Thinking About Human Suffering

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. 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. Yet, in Viktor Frankl’s account of the psychology of the concentration camp, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Frankl gave quite a few examples of human behavior that disprove Freud’s theory.

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. Those who could not find the inner strength to cope with the “how” became doomed.

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 drew the bridge of mere human survival to human thriving. Perhaps transcendence is humanity’s true hope. Abraham Maslow, in his later years, explored a further dimension of motivation, while criticizing his original vision of self-actualization. He expounded the fullest realization in giving oneself to something beyond oneself — for example, in altruism or spirituality, as the highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of human consciousness.

We read similar from excepts of “The Untold Story of Kasturba, Wife of Mahatma Ghandi”, authored by Arun and Sunanda Ghandi with Carol Lynn Yellin.

Ghandi sat up most of that night on the train reading John Ruskin’s “Unto This Last” straight through and spent most of the next day contemplating what he has read. Ruskin criticized cut-throat competitiveness and increasingly prevalent materialism of the 19th century industrial England. The book had stirred great controversy when first published in 1862, and could still rouse passions decades later. Ruskin suggested, among other things, that “what is really desired, under the name of riches, is essentially, power over men”. He argued that a functional, balanced economy should be based on moral principles and cooperative philosophy. Ruskin wrote, “That country is richest which nourishes the great number of noble and happy human beings”. He urged the rich to give up their luxuries and become servants of the poor, recognizing that true wealth of any society lay in the well being of all its members.

While this may have contradicted the common selfishness and apathetic self-indulgence, it provides a view of the alternative possible world of mutual excellence.

You say, “It’s impossible”. God says: “All thing are possible”. (Luke 18:27)
You say, “I’m too tired.” God says: “I will give you rest”. (Matt 11:28- 20)
You say, “Nobody really loves me”. God says: “I love you”. (John 3:16 — John 13:34)
You say, “I can’t go on.” God says: “My grace is sufficient.” (II Cor. 12:9 — Psalm 91:15)
You say, “I can’t figure things out.” God says: “I will direct your steps.” (Proverbs 3:5–6)
You say, “I can’t do it.” God says: “you can do all things in Me.” (Phil 4:13)
You say, “It’s not worth it.” God says: “It will be worth it.” (Romans 8:28)
You say, “I can’t forgive myself.” God says: “I forgive you.” (I John 1:9 — Romans 8:1)
You say, “I can’t manage.” God says: “I will supply all your needs.” (Phil 4:19! )
You say, “I’m afraid.” God says: “I have not given you a spirit of fear.” (II Tim. 1:7)
You say, “I’m always worried & frustrated”. God says: “Cast all your cares on ME (I Peter 5:7)
You say, “I don’t have enough faith.” God says: “I’ve given everyone a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)
You say, “I’m not smart enough.” God says: “I give u wisdom.” (I Cor. 1:30)
You say, “I feel all alone.” God says: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

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