Will to Meaning

I have yet to meet anyone who cites that they are enjoying the new and profound challenges of this pandemic. In talking with a teacher last week, she cited how everything is harder from planning to teaching to going to the grocery store. None of this has gotten easier, physically, mentally, or emotionally. To quote Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, “This sucks. It really, really does.” The now famous/infamous assessment provided the Prime Minister seems blunt but accurate especially considering that he was trying to explain to his six year old son why trick-or-treating had been canceled. Yet, that’s life in this pandemic and we’re all in this together, pushing through to find our way forward.

Viktor FranklViktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who, most notably, survived the Holocaust and from those experiences, founded logotherapy. Frankl survived the concentration camps of both Auschwitz and Dachau, and, as a result, came to believe that humans are motivated by something called a “will to meaning.” Frankl experienced this amidst the Holocaust and cited observations and experiences associated with discovering meaning, amidst the most inhumane of conditions. In reflection, Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a (person) but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

Frankl passed in 1997 having lived to the age of 92. He never experienced the challenges of COVID-19 but lived through the Spanish Flu Pandemic, two world wars and the Central Europe’s version of the Great Depression. While unable to advise us in the present, I imagine Viktor Frankl would implore us to seek and find meaning amidst this ongoing crisis. Candidly, I struggle with this notion as I am more apt to place my hope in a vaccine so that everything can, “go back to normal.” But, what if Frankl was right? What if this chapter of our lives deserves a title? If so, what meaning does this hold for us and where do we want to be when a bit of normal is allowed to return to our lives?

As the pandemic stretches into this ninth month and cases rise to all time highs across our state, nation and world, I remain inspired by those who have found growth through grace. Those that have embraced the “suck” that Prime Minister Trudeau referenced and provided enduring support to help others find their way forward. In their wisdom, they have applied their will to meaning and in doing so, provided others with a leg-up amidst this ever-present struggle.

Last March, Dr. Anthony Fauci notably warned, “You don’t make the timeline – The virus makes the timeline.” While his words continue to ring true, the virus can determine the timeline but not our response. Let us continue to rally together to provide one another with the continued grace that we all need and deserve. We will all be better off as a result.

Tyler Ream
Learner, Educator and Proud Superintendent of the Helena Public Schools