Monday, November 29, 2010

Man's search for meaning

Just finished reading an inspiring book "Man's search for meaning" by Viktor Frankl

Viktor E. Frankl was a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the Univ of Vienna Medical School. He spent three years in concentration camps during WWII. This book based on his experiences and the perspectives he developed as result has become a classic translated into 26 languages selling more than 12 million copies across the world.
Here are a few notable pickings from the book but that should whet your appetite to go and read it all (it is a slim book – 154 pages).

“He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How” – Nietzsche.
Life is not a quest for pleasure as Freud believed or a quest for power as Adler taught but a quest for meaning.

…The majority of prisoners suffered from a kind of inferiority complex. 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?

A human being is finite and his freedom is restricted. It is not freedom from conditions but it is freedom to take a stand towards the conditions.
Man does not simply exist but always decides what his next experience will be, what he will become the next moment. One of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions (biological, psychological or sociological), to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.
Freedom is however not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon who positive aspect is responsibility. Freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. I recommend a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast to supplement the Statue of Liberty on the East.

An active life serves the purpose of giving man the opportunity to realize values in creative work, while a passive life of enjoyment affords him the opportunity to obtain fulfillment in experiencing beauty, art and nature. But there is purpose in that life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces. If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.
Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.

It did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment. They form man’s destiny, which is unique and different for each individual.

Tragic optimism – optimism in the face of the tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for
i) Turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment
ii) Deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better
iii) Deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action

Three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life:
The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed.
The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words meaning can be found not only in work but also in love.
The third: even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.

Do not aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.

Live as if you were living for the second time and had acted as wrongly the first time as you are about to act now.
Just as life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable, so too does the value of each and every person stay with him or her, and it does so because it is based on the values that he or she has realized in the past, and it is not contingent on the usefulness that he or she may or may not retain in the present.
More specifically this usefulness is usually defined in terms of functioning for the benefit of society. But today’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.
The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.
So let us be alert – alert in a twofold sense:
Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of.
And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.

Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


My last post referred to water leakages and BWSSB call center. You might wonder why I mentioned only about water leakages. Now there is a reason and that is the topic of this one! I find that people are sensitive to different things and react differently. For eg: I am very sensitive to water leakages. Invariably on my way to office or while returning home I notice them. Earlier I would suffer with this sticking in my conscience and not knowing what to do about them (but no longer thanks to the BWSSB call center). However I am not so sensitive about overflowing drainages/manholes. It is primarily due to the fact that the solution that exists today - of collecting alll sewage and then dumping it (with whatever treatment) on neighborhood villages is not the right approach in the first place. So any leakage is only making the problem visible to us the people who are actually the root cause of the same and hence does not incite me into action ( My dream is that we should get to a stage of locally handling the problems for which we are responsible - could be sewage, could be garbage). Similarly littering while it makes a place look ugly is no big problem in my view since the current solution is just to truck it all away and dump it on some poor village to deal with the consequences. Water on the other hand being a resource for which we do not pay the "right cost" being transported from 100s of kms to reach the city is far more precious in my mind. However my wife who is a doctor is highly sensitive about the sewage given her professional background and a heightened urge for cleanliness!
Similarly on electricity I feel very uncomfortable to see a room without people but with lights on. I have to barge in and switch them off!
This reminds me of an incident from Ramakrishna Paramahamsa where he says he cannot stand the touch of money. Vivekananda tries to test by placing some coins underneath his bed when he is not around. When Ramakrishna comes and tries to sit, he gets up as if hit by an electric shock. Long back when I had read this I would wonder if this is possible but now with my own experiences I can relate to it better.

Try BWSSB's call center 22238888 - It works!

Have you encountered a water leak as you travel through the city and felt an anguish but did not know what do (who will take the effort of finding the contact number, and even if I call will somebody respond etc...)?
Here is a pleasant surprise BWSSB's call center which has been operational from some time works quite well. I have used it multiple times and every time the person on the other side is courteous and takes down all details. More than that they send you an SMS with a complaint number and even call you to check if the problem has been fixed. They take care of mapping the complaint to the BWSSB office concerned etc.
Further if the complaint is not attended to within a stipulated time, it gets escalated to the next level. So in general I have seen that the problems get fixed promptly.
So here is a govt agency who seems to have got its act right. So the next time you see that water leak do not tarry - call 2223888 any time of the day or night!