frankl's ideas alive, helping people to overcome the "existential vacuum" in their souls and return to fulfilling and meaningful lives (see Viktor-Frankl-Institut in Vienna, Austria, International Network on Personal Meaning, and Viktor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy, Abilene, TX). But their heroic efforts are not enough to quell this devastating crisis. Our society needs, and needs very badly, the honest discussion of the origin of this crisis of meaning, and the social conditions that are feeding it everyday, no matter how painful this discussion may be.
The essay below is a chapter from a yet unpublished book: "This Unbearable Boredom of Being: The Crisis of Meaning in America" (Copyright 1 1997, by Genrich L. Krasko). A version of this chapter was previously published in the Spring-Summer, 1997, issue (vol. 5, No 1) of Journals des Viktor-Frankl-Instituts, p. 82.
VIKTOR FRANKL AGAINST SIGMUND FREUD: MEANING OR PLEASURE? "I cannot share Freud's opinion as he stated it ...: 'The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life he is sick.' I rather think that such a man only proves that he is truly a human being."
Viktor E. Frankl, "Psychotherapy and Existentialism." To be a prophet - to tell people the truth they would not like to hear - is a difficult job. And yet, throughout the history of man, every time had its own prophets. At the dawn of our civilization, the Biblical Prophets, humble but rugged, dared to challenge both kings and the mob. Too often they were stoned. Today we do not stone the prophets: we simply do not listen to them. Besides, there were so many pseudo-prophets in Earth's history: how does one know that this one is real?
The truth is that there is no way to know. The Biblical times have gone, and today's prophets are not God's messengers. They are just people who see beyond the easily seen, and understand beyond the easily understandable. And they do tell the truth we do not like to hear.
Perhaps, Viktor Frankl, the founder of the so-called "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy," did not consider himself a "prophet." But how else but prophetic would one call Frankl's greatest accomplishment: identifying the "sickness of the century," and showing the ways of "treating" it?
This "sickness" is the loss of meaning in people's lives. In one of his books, (UCM , p. 21; Abbreviations to references of Viktor Frankl's books are listed at the end of the essay.), Frankl writes: "For too long we have been dreaming a dream from which we are now waking up: the dream that if we just improve the socioeconomic situation of people, everything will be okay, people will become happy. The truth is that as the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for" (italics by Frankl).
In another book (PAE, p.122) Frankl notes: "What threatens contemporary man is the alleged meaningfulness of his life, or, as I call it, the existential vacuum within him. And when does this vacuum open up, when does this so often latent vacuum become manifest? In the state of boredom." Boredom is the main symptom of our illness. Too often it is unbearable.
All segments of our society are afflicted with this state of existential vacuum. Frankl also calls it "frustration of meaning." This is "the sickness of the century": both the industrialized countries and less affluent societies have been infected with it. In America the crisis is exacerbated by the fact that our education does not help people to overcome the infection, but rather enhances its toll. The growing illicit drug use and crime are the direct consequences of that illness. Our younger generation is the victim who suffers most from the crisis. The feeling of the "loss of meaning" among American students is stronger than in Europe. "A statistical survey recently revealed that among my European students, 25 percent showed a more-or-less marked degree of existential vacuum. Among my American students it was not 25 percent but 60 percent." (MSM, p. 120) As for juvenile crime - steadily on the rise in America today - its cause is almost without exception the meaninglessness in the lives of our children. In fact, the very foundations of the American philosophy of life have been threatened. The American Dream - the dream of affluence and wealth - does not seems to promise happiness anymore. Acquiring wealth does not add meaning to life: among the drug users there are more affluent than poor... The quintessence of this devastating crisis has been expressed in a statement by International Network on Personal Meaning:
"In modern society, several forces and trends are converging in creating a crying need for meaning and spirituality. Prosperity without a purpose leads to disillusion and emptiness. Progress without a spiritual direction results in confusion and uncertainty. A winner-take-all economy contributes to conflict and injustice. Violence, conflict, addiction, depression, and suicide reflect an existential crisis. The paradox of prosperity without happiness reflects an unfulfilled spiritual hunger. The intense competition of the new economy results in an increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots." Frankl's books have been published in dozens of languages. Only in the United States were they sold in the millions of copies. But in America today his name is known only to a handful of professionals, and his ideas are either unknown or disregarded. They have not been given any serious discussion either on the level of Government and policy making, or on the level of "us, the people," the millions who suffer most from that sickness which Frankl diagnosed over half a century ago. Moreover, this is in a time when the sickness of meaninglessness has taken on the proportions and scope of an epidemic.
Why? Probably, because paving a way out of our crisis, the fundamentally existential crisis, would require fundamental social reforms, a radical change in our educational philosophy and educational system in the first place, to which the numerous interest groups would not agree without a fierce struggle. On the other hand, the populist politics of our policy makers, on both sides of the aisle, prevents them from doing anything that "we, the people" would not like. And the therapy that would make the society healthy again may be painful... This essay, and, in fact, all the book, is about Viktor Frankl: his life, his ideas and the legacy he has left.
VIENNA... "There is only one Vienna" a common phrase in Vienna, c. 1781 In the second half of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was also a second cultural capital of Europe, second only to Paris. It was a cultural Mecca and a center of science.
It was also a powerful economic magnet, attracting numerous immigrants. Among the notable immigrants were composers Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler, the founder of Zionism Theodore Herzl, and the great Sigmund Freud. The decline of the Empire, reaching its nadir after Austria's defeat in World War I, was also the time of triumph and fame of the new school of psychiatry named psychoanalysis. In 1920, the 64-year-old Sigmund Freud was the dominant and most authoritative international figure on the scene of psychological science and psychiatry.
Vienna was boiling with multiple ideas, originating from the Freudian revolution in psychology. Not only the university campuses, but also numerous discussion clubs in schools were caught in this process of learning and discussion. Passionately absorbed by this sea of ideas was a young teenage boy named Viktor Frankl. Just 15 in 1920, he still remembered how his family, immigrants from Moravia, was on the edge of starvation, begging for food at the farmers' market. The Frankls could not afford an expensive private school for their son, but in a Volkshochschule (free public school, attended mostly by children of poor people), Viktor was an active speaker in youth and discussion clubs. He writes in his autobiography (RCL): "More and more my speech exercises and school papers became treatises on psychoanalysis. More and more I supplied my schoolmates with information in this field." This was right after Freud had published his epochal work "Beyond the Pleasure Principle." It was on everybody's tongue... "I was still in high school" - recalls Frankl -" when the wish of my early childhood to become a physician became focused, under the influence of psychoanalysis, on becoming a psychiatrist." Actually, when the time of decision came, Frankl for a while "toyed with the idea to turn to dermatology or obstetrics."
Frankl recalls that the final decision - to become a psychiatrist - came after a friend of his, in their argument about the future, quoted from Kierkegaard: "don't despair at wanting to become your authentic self."
A few years later, as a university medical student, Viktor Frankl was a witness and participant of the battle of the psychiatrists in the atmosphere that "made Vienna a city of couches as much as a city of dreams." (W. B. Gould, "Frankl: Life With Meaning.")
Ideologically, psychiatry was not an untroubled and peaceful kingdom. In 1912 Freud expelled from his inner circle - and, as a matter of fact, from his kingdom altogether- his most talented follower, Alfred Adler. Adler later became the founder of the so-called "The Second Viennese School of Psychotherapy" (the "First" was the Freudian school).
As a medical student, Frankl began to correspond with Sigmund Freud. "I sent him material which I came across in my extensive interdisciplinary readings and which I assumed might be of interest to him. Every letter was promptly answered by him" (RCL). As a matter of fact, Freud personally presented Frankl's paper of 1924 - his second scientific paper - to the International Journal of Psychoanalysis.
In spite of the fact that Frankl's psychoanalysis professors were two exceptional followers of Freud, the young medical student began to drift away from the "canonical" Freudism. He felt that Freud's "Pleasure Principle" was lacking a human dimension, and began developing his own theories that contradicted Freud's Principle. He also felt that the whole Freudian philosophy was somewhat nihilistic. This feeling brought him into the Adlerian camp. Unlike Freud, Adler saw a person's freedom of choice as a fundamental factor in the decision-making process. This idea became a starting point, and, in fact, a cornerstone in Frankl's own theories. Ironically enough, history repeated itself: Having been expelled by Freud 14 years before, Adler insisted on Frankl's leaving his circle after the latter openly supported the dissenting view of two of Adler's followers.
After graduating from the university, Viktor Frankl became a practicing psychiatrist. He passionately wanted to help people. Apart from taking patients, he was spending a lot of time giving lectures and counseling. Since 1927 he had been teaching a weekly class at the adult education school. For many years - until the dreadful day when Frankl, together with his family and thousands of Viennese Jews, was deported to a death camp - he worked at clinics for the poor. Seeing hundreds of patients, watching the symptoms and development of neuroses, his new approach had crystallized. He even suggested a method of treating some neuroses, the so-called "no÷genic neuroses," the ones to do with frustration of man's spirit (no÷s). Psychoanalysis gave way to a Meaning Analysis. This approach, by 1929, grew into the whole philosophy that revolutionized both psychology as a science and psychiatry as a branch of medicine. Frankl named his new approach "Logotherapy" (logos is Greek for meaning) showing a new way of treating neuroses and, in fact, exposing the origin of the many ills of contemporary society.
