Is the Goal to Make People Happy?

In our weekly study group we touched on the topic of happiness.

A certain Rabbi named bar Mechasya (Ein Aya, Shabbat 11a) considered the question of what it would be like to be employed by various typologies. About each group he makes a statement: “I will work for licentious types, just don’t make me work for bloodthirsty murderers. I’ll work for bloodthirsty murderers; just not people who kill for no gain of their own. I’ll work for people who kill for no gain of their own; just not for the spiritually elevated. I’ll work for the spiritually elevated; just not for widows and orphans” By the time we get to the last two categories it’s very hard to understand why someone would prefer being employed by a murderous type rather than a widow.

Rav Kook in his commentary pulls out the element of responsibility. To what extent can an employee fulfill his responsibility and what gives him the capability of fulfilling his responsibility?

An employee can fulfill his responsibility when he knows what’s expected of him.

But there’s more to fulfilling responsibility besides following orders. What gives you the ability to fulfill your responsibility is that they are making normal demands and you by nature can grasp what it is that they need. When you’re working for someone you can’t just be a “gofer” as Stephen Covey calls it. Go for this and go for that. You have to use your head to imagine what they need from you and take initiative.

The first two immoral types make unreasonable demands but you kind of know what to expect and can prepare for it, be on your guard.

The third group acts arbitrarily and thus leaves you guessing as to what their demands will be. You can’t possibly think the way that they do, because they have closed the door to their conscience. Through their bestial behavior they have completely lost touch with what it means to be human. Since you are still in touch with your humanity you cannot possibly grasp or meet their demands.

What happens when you try to fulfill the demands of a type who is spiritually elevated? By nature you are far from understanding their spiritual sensitivity to what is moral. Apparently, the gap between the normal person and morally superior is larger than the gap between the normal person and immoral person. This is not because we are close to being immoral. It simply shows the heights to which a person can attain human greatness.

When we get to the last category something different happens. Why are we by nature incapable of fulfilling the obligation vis-à-vis the widow and orphan? If we work for the spiritually elevated and we cannot grasp their moral understanding, at least we have the ability to do so in potential.

However, we are completely incapable of understanding the needs and fulfilling our obligations and responsibilities towards the widow and orphan as long as we have not experienced what they’ve experienced.

We have to assume the employee is fully capable of doing his job. This is based on the assumption that the employer has normal needs and normal expectations, that come from a healthy love of life.

You cannot possibly succeed in understanding the needs of the widow and orphan if you have not gone through what they’ve gone through. Their tragedy has cut them off from the capacity to fully love life. Their loss has deprived them of the “good eye” that is required in order to experience inner joy in one’s outlook on life.

Circumstances have prevented them from having a natural love of life. Happiness is a quality that people possess naturally, so long as it has not been uprooted through circumstances which have robbed this natural quality from them.

This spurred one of our group to ask: What would Frankl say about this Talmudic commentary of Rav Kook?

We know that Frankl says happiness is a byproduct of meaning and meaning can be found in any situation. It would seem to follow that as long as there is meaning there will be happiness, because there is something to be happy about.

Yet Rav Kook is saying something is essentially changed in a person who has suffered a terrible loss. Along with the loss is a loss of “natural happiness.” This loss of happiness makes it very difficult to fully understand that person’s needs and do right by them.

Frankl talks about finding meaning through suffering or in spite of suffering, but does he speak anywhere about something having altered the person’s needs forever, that something is essentially changed in the person’s “natural capacity for happiness”?

I posed this question to our course leader, Teria Shantall, who studied from Frankl. I will post her answer tomorrow. Until then, think about it.

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