ANSAR Personal Revisions

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Start reading now 08/29/2022

Start reading now An exhilarating page-turner about a young, gay, Black man as he experiences a personal and political awakening in 1980s New York City.

08/20/2022
Photos from Hadith of the Day's post 08/20/2022
08/20/2022

Thoughts about ”Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl. Maybe a bit controversial, as I say things like: ‘continuing to burn in negativity over the unfairness is a choice and it is one that doesn’t make anything better.’ Full text below:

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Before I got into the main text of the book, I read the forward in my copy, which was written by a Rabbi named Harold Kushner. He called the book a “religious text” and after reading it myself, I see why he said that. Frankl was a psychiatrist and his commentary is psychological in nature. What he has to say hits spiritual sweet spots, though. I often found myself paused, digesting the profundity of what I had just read. Some of the pause was in horror over the conditions in the concentration camps. I’ve never read a first hand account of what that was like, only ever knowing it was vaguely really inhuman. The first part of the book gives a lot of detail about what Frankl experienced and.... well, it was really really bad. Something about reading it made the real ugliness of the experience come into clear view.

I thought about how he lost the book he has written, almost as soon as he arrived at the camp. I could imagine how important the manuscript was to him: he being a man of education and academically minded. That bring stripped away from him, and everything else, being treated almost as bad as an animal on a factory farm (maybe worse than that) was so painful to think about. So weird, to, to think of that as the better outcome for the people forced to that place... I could imagine that SS officer he described, with his elbow resting on his hand, carelessly directing these innocent people either to wallow in work camps of unbelievable daily torture or to go straight to the gas chamber. To then think about those people in the gas chambers, the husbands, the wives, daughters, sons, best friends, lovers... real people... to imagine the thoughts and feelings that would be there in those final moments of their lives, then those ovens for the bodies... I never really took the time to deeply consider just how disgustingly hateful and cruel all of that really was.

A little bit of a tangent here, but that horrible history shows how important it is to choose to cultivate kindness and love toward other people; including and especially important for people that you might deeply disagree with (hello modern polarized America; the extremes of right or left ideology are not places we want to go, as history will clearly show us, and hateful ‘othering-ness’ is a direct route to those extremes). That is so hard, I know: It is hard not to feel a gravitational pull to mean spirited-ness, especially in the face of perceived injustice. Frankl wrote about the feeling of injustice, in fact, as being the thing that really hurts. Like, when someone is physically hurt and it is so unfair that they were, its the unreasonable unfairness of it that really causes the mental agony. Still, a choice and a return to the choice of the opposite is important. Frankl even said, on page 35 of my copy, “The salvation of man is through love and in love.” I think he also said something the the effect of, “this is the highest goal to which a man can aspire.”

Such a thing has got to be exceptionally hard when you are in a N**i concentration camp. (So, we should maybe chill with the hatred when we are cut off in traffic or have a bad restaurant experience.) Choosing our attitude in whatever circumstance we are in, knowing that this “spiritual freedom” of choice is always our’s to exercise, is one of the important ideas in the book. The way that Frankl lays out that idea and feeling some depth of the horrible suffering he was subjected to, was impactful. It brought me to the recognition that when I am in a bad mood and am pointing to some perceived injustice as the reason for that mood, I am making a choice. I am choosing to approach it that way and it is never helpful to pretend that my attitude is imposed by the circumstance. It is far better to take responsibility for that choice and exercise the spiritual freedom that Frankl writes about. Any one can wallow in victimhood and in these times, it is easily justified by pointing to legitimate injustice. Feeling like one has a right to victimhood status and experiencing life from that cynical and resentful perspective, though, does no one any good.

Choosing another way is not always easy, I very much know. Making life mean what we choose it to mean, even in the most difficult and unfair circumstances, is the difference between a life well lived and one that is not. Frankl sure does have the authority to say stuff like that, given what he had to face. The particulars of how to apply that in a person’s life must be somewhat unique to their individual circumstances, but I believe that the responsibility to exercise of this freedom of attitude is universal. There are many people, polarized political types, who might be offended by such a notion.

