Caution! Nihilism Ahead

Why is an inspiring person so refreshing?  He or she likely found meaning in life, encountering beauty in nature, or a deed to be done, or even appreciating admirable characteristics in another person, especially if we reveal that admiration to the person.  Inspiration may be helpful in expressing appreciation of another person as they face challenges in a group or community, in order to promote a more optimistic view of the future.  Dr. Viktor Frankl formulated these observations in the WWII death camps. Also, Frankl realized that a mature person had outgrown Freud’s pleasure principle of childhood and Adler’s will to power of adolescence. Frankl’s view is that maturity is powered by a will to meaning and purpose!  

So, why are so many “grown-ups” moved to pleasure seeking and power plays like violence or criticism in political debates, etc.?  From Frankl’s perspective, we might say that many people have their development arrested.  Many people feel overwhelmed by circumstances, and children learn that “fighting back” and other harsh ideas appear OK, with parents, teachers, and society, and the media sell the sensationalism of violence.  Also, harsh tactics are accepted by most people in competition. We haven’t learned from animal trainers who reward the desired behaviour and ignore other stuff.  The dictionary definition of Nihilism includes “the general rejection of customary beliefs and ideas in morality [and solutions to problems] etc.” Thus, Mental Health professionals my work with people who suffer from what amounts to critical attitudes and suspicion of other people’s intentions.

Also, preparing for many wars of the 20th Century, recruit trainers used language calculated to simulate the harsh pressures of the battlefield.  My own stepfather explained his harshness as “administering discipline.”  Also, themes like “giving [them] a piece of our minds” are common in movies and politics.  One little known atrocity, in my view, was Hitler’s invasion of Austria.  A group of philosophers known as the “Vienna Circle” was dispersed to take up chairs in British and North American Universities.  These folk pushed the idea that “critical analysis is the only way to find the Truth” and the idea swept through the Western educational system.  The common understanding was to find the flaw in someone’s idea, and the whole idea could be swept aside, risking a person’s feeling rejected.  This can teach people that their ideas can be rejected too, so why bother to offer future ideas. Thus, latent inspiration is lost!

There is a dramatic example of just how destructive this simple idea has impacted the Western mind. Edwards Demming, an American Consultant in Japan, contrived TQM or Total Quality Management, known in Japan as Kaizen. It allowed groups of workers, called Quality Circles, to look at production data and come up with improvements.  In Japanese culture, one could say, all were on the lookout for “what’s respectable” in discussions, always looking to improve on one another’s ideas.  It was a roaring success for companies like Sony, Toyota and Mitsubishi.  TQM was tried by many organisations in North America but it generally failed! Yet, hope is offered by a wilderness survival school slogan: “What’s right with you is the point! What’s wrong with you is beside the point!”

Some people have decided on random acts of kindness. I do this and I believe that it is “On purpose” for me.  Recently, I went to the bank and I had to wait for the teller to return to her post.  She was smiling and 40 years younger than I.  She said: “I thought everything was ready, but I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”  I said: “Your smile is worth waiting for!”  She replied: “That’s sweet!”  It’s hard to say which of us was more inspired!  Years ago, Dale Carnegie said: “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do. He also said: Be hearty with approbation and lavish with praise.”