In his autobiography Frankl writes: "...as a psychiatrist, or rather a psychotherapist, I see beyond the actual weaknesses... I can see beyond the misery of the situation, the possibility to discover a meaning behind it, and thus to turn an apparently meaningless life into a genuine human achievement. I am convinced that, in the final analysis, there is no situation which does not contain the seed of meaning. To a great extent, this conviction is the basis of logotherapy's subject and system." (RCL; italics by Frankl). Frankl's school of thought was later named "The Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy." In a nutshell, the difference among the three Viennese Schools of Psychotherapy is as follows: the Freudian and Adlerian psychologies are centered respectively on the "will to pleasure" and the "will to power." Frankl argues that it is "the striving to find a meaning in life" that "is the primary motivational force in man" (PAE, p. 34). Moreover, Frankl claims that "Actually, 'pleasure is not the goal of human striving but rather a by-product of the fulfillment of such striving; and 'power' is not an end but a means to an end. Thus, the 'pleasure principle' school mistakes a side effect for the goal, while the 'will to power' school mistakes a means for the end" (ibid.). However, society gets sick when the two latter "wills" take over: they bring society into a state of "existential vacuum." That is our situation today...
Here are the logotherapy's central affirmatives (W. B. Gould, p. xii): "-Life has meaning -We have the will to meaning, our central motivation for living -We have the freedom to find meaning in how we think and in what we do -We are mind, body and spirit. These dimensions of the self are interdependent. The key is the spirit (no÷s); it enables us to exercise our will to meaning, to envisage our goals, and to move beyond our instinctual and sexual needs to self-transcendence"
But let us turn back. The year 1933. The Nazis had just taken over in Germany. But it was still quiet in Austria, although the Nazi party became more and more noisy... Vienna, Austria's capital was still the capital of world psychology and psychiatry. The great Sigmund Freud was still a ruling emperor. But life had changed. Anti-Semitism was on the rise and the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria by Germany seemed imminent.
The world of ideas and aspirations together with all hopes for the future collapsed 12 March 1938, the day of Anschluss, when Nazi Germany invaded Austria. Two days later, Sigmund Freud's apartment and his university offices were searched and his passport revoked. With great difficulty, and only after the interference of the international scientific community and the American President personally, was the 82-year-old and terminally ill Sigmund Freud allowed to leave Austria.
It was the collapse of Viktor Frankl's world also. Since 1937 Frankl had had his own practice as a specialist in neurology and psychiatry, at the same time continuing to work in hospitals and youth counseling centers. Gradually he became renowned internationally. He was being invited to give lectures at international conferences throughout Europe.
However the future looked grim. Viktor was thinking of emigrating, but was hesitant. He hoped, that as a psychiatrist, he would be able to support his parents, his younger sister and brother and his fianc1e. But, he also knew that in spite of his international standing, nobody would be able to defend them against possible Nazi persecution. Eventually he submitted an application for an immigration visa to the American embassy - a visa he was not destined to use. That is how Victor Frankl recalls those dramatic events in his Autobiography. "I had to wait for years until my quota number came up that enabled me to get a visa to immigrate to the United States. Finally, shortly before Pearl Harbor, I was asked to come to the US consulate to pick up my visa. Then I hesitated: Should I leave my parents behind? I knew what their fate would be: deportation to a concentration camp. Should I say good-bye and leave them to their fate? The visa was exclusively for me"
When he came home that day he found his father in tears. "The Nazis have burned down the synagogue," said the father and showed him a fragment of marble he had salvaged. That piece of marble had just one letter of the Ten Commandments engraved on it, the beginning of the commandment "Honor thy father and thy mother." Frankl called the American embassy and canceled his visa. "It may be that I had made my decision, deep within, long before, and the oracle was in reality only the echo of the voice of my conscience," concludes Frankl. As a part of the infamous "final solution" - complete extermination of the Jews from the face of the earth - the turn of the Austrian Jews came in 1942. Dr. Joseph Fabry, a most distinguished student and disciple of Viktor Frankl in the United States, and the translator of his Autobiography into English, writes: "The deportation of the Jews from Austria was no different from that from other countries, perhaps more severe because of the innate anti-Semitism of many Austrians. Up to 1942 the deportations were somewhat selective and exceptions were made for a certain class of Jews or individuals, such as doctors in the Jewish Hospital (Frankl), nurses there ([Frankl's wife] Tilly), or people recruited to help clean up apartments of deported Jews (Tilly's mother), and often their immediate families. From the Wansee Conference on (1942) where the "final solution" was decided, there were no more exceptions."
Dr. Fabry is also the founder of the "Institute of Logotherapy" - a research and educational institution dedicated to promoting the meaning-oriented methods of Viktor Frankl and his followers. The current Institute's address: Hardin Simmons University, P.O.Box 15211, Abilene, TX 79698. I deeply appreciate Dr. Fabry's assistance: sending me the manuscript of Viktor Frankl's Autobiography prior to its publication, and very helpful correspondence (the above quote is from one of Dr. Fabry's letters).
The Frankl family was deported to the Theresienstadt camp in July 1942... Almost all the family perished: Frankl's father died in Theresienstadt; his mother was gassed in Auschwitz; his wife Tilly died in Bergen-Belsen after she had been liberated by the British; his younger brother died in a branch camp of Auschwitz, working in a mine; only his sister survived the camps and later emigrated to Australia.
Frankl's experience, as a death camp prisoner, was described in his first book written after the liberation. First published in 1946 in Vienna as "Ein Psycholog Erlebt das Konzentrationslager", and later translated into many languages and sold in millions of copies. The English translation: Viktor Frankl, "Man's Search For Meaning." (In this book I reference the latest edition as MSM).
Today, after over half a century of that world tragedy, the holocaust, the tragedy that the human brain simply refuses to comprehend, thousands of accounts of people's first encounter with the Nazi extermination machine are known. And yet, Viktor Frankl's account is special. His is that of a scientist, a doctor, a soul healer: almost devoid of emotion but full of sober analysis and meaning. The generation of Holocaust survivors is gradually leaving this earth, taking with them the agony of their memories. For us, who have never felt what it was to be jammed into a cattle car slowing down at an obscure place named "Auschwitz," a semi-mad woman screaming: "Fire, I can see fire!" (Elie Wiesel, "Night.") there is only imagination. The gift of conscience that does not allow us to forget, that reminds us how fragile our civilization is and how thin is the layer of our humane culture. Frankl's account is extremely important for us, who are distressed that that layer of humanity in our civilization is so thin. It is a source and a symbol of hope that we, the humans, can be superior beings, can challenge the animal in us, and thus win against all odds. ...The train, overloaded with humans about to lose their human identity in exchange for a tattooed number (if lucky enough not to turn into a burst of black smoke in the crematorium chimney); German shepherds and SS men with submachine-guns; the "selection": those on the right will get their numbers and will live, and, at last, the real shower and striped "uniform," whose previous owner does not exist any more... Frankl writes: "While we were waiting for the shower, our nakedness was brought home to us: we really had nothing except our bare bodies - even minus hair; all we possessed, literally was our naked existence. What else remained for us as a material link with our former lives?... We knew that we had nothing to lose except our so ridiculously naked lives" (MSM, pp. 33-34).
That is what Frankl writes in his autobiography: "I have never published what happened at the first selection at the Auschwitz train station. I have never published it, simply because I still am not sure whether I perhaps only imagined it. This was the situation: Dr. Mengele turned my shoulders not to the right, that is to the survivors, but to the left, to those destined for the gas chamber. Since I couldn't make out anyone I knew who was sent left, but recognized a few young colleagues who were directed to the right, I walked behind Dr. Mengele's back to the right. God knows where the idea came from and how I had the courage." This episode has an almost mystical flavor: as if the MISSION Viktor Frankl was destined to fulfill had been secured and enforced.
Among the things that Frankl left behind, was the manuscript of his book on the foundations of logotherapy- his first book - hidden in the inner pocket of his coat, of all the material things the dearest to him. During the endless two and a half years of his imprisonment, page by page, chapter by chapter, he reconstructed his book in his memory. The book: ")rztlische Seelsorge", "The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy" (I reference it as DAS) was published after the war, translated into nine languages and in 57 editions. In the Introduction to the book Frankl writes: "Life is a task. The religious man differs from the apparently irreligious man only by experiencing his existence not simply as a task, but as a mission. That means that he is also aware of the taskmaster, the source of his mission. For thousands of years that source was called God" (ibid., p.xv). This feeling of an important mission to be fulfilled, of the responsibility before himself, his family (he did not know that he would never see his parents, brother, sister and wife again), and his fellow prisoners never left Frankl. This is that MISSION, that was with him all his life, till the very last breath. Viktor Frankl passed away in Vienna on September 2, 1997.
AUSCHWITZ... "Our generation has come to know man as he really is: the being that has invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz, and also the being who entered those gas chambers upright, the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips." Viktor E. Frankl, "Psychotherapy and Existentialism."
