Unpopular Psychology – Mussar and Logotherapy
I must confess to living with the delusion that if Mussar were explained in its full beauty then people would flock to it, drawn by their heartstrings. Now that I have become more deeply involved in a sister pursuit known as Logotherapy I have come to a clearer understanding. Responsibility is not popular and is not likely to become so. Most of us would like to be utterly free of responsibility and certainly not the type of responsibility whereby we are answerable to another for the execution of that duty. At best we are happy to be volunteers, taking on tasks but disallowing any claims on our being.
Mussar, and as I have come to understand Logotherapy, is all about responsibility and obligations. It is about the demands which our humanity and our being in the Divine Image places upon each of us. It is about the fact that our capacities and our talents each stand as our servants and our masters. They are our servants for they are tools that we can use however we wish to accomplish every goal that those capacities are designed to achieve, and they are our masters, for they relentlessly demand to be utilized in the service of the greater good of my becoming more human and more like my Creator. I enjoy my talents when they serve me and bring me glory; I loathe them when they lay claim to my attention. Now go back to the previous sentence and replace the word ‘talents’ with the words ‘children’ or ‘neighbor’ or ‘Torah study’ or ‘generosity’ and see how pervasive this feeling is.
Mussar is about being called by our great humanity as well as the guidelines for how to respond to that call. Logotherapy is about the fact that only this call humanizes us and to ignore the call is to feel empty and frustrated, for only when a tool is used properly can it feel right. Logotherapy opens our understanding that our emotional, spiritual and, ultimately, physical health hang in the balance of being responsible while Mussar shows us how such basic responsibility can lead to being crowned with Commandments and Torah.
We are meant to thank our Creator every day for being responsible, and ultimately to thank Him for having sanctified us with His Commandments. That somehow does not sound like the plot of a bestseller.
And hence, we proudly present, unpopular psychology. Gone are the enticing bits of blaming our upbringing and our environment; the juicy morsels of characterizing ourselves as this type or that, the popular exemptions of co-dependence and addiction, the endlessly popular emphasis on the urgency of bodily desires which make for a brotherhood of mediocrity, failure and guilt. Here we find the man-master, capable, powerful – and answerable.
Let others answer the call. I’ll read their stories and applaud them from my comfortable perch as a volunteer actor on the stage of the human drama. Their greatness can also be popular, filling the void in my life with pseudo-growth the same way that putting down others serves to create the illusion of my growth. Assuming responsibility as one who is commissioned, obligated and answerable is hardly the fodder for a page-turner. For the author is none other than oneself and the ink and the pages are the talents and capacities with which we are each endowed.
May we each merit to be considered by our Creator as master practitioners of unpopular psychology.