A Meditation on Opportunity and Moving Too Fast
A Glimpse of Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Its Infinite Wisdom
Masochism is a symptom of my generation’s limitless ambition. This sea of opportunities displayed before us seems attainable. We’re capable of working abroad, educating ourselves in many disciplines, and maintaining a wide array of hobbies. The interconnected nature of the internet has allowed us to acknowledge the work of millions of people from across the world. And in the speed of a single click we can communicate with them, understand their pasts and objectives, and color our own ambitions. This incredible phenomenon is inescapable. Everywhere we go, there are opportunities to be seized, adventures to live, and beauty to experience. But at what cost should we devote ourselves to these limitless opportunities? What’s actually to be gained, if we don’t spend time to understand our own limits? What is left of us when we place ourselves amidst this whirlwind of experiences, opinions, and thoughts?
Undoubtedly, not much.
Of course, life is but a series of tradeoffs the downsides of which are inevitable and hurtful. Anybody who’s moved from one city to another has felt the pain associated with leaving aside a community, friends, and a sense of comfort. The excitement that flows from discovery and novelty overshadow these shortcomings. We brush them aside when it all finally comes together — when we understand that taking justified risks is rewarding. It’s empowering. It leaves us feeling in control of our destiny, in charge of what’s ahead. Like the gambler’s addiction to the rush that comes with winning unwinnable games, statistics don’t seem to affect us.
Yet, a lot — and, often, too much — is lost when we get in the habit of seeking these cycles of renewal. Our individuality can merge with those around us. Bland pragmatism replaces our originality and creativity. And, especially today, it seems important to be cognizant of these dangers.
Man’s Search for Meaning, written by Victor E. Frankl, exhibits the timeless tensions between pain and personal pursuit, freedom and self-imprisonment, life and death. Let’s take this short passage as an example:
“[T]oday’s society is characterized by achievement orientation, and consequently it adores people who are successful and happy and, in particular, it adores the young. It virtually ignores the value of all those who are otherwise, and in so doing blurs the decisive difference between being valuable in the sense of dignity and being valuable in the sense of usefulness. If one is not cognizant of this difference and holds that an individual’s value stems only from his present usefulness, then, believe me, one owes it only to personal inconsistency not to plead for euthanasia along the lines of Hitler’s program, that is to say, ‘mercy’ killing of all those who have lost their social usefulness, be it because of old age, incurable illness, mental deterioration, or whatever handicap they may suffer. Confounding the dignity of man with mere usefulness arises from conceptual confusion that in turn may be traced back to the contemporary nihilism transmitted on many an academic campus and many an analytical couch.”
These words, written by a man who survived the Holocaust, resonate with the lives of millions today who confound the meaning of life with the quest for “success.” It is neither in pursuit of the the former nor the latter in which we find comfort, but in the balance of both. As stated by Frankl, “[u]ltimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
It is in this ongoing conversation that we are provided with meaning. At every corner, at every breath another experience awaits. And sometimes it will not be us who decide our next steps — they will be imposed upon us. It is up to us to be open to the uncertainty ahead.