A Freudian man, having been put into conditions of endless suffering and deprivation would have had to turn into an animal, with the lowest possible instincts taking over the whatever "civilized" and humane had been implanted during the previous life. Too often that was the case in the Nazi concentration camps. People betrayed each others, or stole precious food from their comrades, even when that could hasten the unfortunate's death - all the means were good if they helped to save their own lives. And yet, in his account of the psychology of the concentration camp ("Man's Search for Meaning," MSM) Viktor Frankl gives quite a few examples of human behavior that disprove Freud's theory. They do not, in fact, quite disprove. Those examples rather prove that one can elevate oneself, rise from that abyss of the animal to the heights of the Human. "In the concentration camp,...in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentials within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions" (p. 157). In his book Frankl again and again quotes Nietzsche's words: "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how." If one understands the "why" of one's existence, one will be able to cope with the "how," no matter how impossible that would seem. Understanding the "why" simply meant that people could find a meaning in their sufferings, and even probable death. "It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings; the way they bore their suffering was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom - which cannot be taken away - that makes life meaningful and purposeful" (p. 87). If, on the other hand, people were unable to take that challenge, turning their lives into an inner triumph; if they believed that life was over, that all the real life opportunities had disappeared for good, then their days were numbered: they vegetated, progressively sliding down towards the imminent end. "Under the influence of a world which no longer recognized the value of human life and human dignity, which had robbed man of his will and had made him an object to be exterminated (having planned, however, to make use of him first - to the last ounce of his physical resources) - under this influence the personal ego finally suffered a loss of values. If the man in the concentration camp did not struggle against this in a last effort to save his self-respect, he lost the feeling of being an individual, a being with a mind, with inner freedom and personal value" (p.70).
The understanding of the new "why" did not come easily to those people. Frankl recalls one of the first lessons, given to them, newcomers in Auschwitz, by an already "seasoned" inmate; "Don't be afraid! Don't fear the selections!...But one thing I beg of you...shave daily, even if you have to use a piece of glass to do it...even if you have to give your last piece of bread for it. You will look younger and the scraping will make your cheek ruddier. If you want to stay alive, there is only one way: look fit for work" (p. 38). Those who could not find the inner strength to cope with the "how" became doomed. That victory over inhuman suffering seems almost unbelievable today, half a century later, when entertainment and pleasure are the most important components of people's lives. But it was a real triumph of human spirit, another proof of that which God made of us was good.
I firmly believe that Frankl's book - at least those one hundred pages of the concentration camp chapter - must be read by everyone who is trying to understand the "why" of our so comfortable and safe life. In a new school curriculum, I would recommend this book for our teenagers as one of the most important textbooks.
...A long column of inmates, the walking skeletons, suffering from hunger, exhaustion, and, on the top of everything, edema of their legs and feet. Some do not have socks - their frost-bitten and chilblain feet are so swollen, that there is no space for socks, even if they had them... Suddenly, the man marching next to Frankl whisper: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us." Frankl continues: "And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife" (p. 56). Thoughts of their beloved were an important component of that "will to meaning" that enabled people to survive. ."..for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into songs by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth is that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved." (p. 57; italics by Frankl). In that marching column, and on hundreds of other occasions when Frankl and his comrades were uniting in thoughts with those they loved, they did not even know if they were alive. "I knew only one thing - which I have learned well by now: Love goes very far beyond the physical person of the beloved." (p. 58).
This escape into the past from the emptiness, spiritual poverty and physical suffering of the inmates' existence was possible only due to the enormous intensification of their inner life. Of much greater importance for acquiring a meaning, in comprehending the "why" of one's existence, was one's ability to find both hope and strength in the future, to find a goal to which one could look forward. "The prisoner who had lost faith in the future - his future - was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject of mental and physical decay" (p.95). Frankl recalls, how, in the moments of frustration with the current situation, overwhelmed with thoughts of trivial things, like where to find a piece of wire to substitute for a rotten shoe lace, he forced himself into thoughts about his future after the liberation. He saw himself standing under bright lights in a lecture hall, before a friendly audience, and giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp. The manuscript of his first book on logotherapy, his new theory and method, had been lost with his coat upon arrival in Auschwitz. At the very first opportunity he began reconstructing the manuscript. He writes in his Autobiography (RCL) "In my own mind, I am convinced that I owe my survival, among other things, to my resolve to reconstruct my manuscript. I started to work on it when I was sick with typhus and tried to keep awake, even at night, to prevent a vascular collapse. For my 40th birthday an inmate had given me a pencil stub and "organized" a few small SS-forms. On their empty backs, still having high fever, I scribbled shorthand notes which I hoped would help me reconstruct the )rztlische Seelsorge."
For a concentration camp inmate, to lose faith in the future was a tragedy, resulting in death. That happened quite suddenly, in the form of a crisis. Its symptoms were familiar to the inmates, and its consequences were unavoidable. People knew "who was going to be the next."
By the end of war, the loss of faith in the future took an almost mystical form. Frankl recalls that a friend of his, a fairly well known composer and librettist, told him in February, 1945, that he had had a dream, in which a voice had told him the exact date of their liberation: March 30th. At that time the man was still full of hope, and believed that the prophecy was true. The promised day approached, but no signs of imminent liberation were seen. On March 29th, he developed a high fever. On the day of the prophecy, March 30th, he became delirious and lost consciousness. Next day he was dead. To Frankl, and to the camp doctor there was no doubt: he had died of typhus. "To those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man - his courage and hope, or lack of them - and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect. The ultimate cause of my friend's death was that the expected liberation did not come and he was severely disappointed. This suddenly lowered his body's resistance against the latent typhus infection. His faith in the future and his will to live had become paralyzed and his body fell victim to illness - and thus the voice of his dream was right after all" (p. 97).
That case of an "unexplained" death was not a unique event. Between Christmas, 1944, and New Year of 1945, the death rate in Frankl's camp increased beyond all possible expectations: and this is with a background of no visible deterioration of either working or living conditions in the camp. "It was simply, that the majority of the prisoners had lived in the na1ve hope that they would be home again by Christmas. As the time drew near and there was no encouraging news, the prisoners lost courage and disappointment overcame them. This had a dangerous influence on their powers of resistance and a great number of them died" (p.97). Both the past and the future of the prisoner were instrumental in his or her survival in a concentration camp. How about the present? The present was filled with suffering, both physical and spiritual. But for somebody who had already acquired the strength and inner freedom even that dreadful present became full of meaning.
Perhaps some of the prisoners who had been religious in their previous lives lost faith. But in those who had not lost the faith, or had even just acquired faith in the camp, religious feelings were "the most sincere imaginable. The depth and vigor of religious belief often surprised and moved a new arrival. Most impressive in this connection were improvised prayers or services in the corner of a hut, or in the darkness of the locked cattle truck in which we were brought back from a distant work site, tired, hungry and frozen in our ragged clothing" (p. 54).
Art existed in the camps. Tired, hungry and frozen people composed music, drew pictures, wrote poetry. There were even makeshift "concerts," with good music, songs and even humor.
Against all odds, the aesthetic feeling, the ability to see the beautiful in nature, had not disappeared. An exhausted man might draw the attention of a friend working next to him to a view of the setting sun through the trees of a winter forest. Frankl recalls: "One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red. The desolate gray mud huts provided a sharp contrast, while the puddles on the muddy ground reflected the glowing sky. Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, 'How beautiful the world could be!'"(pp. 59-60; italics by Frankl).
But perhaps the most important feature of the present in the inhuman conditions of the concentration camp was the feeling of responsibility that was so strong in the inmates who had not lost their inner freedom: responsibility for their future, their beloved and their fellow prisoners.
New regulations were issued by the camp authorities: death for any even petty violations of the regime that could be interpreted as sabotage. A few days before a semi-starving prisoner had stolen a few pounds of potatoes. Many prisoners knew who the "burglar" was. The authorities threatened that if the guilty man was not given up, the whole camp would starve for a day. "Naturally, 2,500 men preferred to fast." It was not quite natural in those conditions. Just imagine: there was not a single man who decided to betray his comrade, although a reward - some benefits, perhaps extra food or easier work could have made a difference in the life-death race.
Frankl writes (MSM, p. 52): "Sigmund Freud once said, 'Let us attempt to expose a number of most diverse people uniformly to hunger. With the increase of the imperative urge of hunger all individual differences will blur, and in their stead will appear the uniform expression of the one unstilled urge.' In the concentration camps, however, the reverse watrue. People became more diverse. The beast was unmasked - and so was the saint. The hunger was the same but people were different. In truth, calories do not count." And, of course, the strong helped the weak. On quite a few occasions Frankl himself tried to do his utmost to strengthen his comrades' resistance to the physical and moral decay and degeneration that the camp existence promulgated: from unintrusive conversations to collective psychotherapeutic (in fact, logotherapeutic) sessions, at the outcome of which people thanked him with tears in their eyes. (pp. 103-105).
Although Frankl modestly notices that "...only too rarely had I the inner strength to make contact with my companions in suffering and that I must have missed many opportunities for doing so" (p. 105), he was doubtlessly one of those who "...walked through the huts comforting others, giving away the last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to chose one's own way" (p. 86).
In order to prove that something is not, one has to prove that every possible example of that something is not. While, if one wants to prove that something is, just one example would be enough. Viktor Frankl's account of his experience as a concentration camp prisoner gives these examples, and not just one, but many. The examples of people whose will for meaning was stronger than death.
MEANING..."... there is a meaning in life, ... it is available to everyone and, even more, ... life retains its meaning under any conditions. It remains meaningful literally up to its last moment, up to one's last breath." Viktor E. Frankl, "The Unheard Cry For Meaning.
