Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Happy and Hopeful

Yes - I greet the kids arriving each morning at school by standing out on the sidewalk and shaking their hands or simply exchanging "good mornings" - even in the rain these last few days. (My new Heatly umbrella certainly helps!)  Especially in the rain. It reflects the value I place on the importance of personal interaction at the start of the day, and it demonstrates a commitment to the belief that this effort makes a difference.

Yesterday morning, while kids popped out of cars pulled up lining the street in front of the school, one of the parents who I see each morning jokingly asked me where I get my "happy pills, referring to the positive attitude I share every morning - even in the pouring rain. Here's my answer.

Among the many books I have enjoyed over the years was a book by Viktor Frankl entitled, Man's Search for Meaning. It's one of the books listed in my Blog profile. The author, a survivor of Nazi concentration camps during World War II, was a trained psychologist. With deplorable and inhumane conditions surrounding the prisoners there were many fellow captives who sought Frankl out for help. He eventually detected a pattern in behaviors that distinguished prisoners and correlated with their survival rates. It seems that the prisoners who could imagine a future and sustain a sense of hope were more likely to maintain their health, physically and emotionally, than those who allowed the depressing environment to rob them of hope and deny them the opportunity to project a realistic future.

In fact, to explain both the power of hope and the frailty of helplessness, he cites the example of one man who was understandably depressed and broken. Then, one day the man approached Frankl with a noticeable hop in his step. He was suddenly more enthused and upbeat. The man reported that he had a premonition the previous night that convinced him that the war would end on a specific date in the near future and he would become free once again. He was insistent on the date. He went beyond imagining what it would be like to be free or what experiences he would encounter, and concluded with a definite and unequivocal endpoint. Each day thereafter he walked a bit more upright and even sported a smile now and then. However, when the day came and went without an end to the war his spirits dropped precipitously. His insistence on a particular date set him up for disappointment and defeat. Within a couple of days, the man committed suicide by throwing himself against the electric fence encircling the compound.

Following the war, Frankl conducted further research and published his book, Man's Search for Meaning, that contended that one of the primary attributes that separate man from animals is the ability to generate a sustainable belief in the future to the point where one can envision a desirable state and the intrinsic motivation necessary for goal attainment.

Years later, Frankl's work was reaffirmed by stories of prisoners of war from Viet Nam, like John McCain, who explained how their personal dedication, in the form of imagining the life they would lead upon their return to the U.S., proved to be a lighthouse of the soul that guided them through torture, malnutrition, and solitary confinement.

It is the hope that I find in those people who approach the steps of the school wearing a smile and clutching their dreams that produce my optimism and my belief that educators and education can make a difference - that's where I get my "happy pill."

No comments:

Post a Comment