Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Search for meaning...

A photo taken in Egypt during the early months of my father's war experience.
El Alamein
The Battle of El Alamein happened 70 years ago and there have been ceremonies remembering that event. There were 7000 kiwi casualties with around 1300 killed. My father was in the Eighth Army in the NZ Artillery and fought in that campaign. As I read the reports of the veterans visiting friend's graves at the ceremonies I could not help but think of my father. He would have known many of those who were killed. He did not talk much about the war, but he did mention once to me how he had to give orders or make decisions that sometimes resulted in casualties. It was the nature of war that he had to take men into dangerous circumstances and ask them to fight. He rose to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major and I think the Battle of El Alamein had a major impact on his life. I remember him especially this weekend, he had/has a profound impact on who I am.
Frankl makes sense
I continue to be saddened by the things that happen in our community. I read of violence regularly and there are heaps of examples of senseless vandalism. Jewish graves in an Auckland cemetery were sprayed with swastikas. As I drove into the Church car park this morning there were signs that a group had a party there last night. Beer and vodka bottles were strewn around, a shopping trolly lay up against the building and a pipe had been torn off the wall and smashed. There have been an number of deaths on the road this holiday weekend. Many of those as the result of alcohol use. I had to deal with a situation where sexual harassment had been alleged during the week. I am astounded to read every week of young girls suffering abuse from men they should have been able to trust. At drop in centre on Friday night a guy kept saying to me "If ....... even looks at me, I'm goin' to smash his face in. I'm warning you Dave!" "No you're not. Not up here! Leave him alone. Stay clear of him." But this guy was a bit paranoid and the only way he knew how to deal with it was violence. Fortunately nothing untoward happened. Why violence? Why vandalism? Why abuse of alcohol? Why the abuse?
My mind went back to the You Tube clips I watched recently of Viktor Frankl speaking. He talks of the basic need for humans is to have a sense of meaning in life. Happiness is a by-product of living for a truly meaningful cause. When we pursue happiness she will always allude us. But when we live for some cause or meaning bigger than ourselves we find happiness. (Jesus said, "When we lose our life we find it." ) For Frankl, when people have no meaning they do meaningless things, like violence, vandalism, abuse of alcohol and drug taking. When we have no real meaning to live for we default to the "will to power" or "the will to pleasure", and sometimes the unrestrained will to power and pleasure. Our basic concern, according to Frankl, is "finding and fulfilling a meaning in life." He says that the "will to pleasure and the will to power are substitutes for the frustrated will to meaning." I see in chaplaincies, church and community work a deep poverty. So many people have no deep meaning in life. I like Frankl's perspectives. They are so relevant!
Reflecting on an illustrative conversation
I went for a walk with my friend this afternoon. She was asking about my Saturday and how I spent it. I told her about spending time at the Night Shelter/Phoenix Lodge cleaning and tidying. At Phoenix Lodge we offer transitional accommodation for people who come out of prison. She asked me, "Do you enjoy that?" I did not really know what to answer, so did not give a definitive answer.  We were cleaning up somebody else's unsavoury mess. At one level you don't really enjoy having to do that... but.. at another level I found it deeply fulfilling, and so I could have answered, "Well...Yes I enjoyed it."  Here is why. One of my deep meanings in life is to live in such a way that I help make life better for others. - To support and help facilitate others in finding a whole and fulfilling life. The purpose of Phoenix Lodge fits into that meaning, so even when I am cleaning up mouldy left over food for that bigger purpose, I find it rewarding, and at a deep level "enjoyable".  Happiness is a by-product.  Does that make sense?

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