Meaning... What is it? In his Autobiography (RCL) Frankl writes: "As early as 1929 I developed the concept of three groups of values, three possibilities to find meaning in life - up to the last moment, the last breath. These three possibilities are: 1) a deed we do, a work we create, 2) an experience, a human encounter and love, and 3) when confronted with an unchangeable fate (such as an incurable disease, an inoperable cancer) a change of attitudes. In such cases we still can wrest meaning from life by becoming witness of the most human of all human capacities: the ability to turn suffering into human triumph." These three "components" of meaning seem to be so simple and easy to understand. But a meaning cannot be learned or taught, or shared. As a matter of fact, there is no such a thing as a universal meaning for everyone. "Meaning" is always personal, the meaning. Frankl writes: In other words, life gives the person an assignment, and one has to learn what that assignment is. But what is important, ."..the true meaning of life is to be discovered in the world rather than within man or his own psyche, as if it were a closed system." (MSM p. 133). Frankl stresses that finding a meaning in life inevitably requires what he calls "self transcendence" - rising above one's own self: "being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself - be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter.... The more one forgets himself - by giving himself to a cause to serve, or another person to love - the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself." In another book (PES, p. 24) Frankl writes: "What man is, he ultimately becomes through the cause which he has made his own."
A reader may ask: "OK, it is all declarations, slogans... But how does one acquire that meaning?" Dr. Joseph Fabry devoted his book "Guideposts to Meaning" to the difficult task of step-by-step guiding the reader towards understanding what really matters in one's life. Dr. Fabry suggests that one should involve oneself in "Socratic dialogues": - the dialogues inside oneself - that would facilitate finding the meaning. Five guideposts should be probed, in the areas where the meaning is most likely to be found.
These areas are:
"1. Self-discovery. The more you find out about your real self behind all the masks you put on for self protection, the more meaning you will discover.
2. Choice. The more choices you see in your situation, the more meaning will become available.
3. Uniqueness. You will be most likely to find meaning in situations where you are not easily replaced by someone else.
4. Responsibility. Your life will be meaningful if you learn to take responsibility where you have freedom of choice, and if you learn not to feel responsible where you face an unalterable fate,
5. Self-transcendence. Meaning comes to you when you reach beyond your egocentricity towards others" (p. 10).
And yet, there is no easy and ready prescription for everyone. Listen carefully to what your life requires of you. Listen to your conscience. Think. Be patient, do not hurry. One day you will know. But this may be a long and difficult road till you have reached your destination...
"By its very nature this ultimate meaning exceeds man's limited intellectual capacity. In contrast to those existential writers who declare that man has to stand the ultimate absurdity of being human, it is my contention that man has to stand only his incapacity to grasp the ultimate meaning on intellectual grounds. Man is only called upon to decide between the alternatives of 'ultimate absurdity or ultimate meaning' on existential grounds, through the mode of existence which he chooses. In the 'How' of existence, I would say, lies the answer to the question for its 'Why.' Thus, the ultimate meaning is no longer a matter of intellectual cognition but the existential commitment. One might as well say that a meaning can be understood but that the ultimate meaning must be interpreted.' (PAS, p. 46)
"Work We Create" We spend over a third of our time working. To most people a job is a necessary and unavoidable way of earning one's living. Americans work hard. If you wish, it is an American tradition that began first with the colonists and then was taken over by the generations of immigrants, who came to America in search of a new and better life. The American Dream of affluence and wealth has been driving millions of people to work hard.
At the end of the 20th century, working hard, for most of the people, does not mean merely fighting for survival any more. The American middle class has emerged; the majority of Americans live in their own homes. Even the American "poor" are believed to be "the richest poor in the world." In spite of accusations fired at each other by politicians, the living standard of an average American family is higher than that in Europe, although it is steadily going down.
Americans are still working hard, but their work has lost the original existential meaning of necessary effort for survival. Americans still believe that any work is good that brings in money - and the more, the better. But this belief is no longer valid. It has been destroyed by the boredom of a dull, unfulfilling job. And yet not many understand that only that job is good that is fulfilling. In addition a job has become more and more difficult to find, and losing a job becomes a tragedy. But this boredom does not originate from the jobs themselves: it is a result of our attitude.
Being unemployed is a tragedy because a job is the only source of livelihood for most people. However, from the existential point of view, "The jobless man experiences the emptiness of his time as inner emptiness, as an emptiness of his conscience. He feels useless because he is unoccupied. Having no work, he thinks, life has no meaning" (DAS, p. 121). As a contrast to that feeling, in the same book Frankl quotes an ad in a London newspaper of a man for whom work is a mode of creative existence: "Unemployed. Brilliant mind offers its services completely free; the survival of the body must be provided for by adequate salary" (p. xviii)
Logotherapy claims that work, a process that takes so much time from our life, may be a source of meaning, direction, fulfillment, for many an important source of meaning, for some the only source.
The job becomes that well of meaning and fulfillment, if it is creative. The word itself means creating something new that did not exist before: not only in the sense of revolutionizing technologies, discovering new principles in science, or creating an art masterpiece, but most often just participating in a modest and unambitious process of gaining knowledge, trust, kindness, love... This quality is of a fundamentally subjective character. The job does not contain creativity in itself. A white-color job can be boring, and a job of a volunteer helping kids to cross the street fulfilling and exciting. The one who is doing the work can make it unique: creative and interesting, or dull and boring. It is only a matter of attitude.
For a job to be creative, one does not have to have a high IQ or to be highly educated. One has only to find the meaning in the work, make it a part of one's personality. The only role that education plays in this process is facilitating the finding this unique meaning. One's horizons are wider, one's understanding of the world is better, one's identification with society is deeper through education.
In 1979-80 I spent a year in Germany doing research at a university. Every day, at about 5 P.M., I heard a knock on my office door and an elderly lady janitor entered with a broad smile and a "Guten Abend, Herr Professor." Then she began her daily routine: cleaning my office. She knew that her job was extremely important, for without it, we, the "egg-heads" of the fifth floor, would perish in the dirt and disorder of our offices. She lifted every single sheet of paper on my desk and dusted beneath. Whatever papers were scattered around were carefully piled up and secured on the desk corner. I did not speak German, she did not speak English, but we both knew that what she was doing was important. Of course I could live without the daily dusting of my papers; she could not. And I agreed with her. From the existential point of view we - "the egg-heads" in the offices around, and herself - were equal: we each did the work we loved and believed to be important. And, whenever a party was held she was always a part of it: a loved and respected member of the fifth floor community...
This role of education is important. I do firmly believe that one of the factors that has exacerbated our crisis is the degradation of our educational system. It simply has been failing to raise a person above the level of immaturity. And maturity means meaningfulness. That is why a way out of the crisis, quite possibly the only way, is in a dramatic improvement in our educational system. Today creative fulfilling work is the destiny of only the few. To the rest it is an unpleasant and boring duty. 50 million Americans hate their jobs! Perhaps the most regretful aspect of our life is that we teach our children that a boring job is all right. We encourage them to start working as early as possible with the only purpose: learning how to make money. In 1991 5 million teenagers worked; I wonder if anybody studied if our working children were among those 50 million...
However, even a boring job has an important quality: it fills time. When even this dull and boring work is over (and the work may be difficult, requiring the concentration of both mental and physical energy) a person feels lost. Frankl, in one of his books, describes a "Sunday neuroses" - people do not know how to kill time. Typically, two options are used: shopping and the reliable and never failing TV. Frankl writes (DAS, p. 127): "...people who know no goal in life are running the course of life at the highest possible speed so that they will not notice the aimlessness of it. They are at the same time trying to run away from themselves - but in vain. On Sunday, when the frantic race pauses for twenty-four hours, all the aimlessness, meaninglessness, and emptiness of their existence rises up before them once more."
Of course, there are jobs that are very difficult to make "creative," among them jobs requiring the monotonous repetition of a similar operation, such as a job at a conveyer belt. With the development of new computerized technologies and robotics, these jobs will gradually disappear, giving people virtually unlimited opportunities to realize their innate creativity. This, however, will require an educational level for which the American school today does not prepare. With the advancement of technology, the amount of leisure time is increasing. This is both a curse and a blessing: It is a curse, if a person does not have a "mission" in her or his life. Then any means of killing that leisure time will be good: from meaningless TV watching and computer games to gambling and drugs. It will be a blessing if a mission does exist. Then it will require the concentration of all the person's abilities, and will need more time than the person can normally afford: no time will be enough. A good education will give a person the basis, the foundation for the future meaningful and happy life.
"Human Encounter and Love" The basis of meaningfulness of human existence is one's singularity, one's uniqueness. But a person can actualize the creative values of her/his personality only through the external world: through something done for people. In response, the world, "the community" confers meaning upon the person's uniqueness and singularity. In fact, the external world becomes an indispensable part of one's personality.
It enters one's personality in two ways: through the "impersonal" effect of Nature, Books, Music, Art and Culture in general (recall the role of these factors in strengthening the will to survive in the Nazi concentration camps!), and through encounters with people.
Elie Wiesel, one of the most distinguished authors of our time, who, like Viktor Frankl, has survived the Nazi concentration camp, once said: "Behind every meeting, every encounter - responsibility." To those who agree with Wiesel, there is only one answer to the question "Am I my brother's keeper?" - spewed by Cain in self defense: "Yes, I am the keeper of my brothers - all over the world!"
