Hope is the power that sees us through suffering. It is what keeps us from sinking to the depths of despair when all around there seems little to change our situation.
If the last two years are described in history, they will be noted as the age of suffering. Historians like to note tragedies, not the spirit of hope. Hope comes from meaning, for there is no hope in meaningless existence.
Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and the man who inspired man’s search for meaning, saw suffering as a way to find meaning in life. “When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves”, he says. He also believed that suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning, such as the meaning of sacrifice.
Frankl insisted that “meaning is possible even in spite of suffering—provided, certainly, that the suffering is unavoidable. If it were avoidable, however, the meaningful thing to do would be to remove its cause, be it psychological, biological or political. To suffer unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic.”
But meaning, does not come only from suffering. As Frankl highlights, “The more one forgets oneself—by giving oneself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. Self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.”
Frankl adds “We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.”
From the time you wake up, to the time you go to bed, you interact with many different people. Each of your interactions defines a unique relationship – sometimes also called as a system. These could be the different kinds of relationships. These could be relationships between individuals that we call as friendship. Or those between partners and their children that we call as family. Or a relationship between individuals that results in a system we call companionship. Or as between students and teachers that result in a class system. Or the relationship of between employers and employees that results in the system of employment. Or the relationship between entertainers and the entertained that we call as a club. Or between buyers and sellers in what we call a market. Or the relationship between borrowers and lenders that creates a banking system. Or the relationship between the representative and the represented that we describe as a democratic system.
Some of these relationships give you suffering, while others may give you pleasure. Each is an opportunity for self-actualization.
Your interactions in each system serve a distinct purpose. A purpose that makes your interactions meaningful. A purpose that is the reason for your participation in the system. A purpose is what holds your relationship together as a system.
In a system of friendship, you come together with a purpose to share joys and sorrows. In a system of a family, you come together with a purpose to raise children. In a system of companionship, you come together with a purpose to empower. In a system of learning, you come together with a purpose to learn. In an employment system, you come together with a purpose of working together. In a club system, you come together with a purpose to entertain. In a market system, you come together with a purpose to exchange goods or services. In a banking system, you come together with a purpose to exchange surplus money.
You get the idea. Every system you participate in has a purpose that makes it meaningful. A purpose that makes the system exist. A purpose that wants you to wake up to your interactions.
To find meaning in each system that you participate in, then, you would need to forget yourself—by giving yourself to the common purpose of your system. A purpose, larger than yourself. A purpose that is common to those participating in your system. Or by giving yourself to serve, to love, the others in your system. Serving someone other than yourself.
Meaning alleviates suffering. As Nietzsche says, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
The challenge, then, is in making those in your systems aware of your common purposes. The challenge is in making them aware of what their interactions should be towards these common purposes. The challenge is helping them to be what they should become to actualize these potentialities. Or as Viktor Frankl writes “by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”
Often your purposes and those of the other participants in the systems that you have designed, your friendships, your family, your companionships, your classrooms, your employment systems, your clubs, your markets, or your banking systems, are sadly different. Sometimes, you or the other participants simply confuse your purpose in one system with that in another.
If the purposes of those in your systems are not common, suffering will be unavoidable. But if your systems are avoidable. Suffering a system without common purposes unnecessarily is masochistic rather than heroic. And when the systems you participate have no common purposes and your participation in them is unavoidable, meaning can only result from the meaning of sacrifice in the unavoidable suffering that results from your interactions.
Take a pause.
List out the systems where you experience suffering in your interactions. Now list out your purpose for participating in the system. Next list out the purposes of the others in your system. Do you have any common purposes? Can you make the others in your systems aware of the common purposes? Can you help them to self-actualize? If you find no common purposes, can you find ways to avoid your participation? If your participation is forced or unavoidable, is there a sacrifice that will bring you meaning?
Can you find meaning to be the hope that carries pleasure in those interactions that fill your day?
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals that may be quoted within and Pune 365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph