Response-ability

It’s significant that Frankl calls responsibility “response-ability.”

If we never read Frankl’s writings we would simply say that responsibility is an obligation that stands and confronts you. If you fail to fulfill your obligation you’ll suffer the consequence. You’ll be held accountable.

Response-ability means you are capable of doing something. Why does Frankl couch it in these terms? Does this imply that there is no actual obligation? What meaning can there possibly be to having the “ability” to fulfill obligation if obligation itself is a fiction?

A fixed obligation is what we usually call responsibility, as opposed to Frankl’s response-ability. It means I have a firm commitment to this. It’s fixed solidly in place in my consciousness. It means removing doubt from my mind and taking the attitude that I will definitely do it and stand up to any challenges from within or without.

This does not necessarily only entail religious obligations but religious obligations do have a certain unyielding solidity to them for the committed.

Take for example basketball player Naama Shafir. Her experience of the obligation of modest dress and of Sabbath observance took on the form of standing firm in spite of not being allowed to play because of it.

We can picture this kind of responsibility or obligation as a potential idea which is then actualized in as many ways as there are unique individuals performing it, as it takes on the form of the unique person and unique context in which it is being done.

A situation where religious observance is put to the test is not the same as a situation with no challenge to it. As I heard once from a pediatrician, even two cases of strep throat are not identical. Every situation is unique depending on how the person is being challenged or given an opportunity to fulfill a value and what they bring with them in terms of commitment, enthusiasm, presence, the defiant power and so forth.

In sum, the solidity of commitment in religious obligation determines the hierarchy of values. However it does not determine the form its performance takes, since every act is one-of-a-kind in its unique nature.

Now it’s true that there is a difference between a religious obligation, a commitment I’ve made to another person or a silent vow I’ve made to myself in terms of the placement on the hierarchy, the solidity of my commitment and so forth. However in all of these cases we’re talking about defining what the obligations or responsibilities are and then how they are put into practice in a variety of ways.

However if there are a vast number of forms responsibilities can take, the variety of response-ability is infinitely vaster, if there can be such a concept as “infinitely vaster.” Rather than beginning with the obligation and seeing the diversity of forms it will take in various situations, logotherapy begins with the situation and helps the person to see which obligations or values are inherently there.

This process of learning to see reality both on the obvious and potential level and choosing based on awareness is the domain of logotherapy.

Jewish sources recognize the need for choice and awareness because if there is only obligation and no choice or awareness we would be robots and not human beings, or we would be angels with no room for growth. The following three texts express this:

On the verse And now what does God want from you the Chofetz Chaim explains: “Specifically now, meaning at every moment think about what God is asking from you.” (Gemilut Chasadim Part 2 Ch 11 footnote).

“God distinguishes between the holy and the profane, light and darkness…and in this same way we need to distinguish between the different situations in our lives, so that with every change of conditions we know how to behave in this new situation.” (Pirkei Kinyan Da’at)

The primary service in every matter is the allowance for a person’s capacity of choice. It remains in the realm of his da’at [literally knowing, or ability to discern and to integrate meaning – my explanation based on Alei Shur]. There is no mitzvah. No one is telling him what to do. It is only left to his knowing, to do what he chooses. The aspect of Moshe adding on another day [in preparation to receiving Torah] of his own accord applies to every act of service to God. In every act of service there is an aspect that is left open-ended, with no commandment or warning but only dependent upon the person’s choice, exactly as Moshe who added one day without having been commanded to do so. This aspect of the mitzvah expresses the primary service and choice because he always remains in doubt as to what God wants from him, since God did not give him a command that would tell him what to do. (Hayei Moharan 197 par 2)

Thus, I think that Frankl called responsibility response-ability because in logotherapy we are not dealing with the determination of what the values are. Logotherapy deals with developing the person’s ability to recognize the potential for value-fulfillment in every situation in life, to recognize who he is in the situation and to increase his capacity for choice in the deepest sense.

As Frankl says “Logotherapy attempts to make both events conscious to man: (1) the meaning that, so to speak, waits to be fulfilled by him, as well as (2) his will to meaning that, so to speak, waits for a task, nay, a mission to be assigned to him.” (Psychotherapy and Existentialism, Frankl, p. 67)

The therapeutic question is not what you’re obligated to do and how you can fulfill this obligation but the ability to figure out what this particular situation requires from you. It’s like a puzzle designed especially for you. Which values does this particular situation make possible? What can be done with this particular situation to make it meaningful?

Thus Frankl calls responsibility response-ability not because he does not recognize the existence of obligation but because his aim is the development of the human capacity for awareness and choice, to be able to hear the call and answer it.

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