The fact that most people do not think that way does not mean that the idea of "global responsibility" is idealistic delirium and nonsense. Thousands and thousands of young men and women, in 1936-37, left their families and jobs and joined the International Brigades in Spain to fight Fascism. Too often those brave people were accused of being Communists. Not all of them were. George Orwell, the author of immortal "1984," who hated all kinds of totalitarianism, fought in Spain. His book : "Homage to Catalonia" is a legacy of those years. The world was indifferent, but those people knew that Spain was just the beginning. They were right: the Second World War erupted just a couple of years
Sometimes History presents curious surprises. Generalissimo Franco, Spanish dictator and Hitler's ally, had incredible courage to deny the Nazis during the Second World War access to Gibraltar, an extremely important strategic point. Franco also refused to follow the Nazi anti-Jewish campaign. As a matter of fact, he gave asylum to all the Jewish refugees, fleeing France and other countries. Franco also personally saved some 1,700 Sephardi Jews from Bergen-Belsen death camp by telephoning Hitler and demanding the release of "Spanish citizens," although they had never lived in Spain but their ancestors had come from there.
Later. After Pearl Harbor, thousands upon thousands of young Americans volunteered for the Armed forces to fight the Nazis, although they could have gone on with their studies or with civilian work important for the military And two decades later, thousands and thousands of Americans of the next generation joined the "Peace Corps" to fight disease and illiteracy in the Third World. In the everyday life of most people the idea of "global responsibility" - even if the person does subscribe to it - is pushed off by small deeds and smaller responsibilities. And it is all right as far as the responsibilities exist. But too often the feeling of responsibility - in encounters with people - is frustrated. It is only partly to be blamed on the individual. Erich Fromm, one of the greatest psychologists of the 20th century, writes in his immortal book "The Art of Loving:" "From birth to death, from Monday to Monday, from morning to evening - all activities are routinized, and prefabricated. How should a man caught in this net of routine not forget that he is a man, a unique individual, one who is given only this one chance of living, with hopes and disappointments, with sorrow and fear, with the longing for love and the dread of the nothing and of separateness?" (p. 14)
This is exactly the existential vacuum that Viktor Frankl is discussing in his books. But it is up to the individual to escape from this vacuum into the freedom of meaning. Then "the nothing" and "the separateness" will disappear, giving way to constructive and creative encounters with people, with their "hopes and disappointments, sorrow and fear."
Love, the main object and concern of Erich Fromm's book, is something that cannot be compared in its importance to any other existential category in human life, except, perhaps death. It has been the object of discussion and analysis of the greatest philosophers and scientists since the human race has distinguished itself from the animal horde. Human poetry is almost exclusively about love.
The great Sigmund Freud attempted to reduce love to elementary instincts originating from the "pleasure principle." Viktor Frankl returns to love its human, existential character.
Discussing the meaning of love Frankl writes (DAS, p. 135): "Loving represents a coming to a relationship with another as a spiritual being. The close connection with spiritual aspects of the partner is the ultimate attainable form of partnership. The lover is no longer aroused in his own physical being, nor stirred in his own emotionality, but moved to the depths of his spiritual core, moved by the partner's spiritual core. Love, then, is an entering into direct relationship with the personality of the beloved, with the beloved's uniqueness and singularity."
Frankl stresses that, although love is as primary a phenomenon as sex, normally sex is only a mode of expression for love. "Sex is justified, even sanctified, as soon as, but only as long as, it is a vehicle of love. Thus love is not understood as a mere side-effect of sex: rather, sex is a way of expressing the experience of the ultimate togetherness which is called love." (MSM, p. 134) In the societal level this confusion inevitably brings about a devaluation of sex: "Like any kind of inflation -- e.g., that on the monetary market -- sexual inflation is associated with a devaluation: sex is devaluated inasmuch as it is dehumanized. Thus we observe a trend to living a sexual life that is not integrated into one's personal life, but rather is lived out for the sake of pleasure. such a depersonalization of sex is a symptom of existential frustration: the frustration of man's search for meaning." (UCM, p. 93) The confusion of sex for love in the psyche of millions of people, resulting in the degradation of love and proliferation of sex, both in America, and in all the industrialized societies, is doubtless a manifestation of the frustration of meaning and the deep existential crisis. I discuss this problem at length also in other essays of this book.
By the way, logotherapy suggests a method of treating sexual neuroses based on the phenomenon called "paradoxical intention." Logotherapy claims, that "The more the man aims at pleasure by way of direct intention, the more he misses his aim". (PAE, p. 21). This is true not only with regard to pleasure. Quite often, an achievement is just a "by-product" of an effort, not a directed objective of it. Thus, the opposite situation should somehow be explored. For example, if a person stammers, rather than trying not to stammer, one should force oneself to stammer as strongly as possible! Frankl relates to many cases when a short "paradoxical intention" treatment cured people who had been suffering for years from stammering, perspiration phobias, sleeplessness, and impotence. But Frankl stresses, that as a method of treatment, "Logotherapy is ultimately education towards responsibility; the patient must push forward independently towards the concrete meaning of his own existence" (DAS, p. xvi).
"The Unchangeable Fate" In his book "Psychotherapy and Existentialism" (PAE) Viktor Frankl writes: "We have seen that there exists not only a will to pleasure and a will to power but also a will to meaning. Now we see further: We have not only the possibility of giving a meaning to our life by creative acts and beyond that by the experience of Truth, Beauty, and Kindness, of Nature, Culture, and human beings in their uniqueness and individuality, and of love; we have not only the possibility of making life meaningful by creating and loving, but also by suffering - so that when we can no longer change our fate by action, what matters is the right attitude towards fate."
This third avenue to meaning is, perhaps, the most important one. Too often we forget that suffering is an unavoidable and ineradicable part of human life. Without it, life could not be complete. Suffering - albeit in unequal degrees - accompanies us through all our lives, eventually terminating in death. Finding meaning in suffering is not as much the ability to cope with suffering and not letting it destroy oneself, but the possibility of "rising above oneself," "growing beyond oneself," and thus "changing oneself." In "Man's Search for Meaning" (MSM p. 88) Frankl writes: "Here lies a chance for a man either to make use or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not." And a few pages later: "When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden" (p. 99) Frankl proves that a human being "may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph."
It is usually believed that the main reason for the desire to commit suicide in terminally ill adults derives from physical suffering. Researchers studying the psychology of assisted suicide have discovered, however, that only a third of those contemplating suicide are motivated by this. In the majority of terminally ill patients the leading factors driving their desire to suicide are "fear of a loss of control or dignity, or being a burden, and of being dependent" (Peter Edelman, The Atlantic Monthly, March, 1977, p. 75). A human being can cope with severe pain; but it is the inability to comply with human standards that makes life unbearable and impossible...
The Nazi concentration camps witnessed thousands of examples of such human triumph that a Freudian man with his will to pleasure is incapable of. Our everyday life also gives us examples of this unbreakable will for meaning. Among them professor of Cambridge University and perhaps the most distinguished theoretical physicist of our time, Dr. Stephen Hawking, a victim of Lou Gehrig's disease, almost completely paralyzed, and unable to speak (a computer helps him communicate); Stephen Hawking's mother, Isobel Hawking writes: "He says himself that he wouldn't have got where he is if he hadn't been ill. And I think it is quite possible" ("Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time: A Reader's Companion", p. 110).
America is proud of Helen Keller. But not many remember another name: that of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Helen was able to overcome her handicaps - she was blind, deaf and mute - to become an author and one of the most cultured people of her time. Her teacher Anne Sullivan was not handicapped, but she made the tremendously difficult, seemingly impossible task - that became her mission - of turning a frightened and angry little animal - seven-year-old Helen - into a human being. That mission filled all Anne Sullivan's life, became her only objective. This is an almost mystical example of a person who "had grown above herself," who made the life of another human being more important than that of her own.
Another hero - also one America will always be proud of - is its great president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose imprint on this country's destiny simply cannot be overestimated. A disabled man, tragic victim of polio that struck when his political career was only beginning, he, by inhuman willpower, was able to turn his disability into the most powerful stimulus of his life. When he, with the help of a body-guard or one of his sons, smiling broadly - as he always did - walked towards the podium, most of the nation did not know that he actually was unable to walk. It was an imitation, a pretense forced by FDR's enormous physical and moral strength!
The list of people, who have turned their suffering into human triumph, is long, and each of them deserves a monument in the pantheon of Mankind. The examples above were just names from the books and magazines scattered on my desk while I was writing this essay.
I will never forget seeing a blind man skiing on a down-hill slope in New Hampshire (with an assistant skiing before him with a sign: "Attention, a blind person skiing!"), or a smiling and excited young woman with paralyzed legs, being helped by two volunteers in loading her sledge to a ski lift on Mt. Attitash; later I saw her "skiing" down a difficult slope. I am proud to belong to the same species as those two people and many thousands of others, who have won over their disability and turned tragedy into a human triumph. But the inhuman ordeal of an extreme handicap is the fate of relatively few, while the everyday sufferings of millions are the reality of "normal" life. In his books Frankl gives many examples of how people can "rise above themselves" and "grow beyond themselves." He also shows how the ideas of logotherapy - the school of thought he had developed - can help people to understand the "Why" of their suffering and thus give them the "How" which enables them to cope with that "Why": from a personal tragedy of the loss of the beloved, to the tragedy of a prison inmate whose life seems to be over.
