Welcome to the PRISONERS OF OUR THOUGHTS dialogue series. I want to mention two additional ways you can participate:
Be sure to see the Viktor Frankl commemorative exhibit at the Global Dialogue Center KNOWLEDGE GALLERY. It is MEANINGFUL!
Share your opinions in the The Meaning in Work and Life Survey
OUR CONTINUING CONVERSATION:
So far in this dialogue series, we have explored four of Viktor Frankl’s principles:
---- Exercise the freedom to choose your attitude
---- Realize your will to meaning
---- Detect the meaning of life’s moments
---- Don’t work against yourself
If you missed the first four principles, I invite you to review them. Feel free to add your thoughts too. Others visiting will learn from your thinking and experiences. I do think you will benefit from the review as we move on to the 5th principle.
PRINCIPLE 5: Look at Yourself from a Distance --- Only human beings possess the capacity to look at themselves out of some perspective or distance, including the uniquely human trait known as your sense of humor.
In my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, I share a story that highlights this principle: The ad in a London ‘Unemployed. Brilliant mind offers its services completely free; the survival of the body must be provided for by adequate salary.’ Viktor Frankl quoted this ad in his book, The Doctor and the Soul to make an important point about the different ways that people may respond to being unemployed. To be sure, Frankl was not in any way suggesting that unemployment is not a serious matter; on the contrary, he emphasizes that being unemployed is a ‘tragedy because a job is the only source of livelihood for most people.’
In this example, we can see that the person who placed the ad in the London newspaper turned a dire situation into something humorous because she was able to put some distance between herself and the issue at hand. The ad also reflects both her sense of humor and her innate, distinctly human, capacity to look at herself in a detached way and rise above her predicament.
This quality if truly a gift! Interestingly, having a sense of humor is usually accompanied by cheerfulness. This is another one of those misleading words. Most cheerful people I know have experienced real tragedy in their lives. Real cheerfulness is not have-a-nice-day artifice. It’s a way of experiencing the present, no matter what the weight of the world or the weather. Cheerfulness celebrates the possibilities of meaning around every corner. It buoys us up beyond our individual concerns and invites us and others around us to find something to be happy about. This doesn’t mean we hide behind cheerfulness. We simply lighten up, raise ourselves up and sometimes have a good laugh.
Viktor Frankl in his lectures and writings talked about the value of having a sense of humor. He described a kind of cabaret that was improvised in the concentration camp. The entertainment took the form of songs, poems, jokes and even stand-up comedy, some with underlying satire regarding the experiences in the camp. Frankl reported that any pursuit of art within the camp might seem somewhat grotesque, but the lesson was that it was possible to find a sense of humor in even the worst of circumstances.
We know that humor is a paramount way of putting distance between something and oneself. One might say as well, that humor helps man rise above his own predicament by allowing him to look at himself in a more detached way.”
--- Viktor Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism
PUTTING MEANING INTO THIS CONVERSATION... Individual Reflection Activities
Consider these questions from your own experience.
Can you recall a situation in your work or life when you felt the need to distance yourself before you could find a proper resolution to the situation (e.g., perhaps this was a business decision that wasn’t aligned with your values or an emergency situation that required swift action.)
How did you distance or detach yourself from the situation?
How did you distance or detach yourself from YOURSELF, so you could objectively look at your own behavior and actions?
What did you learn from it?
What did you learn about your capacity for self-detachment?
What role, if any, did humor play in helping you through the situation?
Looking back, what would you have done differently?
I look forward to hearing from you. I'll be checking in from time to time and look forward learning from you about what you’ve learned about looking at yourself from a distance!
All the best,
Alex Pattakos, Ph.D.
author, Prisoners of Our Thoughts
founder, Center for Meaning