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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

Numb


As I read the dreadful statistics each day reciting the numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths that have occurred overnight I am more than saddened, I am nearly overwhelmed. Other than war—and few alive today can remember a world war, much less the Korean Conflict, Vietnam or even the gulf wars—we have nothing that has prepared us for such news and it is more than understandable in such times that we can become inured to what we hear. Statistics—even those a grim as these lose their meaning after their initial shock.

Most of us are no strangers to bad news—we have had our share, but few of us have experienced anything akin to what Job did in the Old Testament. He is the very definition of suffering and woe beyond human understanding. In modern times, those who have lived through the horrors of concentration camps, genocide and mass persecution know that to survive one must become numb to the daily onrush of tragedy, yet preserve their essential humanity.

In his famous work, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl offers us singular insight into the state of mind of those suffering extreme duress. As a surviving prisoner of the Nazi concentration camps, Frankl writes from first-hand knowledge about the psychological states of his fellow prisoners. He identifies three reactions experienced by all captives to one degree or another: initial shock, apathy in the face of continued depravation limiting all thought and action to the hoped-for survival of oneself, family and friends and finally, depersonalization, bitterness, and disillusionment if one survives.

If this sounds at all familiar, it is what so many are experiencing every day. Of these three states or stages it is the third which we must guard against with all of the power within us. This crisis will end –though it is hard to know when at this point in time. Humanity will survive—though undoubtedly every one of us will be touched by what has occurred and we can only hope that we will resolve to take every step we can to prevent another occurrence. But if we permit ourselves to sink into the well of bitterness and disillusion, we will have learned nothing. Far worse we will have sacrificed the most important part of our humanity—our compassion.

If we look for meaning, Frankl concludes, it lies in our freedom to choose how we will live our lives—even amidst imminent threat. That is living fully and without fear. Frankl observed countless examples of inmates placing themselves in positions of extreme danger to save or at least comfort another. This cannot be explained by disembodied altruism, but only by compassionate love.

I do not know what state of mind the world will emerge with when we are once again free to return to some semblance of our prior lives. I can only hope a kinder, less divided, and more sober sensibility will prevail. That is why—even though it is painful to hear and read the daily barrage of bad news—I look for the compassionate acts around me everywhere and I hope.


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