Frankl relates his conversation with a patient, a physician, who could not overcome the loss of his wife, whom he loved above everything in the world. Two years had passed since the death, but the patient's depression would not subside. here is the conversation: F.: "What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?" P.: "Oh, for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!" F.: "You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared of her, and it was you who have spared her this suffering - to be sure, at the price that now you have to survive and mourn her," Frankl concludes: "He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left my office. In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice" (MSM, p. 135)
In his book "The Unheard Cry For Meaning" (UCM), Frankl quotes two letters from inmates of American (Florida) prisons: "I have found true meaning in my existence even here, in prison. I find purpose in my life, and this time I have left is just a short wait for the opportunity to do better and to do more." Another letter: "During the past several months a group of inmates has been sharing your books and your tapes. Yes, one of the greatest meanings we can be privileged to experience is suffering. I have just begun to live, and what a glorious feeling it is! I am constantly humbled by the tears of my brothers in our group when they can see that they are even now achieving meanings they never thought possible. The changes are truly miraculous. Lives which heretofore have been hopeless and helpless now have meaning. ... From the barbed wire and chimney of Auschwitz rises the sun... My, what a new day must be in store." (p. 47)
"Homo Patiens" The urge to have a meaning in one's life, the will for meaning, is an indispensable quality of a "Homo patiens" - "the suffering man, the man who knows how to suffer, how to mold even his sufferings into a human achievement" - the term coined by Frankl. He writes (UCM, p. 46): "Usually, man is seen as the Homo sapiens, the clever man who has know-how, who knows how to be a success, how to be a successful businessman or a successful playboy, that is, how to be successful in making money or in making love. The homo sapiens moves between the positive extreme of success and its negative counterpart, failure." But there is another dimension to human life. The Homo patiens moves on an axis perpendicular to that of the Homo sapiens. It extends between the poles of fulfillment ("plus") and despair ("minus"): the fulfillment of one's self through the fulfillment of meaning, and the despair over the apparent meaninglessness of one's life.
This visual interpretation of our existential stand (see the diagram below) is very helpful in understanding the real life situations. A wealthy person who has achieved complete success in her/his life may find herself/himself in the extreme negative on the Homo patiens scale, if her/his life is devoid of meaning and direction. It may be not only a rock-, or movie-, or athletic star, but also a successful medical doctor or a lawyer, or even an elected official. On the other hand, a modest person who can hardly exist on a meager salary or a pension - and is, of course, far from achieving "success" from the point of view accepted in our society, perhaps is even a "loser" - may be fully content and happy, doing her/his work that is "unique" and "important": as my modest janitor, nameless hospital volunteers, people giving their time to charity. An extreme case is of course a prison inmate who can find a new meaning in her/his suffering.
The upper right-hand corner of Frankl's diagram is not empty either. I have read of a successful lawyer who found time in his busy schedule to help out in the maternity ward of a hospital: they needed "human hands" - just to lull babies abandoned by their mothers in order that they might feel a "mother's warmth." In 1995 a story made headlines in the Boston press: about a factory owner who, after his factory was destroyed by fire continued paying salaries to his workers until the factory began functioning again. An international financier and multi-billionaire George Soros has spent millions of dollars supporting scientists and engineers of the Former Soviet Union; and he is not alone - thousands of prominent leaders of industry, culture and sports who, selflessly give their money and their time to projects making our society better. The lower left-hand corner of the diagram is occupied by the underclass who were unable to achieve either material success or meaning in their lives... If we suppose that our younger generation - our children - are "neutral" with respect to success-failure in society ("zero" on the Homo sapiens axis), they - most of them - occupy the Homo patiens axis well below, in the negative. Their lives are empty and devoid of meaning, they are abandoned by our society, they drift, creating their own ugly "culture," and nobody is out there to help them...
Happiness... It is always difficult to talk about the fundamental "existential" problems. They are too intimate. We rarely discuss them even with people who are really close to us. In our everyday life there is not much time that, left alone with our own soul, we can ask ourselves: "Where am I? What am I? What do I live for?" And yet, it is important to go on asking these questions again and again: even if only in order to prevent our souls from "falling asleep." For a skeptical reader who still believes that what Frankl is saying is just an "abstract philosophy," which is difficult, if not impossible, to implement in everyday life, I would like to quote from an article published sometime in the middle 80s in a Boston North Shore newspaper. In my files I found one page: a Xerox copy of just some 50 lines (two short columns) from that article. I do not know what newspaper it was published in; the author's name is also missing. But I am deeply grateful to that person for what she or he wrote, and I regret that I do not know the name, to be able to personally express my gratitude to that person. That article was important to me at that time, for when I read it, I did not know of either Viktor Frankl or logotherapy. Perhaps, the article's author did not know either. But that article is an excellent and thoughtful interpretation of Frankl's ideas. Let me reproduce here the whole text as I have it on that Xerox page.
"[In] television series LateNight America, I learned from experts that only 20 percent Americans are happy, which prompted me during the last year to talk about happiness with psychiatrists, psychologists, educators, religious leaders and many other successful Americans. All agree that happiness comes to us as a direct result of high self-esteem, a positive attitude and the way in which we relate to other people. It's not as complicated as we make it out to be. But happiness may be different from what we think it is.
Happiness, I have learned, is a feeling of contentment and peace of mind. Life is a mixed bag of joy and sadness, laughter and tears, pain and growth. Happy people accept the whole package, realizing that happiness is only a part of life's puzzle.
Unfortunately, too many Americans have swallowed a bill of goods which states that happiness can be achieved 24 hours a day and will be found in success, fame, possessions, and marrying or having a relationship with the right person. I've discovered that, to be happy, we must have something to do, someone or something to love, and something to hope for. Our work must give us a sense of pride and satisfaction, use of our special talents and abilities, and provide us with the opportunity for recognition and contribution. If we work only for money at a job we hate, we deny ourselves the chance to be happy. To be happy we must live for something outside ourselves - another person or people, a cause, a belief in God. To live only for ourselves is to exist in a world of one - and that brings misery. To be happy we must have hope, which is our commitment of time and energy to the future. We need to dream. To have no dream is to have no hope, and to have no hope is to have no reason to live." The above may be, in essence, summarized as a formula of ultimate happiness. This is also the Frankl formula. Like any mathematical formula, which does not make sense unless some numbers are put into it, the formula of ultimate happiness, in order to work, requires the actions of a whole life. It is simple: Live a life that multiplies good; so that when you are about to leave, the Earth is better - even though just a little bit - than it was when you came to this world - and this is because of the life you have lived! If, though only once in your life, you saw tears of gratitude in the eyes of a stranger whom you may never see again, the formula worked! Years ago, after a lecture at an American university, a student asked Viktor Frankl: "You talk so much about meaning. But what is the meaning in your life?" "What do you think the meaning in my life is?" - Frankl addressed a student standing next to him. "I believe the meaning in your life is to help people find meaning in theirs," - was the answer.
And I would like to finish this essay with the words of Viktor Frankl (DAS, p. 139): "We must never be content with what has already been achieved. Life never ceases to put new questions to us, never permits us to come to rest. Only self-narcotization keeps us insensible to the eternal pricks with which life with its endless succession of demands stings our conscience. The man who stands still is passed by; the man who is smugly contented loses himself. Neither in creating nor experiencing may we rest content with achievement; every day, every hour makes deeds necessary and new experiences possible."
References to Viktor Frankl's books:
MSM: Viktor E. Frankl "Man's Search for Meaning," Washington Square Press, New York, 1985
UCM: Viktor E. Frankl "The Unheard Cry for Meaning: Psychotherapy and Humanism,", Washington Square Press, New York, 1985
PAE: Viktor E. Frankl, "Psychotherapy and Existentialism," Washington Square Press, New York, 1985,
DAS: Viktor E. Frankl "The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy," Vintage Book, New York, 1973
RCL: Viktor Frankl, "Recollections: An Autobiography" (English translation by Joseph and Judith Fabry), Plenum Publishing House in London, 1997
"TRAINING OR EDUCATION: BASED ON FRANKL'S PRINCIPLES: GENRICH L. KASKO
[Durbin’s Review for Amazon.com:] Genrich Krasko's book Boredom of Being; A Crisis of Meaning in America should be must reading for educators & politicians. Krasko is well versed in Viktor Frankl's understanding of "Meaning in Life." and personal responsibility. He draws a sharp line between "Training" and "Educating". The American school systems focus on "Training" when the focus should be on "Educating". Educators should not lower education to the lowest common denominator, but help the least to raise their knowledge and help the student to maintain meaning in life.]
[Genrich L. Krasko, This essay is based on a chapter from author's book: This Unbearable Boredom of Being: A Crisis of Meaning in America (iUniverse, 2004). Viktor Frankl, shortly before his death in 1997, wrote a Foreword to the book. Genrich L. Krasko is a retired professor still affiliated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology. To order Krasko’s book, Boredom of Being; A Crisis of Meaning in America go to Amazon.com. Krasko’s article follows.]
America's Cultural Dilemma: Our education system is sick. No secret about it. Dozens of books and hundreds upon hundreds of articles in journals, magazines, and newspapers suggest treatments for our sick education. Now it is on all the wavelengths. It is urgent! Actually, the problem has been urgent for quite a while. Twenty years ago (1983), the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, disclosed the shameful state of our education. One sentence was extremely striking: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."
Since then, not much has happened or changed. The very recent years, however, have seen increased activity among would-be school reformers. The initiative "No Child Left Behind" recently signed into law by President Bush is the culmination of reformers' efforts. Everybody understands that a radical education reform must be implemented.
