Caution! Nihilism Ahead

This was my first post, now buried under 22 others. I doubt if current followers have delved that deep in the Blog, so I will refresh and repeat important ideas in the first three, especially because we find some people are not inspiring and why!

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 adolescent will to power. 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 arrested development.  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 have to work with people who suffer from what amounts to cynicism or critical attitudes or mistrust of other people’s intentions.

Also, preparing for many wars of the 20th Century, recruit trainers used language intended 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.  In my view, one of Hitler’s worst atrocities was  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 also teach people that their ideas can be rejected too, so why bother to offer ideas in future. 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.  Yet, when TQM was tried in many North American organisations it generally failed!

Nevertheless, a  wilderness survival school slogan could prevail: “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 in approbation and lavish with praise.”


3 thoughts on “Caution! Nihilism Ahead”

  1. Hi, Paul! I feel like I have missed so much being away from here for a while. Anyway, I am so glad you reposted this blog. Viktor Frankl’s work in meaning is so essential and relevant to what we are trying to do both as a society and as mental health practitioners. I recall a phrase he coined in Man’s Search for Meaning- “existential vacuum”- when referring to this absence of any link to beliefs, morals, and inability to make meaning in a life. When I hear things like “critical analysis” as the only way to find truth, I see it played out everyday around me. People get into a sort of “analysis paralysis” and cannot move on from the concrete into the abstract and existential. What makes a person inspiring is the very fact that they ARE able to find the meaning in everything on a higher plane, rather than rely on quantitative data exclusively. What inspired Frankl in the camps was not how the other prisoners were critically analyzing data to figure out what was happening, but how they were finding the truth in their existence and purpose for living, which helped them rediscover the meaning in their lives, which then lead to them becoming stronger against the antagonist of the camps.

  2. I am uplifted by inspiring people. What a simple concept. Recently saw a report of an experiment with happiness. People took a happiness assessment and then were asked to write about an inspiring person in his or her life. Then to contact that person and read what was written. The post assessment showed big gains in happiness. The words I remember so well hearing from Bill Bahan, “You experience what you express” are sooooo true.

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