Viktor Frankl said that to be human is to be conscious. Specifically, he wrote about being conscious of the ‘ought to be.’ There is more to reality than what meets the eye. The expectation of what one might accomplish in the future already exists as potential now. To be conscious is also to be aware of meanings that are hidden from view. They are hidden that is, until we open our eyes and pay attention to them.
Consider, for instance the awareness of sound. Musician Henrique Eisenman once said, ‘You don’t need to play in order for the music to exist.’
Music exists in an inner space – a melody reverberating in your head – and in outer space – a melody first heard and then played. You have to listen both within and without in order to hear the music.
As human beings, we are conscious of realities that exist even though they are not seen or heard. In the space within is a whole world of feelings, longings and meanings that beg for expression and sometimes cannot be articulated in words. Alongside the inner landscape are meaning-potentialities waiting for fulfillment.
The logotherapist is like a conductor who hears the music that exists even when it’s not being played: the unheard cry for meaning within and the unseen meaning without
This inner and outer hearing can be illustrated by a case of Elisabeth Lukas of a woman who had recovered from being an alcoholic. Without any warning or explanation, she had been fired from her job. (Meaning in Suffering, Case No. 3). She had spent a lot of time looking for work, but nobody wanted to hire a former alcoholic. She said that since everyone perceives her as an alcoholic, she might as well be one. So she resorted to drinking again.
Her inner space communicated the music of despair. ‘Why bother?’ ‘Nothing I do will make a difference anyway.’
Lukas allowed the dissonant chords to be. But underlying the dissonant notes of despair Lukas heard something deeper still: a cry of: ‘I want my life to matter.’ In addition, Lukas sensed hope in the outer space of all-possibility.
Lukas’ belief in the meaning of her client’s life empowered her client and transformed her complaint into a quest for meaning. Why bother? ‘Indeed, why bother?’ Lukas asked her client. ‘What value or goal can make the effort worthwhile?’
The woman wanted to prove her employer was wrong. For this she was willing to endure half a year of searching until she found new work. Naturally, there were times when she slipped back and didn’t want to get out of bed. At those times, Lukas said to her ‘All right, you can spend a nice morning in bed and admit to your former employer that he was right and you no longer are capable of working, or you can bring yourself to get up, by your own free choice, and prove that your dismissal was based on a false prognosis.’
Through these interventions Lukas demonstrated her love for her client. Logotherapy is a therapy of love, because it sees the person not only as he or she is but as they could be, and this future vision and belief in the person’s essential worth helps them to actually become that.
In general why does freedom of choice matter? It is only because we are free to choose that we are held accountable for our choices. If we have no choice in our actions then there is no such thing as crime and we might as well let all the prisoners go free. As a society we assume that when someone chooses wrongly they could have chosen rightly.
The power to choose boils down to two alternatives: the right choice and the wrong choice.
See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity…I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life… (Devarim 30:15-20)
A truly meaningful choice is essentially choosing what is good and what is life-promoting. A meaningful choice is a loving choice. Why would we not make a loving choice?
The failure to choose rightly always points to an internal struggle. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler introduced a concept which he calls the ‘point of choice.’ He explains that most of the time we don’t act out of choice. We either reject wrongful behavior without question because it never even crosses our minds to do it or we do destructive things because we are completely habituated to it, as for example in addictive behavior.
Choice is the place where truth meets illusion. ‘It will be okay’ you tell yourself, when you know it won’t be okay. When you are not aware of the consequences of what you are doing, either because you can’t see it or are ignoring it, you make poor choices.
In between these two possibilities of ‘no choice’ is the arena where struggle takes place.
The struggle varies widely between people. A robber will steal without thinking twice about it. This is the life he grew up with. But should he murder the homeowner when he’s caught red-handed? He might struggle with himself over that. At the other end of the spectrum someone who grew up in a more refined environment will have a more refined struggle and debate whether or not to borrow someone’s pen without asking permission so they can quickly jot down a phone number.