Why is it urgent? We are told that if our educational system undergoes no fundamental changes, in ten years most of the high-school graduates will not find jobs in spite of the fact that the economy will desperately need workers. This is simply because our high school graduates will be unqualified to fill the jobs the economy will require.
Thus, we are told, in order to secure future jobs for our children, and to sustain and enhance the ability of our economy to compete in the international market, we must dramatically improve teaching our children the necessary practical skills. This is the objective of education as seen today not only by our educational establishment but by most Americans throughout the social and economic strata, from the bottom to the very top.
In 1989, in one of his first addresses as Vice President, Dan Quayle, speaking to an audience of young people said that they should study in order to get better jobs. This concept - that education's sole purpose is giving a person the necessary set of skills to be able to find a good job - is believed in America as an absolute truth. However, it is wrong.
When we speak of education, we almost inevitably use the word training. One was trained as a technician; one was trained as a manager; one was trained as a chemist, one was trained as a poet, one was trained as a pianist, one was trained as a medical doctor, and worst of all, one was trained as a teacher! Actually, using the term trained, rather than educated, when referring to what is taught and how it is taught in America is, in most cases, right. Because what in this country is called education, has, in fact, been training.
The Dilemma... That confusion - and unfortunately not only on the level of word meaning - has come so far that people have simply forgotten the difference between these two concepts. However, one can open any dictionary to see what the difference is. The Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, G. &C. Merriam Company Publishers, Springfield, Mass., USA, 1958, explicitly stresses the difference I am focusing on. But symptomatically, this note is absent from the "Webster's Third New International Dictionary of the English Language," same publishers, 1994. And yet, here are the definitions that one can find in any Webster today: TRAIN: "to make proficient by instruction and practice, as in some art, profession or work, to develop or form the habits, thoughts or behavior; to give the discipline and instruction, drill, practice, etc., designed to impart proficiency; to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient.
EDUCATE: "to develop and cultivate mentally, morally or aesthetically; to expand, strengthen, and discipline, as the mind, a faculty, etc."
The difference between these two concepts is striking. Education brings understanding of the world we live in; it tells us who we are, where we have come from, and where we may be heading. It helps us understand ourselves, helps us to identify our place as individuals among other people. Education makes us intellectually and morally strong. It fills our souls with meaning. It helps us to develop the ultimate treasure of our personalities: maturity.
Education allows us to deal with novel and complicated situations. The variables we can ultimately understand and handle may be almost infinite. And, our understanding should range from the most concrete to the most abstract. For example, the educated person can thoughtfully discuss the natural or physical world, the social world, or the spiritual world. The educated person can range the universe and construct questions appropriate to a member of a civilized society. The educated person can and should "rock the boat" in a democratic society and see that it remains democratic. An educated person does not elevate the trivial to a position of importance, or vice versa.
As for training, it only helps us to acquire the necessary skills to find and do a job, but does not help a tiny bit either to identify our place in our culture or to understand who we are personally, or even to find the fortitude to do our job well in difficult times. We confuse information with knowledge. Training does provide one with new information; however knowledge can be obtained only through education. And yet, Americans believe in training. It seems that in our country all that anyone needs to get along is a training; and not only professional training, but also all kind of "social skill building" trainings, including "self-esteem boosting skills," "relationship skills," etc.
What has been the origin of our shallow attitude toward education? Richard Hofstadter, in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Anti-intellectualism in American Life, writes (p. 34): "During the nineteenth century when business criteria dominated American culture almost without challenge, and when most business and professional men attained eminence without much formal education, academic schooling was often said to be useless. It was assumed that schooling existed not to cultivate certain distinctive qualities of mind but to make personal advancement possible. For this purpose, an immediate engagement with the practical tasks of life was held to be more usefully educative, whereas intellectual and cultural pursuits were called unworldly, unmasculine and impractical...This skepticism about formally cultivated intellect lived on into the twentieth century."
We continue to live with it in the twenty-first century. And to most people this still seems to make sense. Hence the continuing degradation of our education system. Hofstadter's accusations are fair today, as they have been for over one hundred years: "...ours is the only educational system in the world, vital segments of which have fallen into hands of people who joyfully and militantly proclaim their hostility to intellect."
The Existential Crisis: But even having understood the fundamental difference between education and training as the main problem with our education, we are still missing the main point. What we are missing is the understanding of the consequences of the degradation of our education, the comprehension of its devastating role in exacerbating the more general existential crises that has engulfed our society. Then the dilemma between education and training turns out to be a cultural, and, in fact, an existential dilemma. The existential crisis of our society is not something "specifically American"; it is a worldwide phenomenon. The late Viktor Frankl, one of the greatest psychiatrists and psychotherapists of the 20th century, diagnosed this crisis over 50 years ago.
The ills, rooted in the meaning of one's existence, are nearly universal: as the post-industrial revolution spreads worldwide, they infect affluent societies, welfare states, and even the poorest countries. In his book, The Unconscious God: Psychotherapy and Theology (p. 91) Frankl writes: "Unlike an animal, man is no longer told by drives and instincts what he must do. And in contrast to man in former times, he is no longer told by traditions and values what he should do. Now, knowing neither what he must do nor what he should do, he sometimes does not even know what he basically wishes to do. Instead, he wishes to do what other people do... or he does what other people wish him to do..."
In this situation when people "lost ground" our old social philosophies also fail. The bitter truth, says Frankl, is that "For too long we have been dreaming a dream from which we are now waking up: the dream that if we just improve the socioeconomic situation of people, everything will be okay, people will become happy. The truth is that as the struggle for survival has subsided, the question has emerged: survival for what? Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for" (The Unheard Cry for Meaning; italics by Frankl).
Viktor Frankl sees the most important motivation of people's lives as the will to meaning. He gives solid proofs of that thesis; the most convincing of them based on his experience as a Nazi death camp survivor.
A society becomes severely ill when the will to meaning in people's lives becomes frustrated, giving way to what Frankl calls the existential vacuum. This is the situation in America today: catastrophically, in large segments of American society, people have lost the meaning in their lives. On the personal level, one falls victim of boredom and the tragic triad of addiction, depression and aggression.
Robert Kaplan, a noted American journalist gives a vivid picture of the existential vacuum that has engulfed America (The Coming Anarchy, The Atlantic Monthly, Feb. 1994): "When voter turnout decreases to around 50 percent at the same time the middle class is spending astounding sums in gambling casinos and state lotteries, joining private health clubs and using large amounts of stimulants and anti-depressants, one can legitimately be concerned about the state of American society. We have become voyeurs and escapists. Many of us don't play sports but love watching great athletes with great physical attributes. It is because people find so little in themselves that they fill their world with celebrities. The masses avoid important national and international news because much of it is tragic, even as they show an unlimited appetite for the details of Princess Diana's death. This willingness to give up self and responsibility is the sine qua non for tyranny."
The books by Viktor Frankl, the most famous of them, Men's Search for Meaning, have been translated into many languages. Unfortunately, Viktor Frankl's ideas, in spite of the fact that his books were widely sold in this country, have been virtually forgotten. At the same time, the most acute problems of today's America: crime, drugs, greed, ugly gender polarization, racism, proliferation of teenage sex, disintegration of family, decay in morals are, to a great extent, the direct consequences of this crisis of meaning.
The time has come for Americans to look into the face of reality and honestly focus on what politicians fail to see in their rhetoric: the existential character of our current crisis. The healing process, which will eventually make our society healthy and ready for the challenges of the new millennium, will be possible and can begin only if our public understands the true causes of our problems, and politicians openly and honestly address the issues responsible for our ills.
The situation in America, as I have mentioned above, is more acute than in most developed democratic countries because of the systematic decline, in fact the degradation, of our educational system over a long period of time.
Education - in its true sense - is an aspect of human civilization that is a fundamentally individual matter, although an effort by the whole society is necessary for its success in the individual. Education is also, of a fundamental existential character because it is the opening of the individual's window on the world. It brings one to maturity, building the mind and the soul, and filling them with meaning. However, attaining meaning in one's life is not necessarily a consequence of education. An uneducated individual can be happy, and live a meaningful and fulfilling life. But since, in my view, the important factor that has allowed our lives to become devoid of meaning has been the disappearance of education, it is education that becomes most important for restoring meaning in our lives.
The only way out of this crisis, not only in America, but also in the whole democratic world, is by enhancing the educational level of the populace. Almost eighty years ago H. G. Wells wrote: "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." Today it is more true than ever before. But why has this happened? Why has the disappearance of true education struck such a devastating blow to American society?
A "Three Dimensional" Human: According to Frankl, we, humans, exist in three "dimensions:" somatic, mental, and spiritual. The first two dimensions are obvious: we have bodies, and we have minds. Animals also have them. As for the third dimension, it often has a religious connotation, but Frankl stresses that "spiritual" refers only to that dimension, which distinguishes humans from the other living beings in the world.
The borderline between the mental and spiritual dimensions is somewhat fuzzy. Animals have many "mental" capabilities. Most of what we call intelligence - knowledge or a gut feeling of how to do something is still within the mental dimension. However, what we call intellect - the ability to think in abstract categories, analyze situations and thoughts, and make moral choices, is already a part of the spiritual and is necessary to it. Self-consciousness, the ability to judge our own behavior, and, ultimately, what we call conscience are all parts of that dimension.