“How dare you suggest that someone unfairly suffering under disgusting oppressive systems choose a ‘better’ attitude. Or, how dare you suggest that suffering people choose to bear that suffering well when their suffering is so unfair.”

I get that, I really do. I also see that just continuing to burn in negativity over the unfairness is a choice and it is one that doesn’t make anything better. (Not a popular idea for some ideologues and saying such publicly invites their criticism. Nonetheless, it is apparently true.)

Another thing that seems like it would be unpopular but true is that striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal is important for fulfillment in life. That inherently comes with anxiety, tension, and pain. Frankl says though, on page 98 of my copy that, “It is dangerous to assume that what people need is equilibrium or tensionless-ness.” Suffering for a freely chosen thing (which provides fulfillment of meaning in life) is worth accepting instead of pursuing a “discharge of tension at any cost.” I’ve seen many examples of people internally resisting the suffering in their life with intensity, seeking that “discharge of tension” as the primary goal. (Me too; I’m not above problems like this.) It’s almost as if the question is some variation of “What will make me feel happy in the most immediate and lasting way?” I think Frankl would suggest questions like that are mis-guided. Some suffering is worth enduring with your head held high and unavoidable suffering is best faced with assumed responsibility for the attitude with which we endure that suffering. Contemplation over these ideas is hard to undertake when the overriding goal is to make everything feel better or numbed-out as quickly as possible. The trick might be to let the alleviation of pain be secondary to the assumption of responsibility over our suffering: to bear it with purposeful dignity and meaning. Of course we should alleviate suffering and avoid it where possible. That is not the most important consideration with human suffering, though. We do not have the ability to avoid or alleviate all suffering. Like Frankl said at the end of the book, “Man’s freedom is restricted. It’s not freedom from conditions, but its freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.” I’m in whole agreement and so thankful to him for outlining it in the text. It’s the most potent spiritual power we have and it really is the thing that makes the difference between successfully living and not.

My copy also includes his PS which he wrote in ‘84. There he wrote about the choice toward optimism in the face of tragedy and that’s helpful too. There is the idea that we can “turn suffering into human achievement.” If suffering is unavoidable, even if it kills you (maybe especially in that case) bearing it well, exercising responsible choice of attitude in the face of it, makes all the difference. This transforms the suffering into a life achievement. There are ways to turn negatives around through choice like this. That includes, “deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better” and “deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsibility.” Things like that are sometimes very hard, but worth choosing anyway. It is easier to complain about the injustice of it all and live in that pessimism, but that only leads to a failed life that, at best, has a palatable excuse for the failure or evokes pity. Nobody really wants that, if they think deeply about it. Better to make a life of meaning by exercising the responsibility of choice.

Anyway, that’s my rough take on what’s going on in this book and I am very thankful to Victor Frankl for writing it.

08/13/2022

On July 26, the 28-year-old Philadelphia native helped cut the ribbon of a $5 million Grocery Outlet store in the $52 million Sharswood Ridge Shopping Center.

Days later, the community showed up and showed out for the grand opening of the block’s newest local Black-owned grocery store.

10/06/2021

Sadio Mane, a Senegalese Soccer Star that plays for the British team in Liverpool, earns approximately 10.2 million dollars a year and has given the world a lesson in modesty after fans spotted him carrying a cracked iPhone. His response is legendary:

"Why would I want 10 Ferraris, 20 diamond watches and two jet planes? What would that do for the world? I starved, I worked in the fields, I played barefoot, and I didn't go to school. Now I can help people. I prefer to build schools and give poor people food or clothing. I have built schools [and] a stadium; we provide clothes, shoes, and food for people in extreme poverty. In addition, I give 70 euros per month to all people from a very poor Senegalese region in order to contribute to their family economy. I do not need to display luxury cars, luxury homes, trips, and even planes. I prefer that my people receive a little of what life has given me," Mane said.

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