Our cardinal need to be understood

Day 107. The lockdown with strict 24h curfew for 35 million people or more, has just been extended for another two weeks, to be ended after the 30th of September 2021—for the two times vaccinated. Rumours has it that „the unvaccinated” might be allowed to participate in public life starting somewhen between January to June 2022. Even though the WHO would rather not have any unvaccinated in Vietnam, as I learn from Vietnamese news.

I watch an interview with Viktor Frankl, the holocaust survivor, doctor, author and teacher. He is asked, „How can a person find meaning in suffering?” Viktor Frankl responds with a formula, he spells out the letters and symbols, „Capital D equals s minus m”: 

  • Despair = suffering – meaning

I think of my fellow human beings: they believe in being threatened by a deadly virus and being saved by a mRNA vaccine. They can accept suffering because things are happening, the vaccine is being distributed and administered. They can endure any suffering for the time it takes to vaccinate any percentage of people 70%, 80%, 90%, 100% with 2, 3, or 4 shots, whatever it takes. Furthermore they have a mission: they can help spread the word, they can help to convince everyone to take the vaccines. For them the formula is 

  • Despair = suffering – (meaning * mission)
  • D = s-m²

From a mathematical point of view this means that for the one’s who believe in the vaccine, their amount of despair is probably negative, which means they have (at least) a fair amount of hope. And maybe they haven’t felt such an amount of hope for a long time. Maybe I’m not even leaning out of the window (too much) by saying: maybe they enjoy feeling hope. Hope for closure and salvation, hope for deliverance from harm, sickness and loss.

Maybe hope is better than despair. Hope helps people to stay home, hope helps people to wear masks, to take the shots, to endure whatever is necessary to beat the virus, to get on top of this crisis. Whatever has the potential to ramp up meaning and mission is perfectly reasonable.

Thinking of it, I wonder what is keeping me afloat? I’m certainly not on any kind of mission. I do accept that there are deadly viruses out there, but I refuse to believe that the China Virus (SARS-CoV-2) is anywhere nearly as deadly for humans as the African Swine Fever Virus is for pigs.

If Viktor Frankl’s formula is true at all, what is my meaning? I must have a meaning that—in size—is exactly equal to my suffering. Why do I neither feel hope nor despair? Why do I endure this lockdown so patiently? I recall the words of John Taylor Gatto, from his book „Dumbing Us Down”:

Children learn what they live. Put kids in a class and they will live out their lives in an invisible cage, isolated from their chance at community; interrupt kids with bells and horns all the time and they will learn that nothing is important; force them to plead for the natural right to the toilet and they will become liars and toadies; ridicule them and they will retreat from human association; shame them and they will find a hundred ways to get even.

Since having read that paragraph for the first time, months ago, I have been thinking of the „invisible cage” often. „Isolated from my chance at community.” Maybe I have been living in such an invisible cage all my life. Maybe my community is spiritual, not physical. Maybe that’s why this seemingly endless lockdown with curfew doesn’t feel upsetting, but merely evokes a faint bit of sadness. Sometimes. Sometimes I almost feel like crying. But only for a few brief moments.

So that’s not it. Instead, I noticed something far greater, more severe, far more meaningful. Something with the potential to give ME myself salvation, closure, deliverance from harm and loss. Professor of Psycholinguistics Stephen Krashen states that we write to solve problems. Professor of Psychology Jordan B. Peterson says the same thing. There’s something about writing that helps us access ourselves on a level that’s usually inaccessible to the conscious mind. While writing on this last paragraph I found a possible answer to my question,  „Why do I endure social distancing and this seemingly endless lockdown so patiently?” What I’ve found is this: Somewhere deep down, in the darkest of dark pits, in the abyss of my soul, I’m like speaking to the anonymous everyone… „See, this is how it feels like.”

And then I was able to cry properly.