In order to survive in this world, one obviously has to be able to "navigate" through these three dimensions. When a baby is born, it has only the potential abilities to acquire "navigation skills." These skills must be developed gradually over time.
The bodily dimension is the lowest on the cognitive scale. Here a human being is not much different from an animal. A baby will learn how to walk, run, and use its body for multiple purposes even without any influence of human society.
For developing mental abilities a society is already necessary: children abandoned or completely neglected for a long time are unable even to speak; their ability to think concisely is also severely impaired. This handicap may become irreversible. The Kipling's Mowgli is, of course, just a brilliant fiction...
The development of spiritual dimension requires special and very intense efforts. As I mentioned above, these efforts, although directed to an individual, require active participation of the whole society. And they must be thoughtful efforts.
What I am actually saying is that each of the three dimensions require its own "education." And, of course, a "right" educational system should provide for an adequate development of the abilities to navigate through all three dimensions.
Apart from the "unconditional" and "natural" development of the body, a special training in sports is necessary for both better body's functioning and sustaining a healthy body metabolism. Even this is not being provided in our schools. We only have to observe the increasing obesity in our children to illustrate that we do not deal even with the least complicated of the three dimensions.
For some twist of semantics, developing body is called "physical education," although it has nothing to do with the true education whatsoever. In spite of the failure by our schools to help a child to develop a strong and healthy body, sports are the most loved in this country by children and parents. In commercials everyday we see boys catching footballs, with happy parents at the background (girls are usually hugging moms!), and never a girl or a boy reading a book! Sport is the most desirable and widespread extra-curricular activity of our children. More and more we hear about "soccer moms," and never about "library moms!"
Physical education does not require virtually any spiritual effort. And yet, in our reality, being professed in sports is often one of the most important prerogatives of being accepted to a university, and navigate through it without significant intellectual efforts and, very often, virtually free financially. It is easy to see that what in this country called "education" (and, is actually just training), is directed - apart from primitive physical training - only at developing our children's mental abilities, at best their intelligence. And even that - developing mental abilities - we are not doing very well. Otherwise teaching even basic mental skills would not be at the center of our educators' concerns and campaigns. But, as badly as we do in these first two areas, we do even more poorly in approaching the spirit. Almost nothing is done to help children develop a strong intellectual, spiritual core of their personalities.
No doubt, a good training directed at building skills is needed: it helps people to find a place in society. One acquires a profession, a role in society's financial and social hierarchy. And, yes, one has better chances to successfully compete at job market. However, important as they are, the skills acquired during all the years at school and even college, do not help a tiny bit to survive the existential vacuum, which, in our post-industrial, post-modern, information-avalanched high-tech society, inevitably engulfs one without a strong spiritual foundation. .
On the other hand, real education deals, fundamentally, with the person's deep spiritual core. An individual can survive solitary confinement, or a death camp, or a debilitating illness, and still be happy and fulfilled, and even create masterpieces of science or art out of incessant sustenance from the individual's spiritual core.
The high spiritual level of a human being may not necessarily correlate with his or her job, wealth, or social status, although it can make any endeavor more easily achievable. But it is necessary! Because in a human society, every member must have human qualities, not merely those of automatons or computers! Most of all, a healthy democracy is impossible unless people's intellect and spirit are at a level well above the level of their jobs. Raising people's culture to that level is impossible without true education.
Let me stress again: the skills that we want our children (and then adults) to master have almost nothing to do with their souls, their human spirit. Although America has the most vibrant intellectual elite, with its own culture, having absorbed the best achievements of at least two millennia of Western civilization, the majority of Americans are getting more and more estranged from the intellectual and emotional nourishing spring of that culture. Our educational system, for over a hundred years, generation after generation, has been sentencing American society to life of spiritual poverty, with almost no chance for parole...
We have reduced human beings to the lowest common denominator—the body and sexuality. Our entire society operates against a background of self-indulgence and vicious propaganda of sex and tolerance of violence in virtually all spheres of human life.
Should we not stop asking ourselves why the f-word has become an indispensable part of our literature and art, and our language in general; why our culture is so violent, and, especially why, "all of a sudden" violence took over our children?
Do we care if our children (soon to be adults) feel any attachment to the civilization that has been built for over three millennia on the shoulders of generation of people desperately wanting to know what a human being is, what life means, where we came from, and where we are heading?
If we cared, the so-called "popular culture," poisonous, ugly and destructive, would not be what it is today.
If we cared, children and adults would want to know more about even the physical world we live in. But our scientific ignorance is beyond any comparisons.
If we cared, children and adults would want to know more about themselves, their lives, their souls; today they seem to be indifferent...
If we cared, children and adults would read constantly; reading would be a central and necessary mode of their lives rather than mere amusement or emotional excitement. If we cared, the life of our children and adults would not be boring, sometimes unbearably boring - so boring that they seek escape through alcohol, drugs, and uncontrolled promiscuous sex. It is our children who are the prime victims of this existential vacuum!
Only a thoughtful true education directed at the acquisition of global knowledge, developing character and building up a strong spiritual core - not mere skills - could gradually help our children to acquire maturity, responsibility, and moral values.
Future... It was not the objective of this essay to analyze the numerous attempts at reforming our education. Some of them have been deliberately sabotaged; some died of self-inflicting wounds.
At the conclusion, I would like only to comment on the new educational initiative, No Child Left Behind, which I have already mentioned. In the Foreword to the document, President Bush writes (quoted from www.whitehouse.gov/news/reports/text/
no-children-left-behind.html): "In a constantly changing world that is demanding increasingly complex skills from its workforce, children are literally being left behind. It does not have to be this way."
One can see, even before reading the Initiative in its details that this is the same old song: building the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. And even though a few lines later the President says: "Taken together, these reforms express my deep belief in our public schools and their mission to build the mind and character of every child, from every background, in every part of America," we should not deceive ourselves: teaching skills does not build character! Even if "funding for character education grants to states and districts to train [sic!] teachers in methods of incorporating character-building lessons and activities in the classroom would be increased" (Title V, Part B), no "character-building lessons" can possibly build human character: it is a long and painful process that only a true academic education can accomplish.
The Initiative does have some goals that look promising, such as the Reading First program. But here again, what is meant is improving reading skills, which would be necessary for an adult to be able to read a newspaper, and comprehend a manual for equipment, or an IRS instruction. Nowhere is it mentioned that children must be encouraged by teachers and parents to read much more at home and in reading clubs. Were these mentioned, we could have hope. Reading interesting and exciting books would gradually revive children's imagination (drained away by TV), develop their ability to empathize with book characters, and tremendously increase their knowledge about the world and themselves. Books alone could build character without any special classes! I wish the new Initiative to be a success. But it is very unlikely, in spite of the huge amount of money that will be allocated to its numerous program. The future will tell us.
The year 1999 brought the deadliest school massacre that the United States has known in its history. Crime among our children is on the rise. No propaganda, or Just Say No! pleading stops our children from using drugs or being involved in promiscuous sex. The whole society is alarmed. The media, again and again, asks the same question: WHY? US News and World Report in its August 9, 1999, issue even carried a sensational article: Inside the Teen Brain: The reason for your kid's quirky behavior is in his head! There, the authors attempted to explain our children's emotional instability - and, by implication, its social consequences - referring to the most recent developments in child physiology and biochemistry of the teenage brain. But not a single word is heard - from our educators, doctors, child psychologists or sociologists - that the major cause of our children's "problems" is the misery of their empty, boring and meaningless existence. Their bodies are just the ground on which the existential drama of blind and wandering souls is unfolding, with the unfriendly, and even hostile adult world of violence, sex and entertainment in the background.
Nobody asks a simple question: "Wait a minute, are the brain biology and physiology of French, German, Japanese or Chinese children different?" It is so convenient for us not to ask this simple question... It is so convenient for us to insist that the epidemic of depression in our children is just an unfortunate sickness treatable by Prozac! How many generations of children are we going to sacrifice before the irresponsibility of our educators and politicians has been overcome?
What we need today is not just an educational reform, but, rather, an educational revolution. However, this revolution must first occur in our consciousness. We will be ready for this revolution if and when we understand, from the bottom of our hearts, that teaching our children skills will, at best, help them in the future only to get a job; but it will never help them to mature into responsible, thinking, and creative individuals; it will not help them to begin an everlasting and unstoppable quest for meaning, which is the ultimate road to happiness. It is only a strong general academic education that may prepare our children for this life-long road to a meaningful life.
What will happen if we fail to revolutionize our education? Even if we improve the training in our schools and colleges (and that is the limit of President Bush's "educational reform"), we may be able to sustain for a while the high-tech development of our society. But we will never be able to significantly improve our social climate. Racial strife will continue to haunt our society. Drug culture will flourish, moving into a new, and perhaps more devastating phase of high-tech drugs. And, as its companion, social inequity, moral decay, and crime will increase. One need not further develop doomsday scenarios of that ugly future; science-fiction writers have done it already.
Nobody can predict when and how the breakthrough in our stagnant education will happen. The reformers who press it will definitely run into the resistance of many educators, parents, and students. But what we, who feel responsible for the future of out children and grandchildren, must realize is that there is no time left for procrastination and wishful thinking. If, in the 19th and the 20th century, those who fought against this nation's stagnant education aimed only for better schooling for more Americans, now it is a matter of the intellectual, cultural and spiritual survival of the nation. What used to be just a weakness is now a cancer slowly killing our society...