"What is to give light must endure burning." - Victor Frankl
I'm reading Frankl's book, "Man's Search for Meaning" right now. He's a psychological theorist who builds his case around his experiences in concentration camps in Auschwitz and Dachau. A key point of his theory is that the human mind can adapt to the most dire circumstances if it can find a goal or purpose to focus on. If one has a clear purpose, the fires of hell are no longer a destructive force, but rather are a crucible - clarifying your focus and your desire. Your purpose is the only thing you have left once your creature comforts, your dignity, your health, and even your concept of an end to your suffering have all been stripped away. The message resonates a little deeper when it comes from someone who's been through the utter depravity of a death camp.
I was flipping through radio stations today, and I stumbled upon a radio show about lost causes. The host was interviewing a guy with Huntington's Disease, who was sharing the experience of being diagnosed with a neuro-degenerative disease. While still in good health, he knew his approximate lifespan, and knew, most likely, what was going to kill him in the end. He said that he lives his life with purpose every day, because he doesn't get a mid-life crisis and a retirement. He doesn't get a do-over. Just a 'do'. The interviewer asked him what he would be like without the disease (which he has become a crusader for), and his answer was that he'd probably be totally boring.
Frankl found his purpose in his ability to describe, first hand, what you have left when you lose everything. The radio guy, found that the thing that would eventually cause his death was also the thing giving him life.
Suffering. We fear it, dread it, avoid it. We spend money to minimize it, dull it, or ignore it. But what if we're missing it? What if suffering is actually a thing we NEED? It teaches us what we're truly made of. It has a great way of instantly reminding us what things in life are important and what things are unnecessary. Those two things - finding out your substance and finding out what in your life is unnecessary - are two really valuable things. And they're extremely hard to uncover without the pressure of suffering.
Now, I'm not saying we need to go out and create some suffering in our lives. Nor am I saying that suffering is good. Huntington's disease and time in concentration camps are great examples of how suffering is NOT good. But neither am I talking about simple discomfort. I already wrote that blog post a while ago. We SHOULD pursue discomfort. Suffering, though, finds us. I guess what I'm saying is, if you're suffering anyway, you may as well take advantage of the opportunity in the pain. You have the potential to grow, to learn a lot about yourself. To get some direction. So if you have to do it - if you have to suffer, don't miss the lesson.
How does this play out on a massive scale? Our generation has never experienced a major outbreak. Maybe that's why we consider vaccinations optional. We've never seen war affect us here at home (at least where I come from). So we take freedom and democracy lightly. We've never been all that challenged. So we occupy ourselves with the most trivial pursuits. We obsess over workouts, vacations, restaurants, or cable shows. So we're kind of lost as a group - no purpose. No major rallying points. In one way, we're the luckiest generation.
In another way, we're lost.
Thoughts? Comments? I'd love to hear them.