By Tara Overzat
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
~Friedrich Nietzsche, as quoted by Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning
The more I think about life, the more people I meet, the more things I experience, the more this idea makes sense to me. Now, some of you may see it as cynical, but I think it is rather life-affirming.
I see the effect of the human race as something positive in a world that is so often negative – even malevolent. You may argue that some of this negativity comes from people themselves, but I have yet to meet a baby that was born “bad.” Forces in the world tend to shape the evil that comes our way, and people become more likely to make choices that hurt themselves and others – sometimes gravely.
But there are these moments of goodness and purity that exist, too. And they seem to exist in spite of the evil in the world. These things fly in the face of all that evil – bold and daring they mock malevolence to its face. This is the “vitality” of man, the best, most life-affirming part of us that shines through when hope seems to be lost. It is the part of us that believes that we are important and have a right to life – that we have a significant impact yet to make on the world around us.
This vitality can be the deciding factor in life and death situations, such as Viktor Frankl’s descriptions of his survival of the Holocaust. There are myriad other examples of people surviving against the odds, and recovering from traumatic injuries, like Patricia Neal’s recovering from 3 strokes at age 39 and continuing to act in Hollywood and Christopher Wall’s being born with his heart outside of his body, and growing up to be an active adult.
But what about those people who do die in the face of horrible accidents, diseases or even old age? Their vitality comes through in another very important way – in what they have left behind, in whom they have touched. In this way, vitality is fluid and can be spread from person to person. The originator may never know where their good actions wind up. Much like the purported butterfly effect, a single action can beget many other actions, creating a situation where a big event has been born out of a single small event. Like a combination of “snowballing” and “chain reaction.”
In some ways, it feels like kind, noble man was “dropped” into a harsh and uncaring world, as if we are alien to this world, and don’t quite fit its natural rules. And this gives me hope. Hope that we, as a united human race, can make the experience of living the best it can possibly be, and teach this universe a thing or two…