Victor Frankl’s Meaning in the Moment

The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best. – Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl was a twentieth century Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, a Holocaust survivor, and founder of the logotherapy—healing through meaning—school of psychotherapy. Dr. Frankl wrote 39 books. His most influential, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a memoir/manifesto of his time in a German concentration camp.

Why am I pondering this Jewish intellectual during the final push of our Presidential election? Because I need to take a breath from the daily rancor and consider the bigger picture of the society we have created.

Back in 2015-2016, traversing America on my bicycle, two observations about Donald Trump were abundantly clear:

First. The media made the man. Sure, Trump loves to cry ‘fake news’ and protest against the media. But each time he does, Donald Trump ensures his position as top news story. The master of consuming all the oxygen in the room—and in our country—is genius at maintaining his spot as headline of the day. The media is not President Trump’s enemy: it’s his accomplice. Actually, it’s his benefactor.

Second. The country ate up the Donald because he provided a rush of adrenalin excitement missing from most of our lives. President Trump claims credit for many things, but I’m convinced his most important leading role is: Drama-in-Chief. The man literally provides the populace a reason to get in the morning just to see what craziness he’s tweeted overnight.

The United States might be excused, in 2016, for electing continual soap-opera drama. Things were pumping along pretty well and government didn’t seem all that important to a citizenry increasingly smitten with the diversions that Amazon, Google, Walmart, and Facebook delivered. A buffoonish President would provide droll amusement. But the aftermath of our complacency is all around us: over 200,000 coronavirus deaths; shattered international stature; expanding economic inequality; and state-sponsored brutality against pesky citizens who refuse to remain silent to injustice.

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, ‘homeostasis,’ i.e. a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. – Victor Frankl

Since the end of World War II, the mantra of American corporations and government has been “Take it easy.” Their purpose, to woo us into a tensionless state. Relaxed folks make for docile, pliable, complacent citizens. The elemental idea of a consumer society is to turn human beings into passive resource receptables, while in truth, the healthiest humans are the most active. Not just with physical movement, but with purpose.

As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have means but no meaning… The truth is, man does not live by welfare alone. – Victor Frankl

It is particularly difficult to feel engaged and purposeful when almost all of our interactions are filtered by a screen, when autumn’s chill beckons us to hygge, when it’s always easier in the moment to watch something rather than create something. In hunter/gatherer days and agrarian days, we did not have to search for meaning: the imperative to survive thrust meaning upon us. But today, when our capacity to provide the essential components of life are more easily met, the most fortunate of us are in the awkward position to have to seek out meaning in life. We have to choose the hard stuff, both in physical exertion and social interaction. We have to actively extend ourselves in a society that constantly preaches us to remain cocooned.

Please, struggle against this entropy. Shake up your mind. Shake up your body. Get out do something meaningful. Engage with somebody new. A good way to start: walk to the polls and cast a well-considered ballot.

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About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, theawkwardpose.com is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog, www.howwillwelivetomorrw.com, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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4 Responses to Victor Frankl’s Meaning in the Moment

  1. YB says:

    I enjoyed that you summoned the great Viktor Frankl for this post. He survived the worst of the worst and still came out ahead with his philosophy. I hope our country does not go the way his did in the 30s. I am hopeful but scared shitless about Tuesday. That being said “hygge” is a new gem I’ve added to my vocabulary thanks to you.

  2. paulefallon says:

    Victor Frankl is one of those incredible people who maintained sanity and optimism through trials. Hygge is a great word – thank the Scandinavians.

  3. Amber Foxx says:

    Joe Biden has said that the way through suffering and grief, for him, has been to find purpose. Perhaps he read Frankl. I think mindful engagement is more healing for the spirit than escape. We need down time, yes, but also meaningful effort.

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