Every person has freedom of choice. The only question is: Where is the point of struggle for you? That is the point where you have the opportunity to exercise your freedom of choice.
The point of choice is not static. Every bad choice diminishes one’s capacity for good choice. Every good choice makes it easier to do it again. Eventually the previous battlefield enters the realm of ‘beyond choice.’ (Michtav Me’Eliyahu Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler Vol I p. 113)
Choice can only come from clarity, the clarity of self-knowledge, the clarity of the situation and the clarity of your role in relationship to it. Should I speak up or shouldn’t I? What will be the consequence of what I am about to do? Why am I holding on to this resentment? Am I ready to let it go?
The more aware you are of the true meaning of the situation and what it demands from you, and the more honest you are with yourself the more you move into the realm of ‘no choice.’ “The ultimate choice is when there is a sense that one has no choice, that one must choose what is good.” (Pirkei Kinyan Da’at p. 71). Your awareness is so profound that it does not allow you to do otherwise. In Logotherapeutic terms this clarity of meaning is called conscience.
“An optimal therapeutic outcome would mean that the patient, in being true to himself reaches a point, ‘where he could not do other than to follow his innermost calibrated conscience according to his own value standard.’ (Logotherapy textbook, Lukas, p. 61-63)
The optimal therapeutic outcome is clarity, and clarity negates choice. What meaning is there then, in the struggle?
It is only through seeking clarity that one gets clarity. It is only through seeking love that one is free to love.
People who have had near death experiences report that they learned that they we were sent to this world in order to learn certain things, do certain things and love. In Jewish tradition Rabbi Akiva taught that love is the ‘great principle’ of Torah. Viktor Frankl wrote that salvation is in and through love.
What is the saving power of love?
For love to be an entity in the world it has to be grounded in concrete action. Thus, Hillel the elder sage commented that ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ sums up the entire Torah. The rest of the Bible is commentary that comes to explain this one verse.
Yet, we may wonder, why do we need instructions at all for how to love? Doesn’t love, to be genuine, need to come from within?
This seeming contradiction reflects a misunderstanding of Jewish tradition and a misunderstanding of logotherapy.
Why do we need commandments teaching us how to love? Envy, animosity, conceit and more get in the way. There are laws that assure protection of people’s property, prevent slander and build the framework for a just society, whether the feelings are present or not.
More than this, sometimes the doing comes first, and from actions flow feelings. Take for example the commandment to first help the person you don’t like so much before helping your friend. While you are busy giving him a jump to his car you will get to talking and decide he’s not such a bad guy after all.
But the universal laws of love require a certain refinement and receptivity to begin with. At the time of the exodus, the nation of Israel was not on a very high spiritual level. Although they had physically left Egypt, they had a slave mentality. They were missing what Frankl refers to as ‘inner freedom’. Spiritual refinement was a precondition to receiving God’s laws of love.
Had they received God’s laws of love prior to personal preparation, it would not yet have been the love of a free person. It would have been robotic obedience. So they were given time. For seven weeks they developed their inner freedom. With each passing day they became a little bit more free inside.
The same is true today. The seven weeks between the holiday of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot there is a commandment to count the days, each day representing another aspect of spiritual growth. One must develop the inner freedom to give of oneself without feeling deprived, to wish the best for others without being envious and to give the benefit of the doubt knowing that you yourself are far from perfect. It is only through inner refinement that universal laws of love will make sense.
Thus, there are two parallel processes that move in two directions: It is necessary to be an ethical person in order to receive Torah and at the same time the Torah turns one into an ethical person.
Similarly we can explain a two-directional process in logotherapy: Universal values must be adjusted to each particular situation. But it would not be possible to adjust the value to the situation if there were not values ‘radiating’ from the ‘value world’ to begin with!
Thus, while universal values point the way and conscience grasps the implications of the situation, it is particularly the interweaving of universal values of love that come from beyond us and the internal love within us that sets us free to love.