“writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. we are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. it's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. you can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
- anne lamott

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Man's Search for Meaning

"Yet it is possible to practice the art of living even in a concentration camp, although suffering is omnipresent. To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the 'size' of human suffering is absolutely relative."

"Those who have never seen anything similar cannot possibly imagine the dance of joy performed in the carriage by the prisoners when they saw that our transport was not crossing the bridge and was instead heading 'only' for Dachau."

"The majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. We all had once been or had fancied ourselves to be 'somebody.' Now we were treated like complete nonentities. The consciousness of one's inner value is anchored in higher, more spiritual things, and cannot be shaken by camp life. But how many free men, let alone prisoners, possess it?"

"Man is never driven to moral behavior; in each instance he decides to behave morally. Man does not do so in order to satisfy a moral drive and to have a good conscience; he does so for the sake of a cause to which he commits himself, or for a person whom he loves, or for the sake of his God. If he actually did it for the sake of having a good conscience, he would become a Pharisee and cease to be a truly moral person. I think that even the saints did not care for anything other than simply to serve God, and I doubt that they ever had it in mind to become saints. If that were the case, they would have become only perfectionists rather than saints."

"Mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become. Such a tension is inherent in the human being and therefore is indispensable to mental well-being... What a man needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him."

"at the beginning of human history, man lost some of the basic animal instincts in which an animal's behavior is embedded and by which it is secured. Such security, like Paradise, if closed to many forever; man has to make choices. In addition to this, however, man has suffered another loss in his more recent development: the traditions that had buttressed his behavior are now rapidly diminishing. No instinct tells him what he has to do, and no tradition tells him what he ought to do; sometimes he does not even know what he wishes to do."

"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."

"Don't aim at success--the more you aim at it and make it (your final) target, the more you are going to miss it. For true success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself. Listen to what your conscience commands you to do and carry it out to the best of your knowledge."

"you must regain your capacity to suffer. do not be ashamed of being unhappy."

"Usually, to be sure, man considers only the stubble field of transitoriness and overlooks the full granaries of the past wherein he has salvaged once and for all his deeds and his joys and also his sufferings. Nothing can be undone, and nothing can be done away with."

"In the concentration camps...in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions. Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who has invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who has entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord's Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips."

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