Saturday, 30 May 2009

Existential Vaccum Revisited

One of my favourite books of all time is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl, who founded the clinical psychological technique called logotherapy, was a resident at the Nazi-German's concentration camps during World War II. In the first part of the book, Dr. Frankl wrote about his observation of how some of his fellow inmates were able to withstand all the sufferrings while some others quite simply gave up, refused to try, and eventually die. Those who survived, according to Dr. Frankl, had one thing in common - they all had reasons to live and those reasons kept them alive no matter what.

In the second part of his book, Dr. Frankl explains what he believes to be a modern phenomenon - the existential vacuum. Dr. Frankl believes the reason why many people today are stressful and depressed is because they do not have a reason to live. Today, there are many who live their lives based on hedonistic principles where everyday is just like any other day to maximise pleasure and minimise stress. Not much thought is given on how one may contribute to more profound goals in live, and on how to carry one's responsiblities beyond the essential and necessary.

We are servants of God, children of our parents, parents to our children, members of our organisations etc. All these ought to give us many reasons to live to fill-up the existential vacuum which Dr. Frankl had explained.

Perhaps Dr. Frankl wasn't quite right to say that there is a vacuum. The reasons to live are there and they are part of our existence regardless of whether we know and understand them. Perhaps the real challenge is to be conscious of and internalise the right reasons to live. When a fanatical football fan kills himself when the team he supports loses a championship game, his problem is not that he does not have a reason to live. His problem was having the wrong reason for his existence.

My life today revolves almost entirely around my family. My children especially, are my reasons to live and persevere come whatever may. But sometimes I do wonder, is that a good enough reason to define my existence?

6 comments:

suhailie said...

salam....long ago,i do read some article saying that, everything we do in this world (worldly matter) is only our part-time job. our actual full time job is to be the servant of Allah...

maybe you can give your view on that. thank you.

suhailie said...

i mean, the reason of our existence is to be the servant of Allah and at the same time His khalifah.

Zaki Samsudin said...

Suhailie, as always, thanks for the comments.

As Muslims, we believe that we are Allah's vicegerents (khalifah) on earth. And indeed we are servants of Allah. We fulfill this role by observing our responsibilities as parents, childrens, members of our community etc in accordance with the Shariah. This is without a doubt.

The dilemma I've raised in the last paragraph of my post concerns the issue of priority. For example, I have for a number of years now been persuaded by friends and associates to take a more active role in various organisations (political parties, NGOs etc). I've refused to do so so far frankly because I enjoy spending time with my family. I love playing with my kids and I just don't feel like going out the house to do anything else. One can say that I almost don't have a social life.

But then, while keeping abreast with issues in the society, I do at times think to myself that I may in fact have the responsiblity to do more for the society rather than just focussing on my family. Allah has given me some talents and skills (maybe even some knowledge) to be used for the betterment of others, arguably a bigger cause than just my own family.

To do so however, as a personally believe would require me to sacrifice some of my precious moments with my children. Emotional attachment, is no doubt a God-given gift that provides man solace and tranquility. But, is it also a liability?

suhailie said...

yet i cannot find the answer for your question. most of my friend do joined various group (jamaah), but not me. i don't know wether my choice is right or wrong....but i'm comfortable with my life now.

shamster said...

Salam w.b.t.

Instead of saying it's a liability, I'd personally prefer to consider it as an asset. As do many other things that give us solace and tranquility.

I see it this way. I have money, I worked to earn it, and do I claim full ownership to this money I gained? No. I personally think that most thing (if not everything) that has been given to us is an asset, tools for us to make more benefit from it, for us to develop it and pass it on.

That money, although we have worked for it lawfully, does not mean it is for us wholly. I usually felt this when I got good grades etc. and sometimes, even though you think you worked for it, there will always be a feeling of not deserving things that you have. Because you think there are others that deserve them better.

Knowledge, ability, charisma, vision, family, emotional attachment etc, are all bounties from God that we can never claim full ownership. Keeping it safe is not wrong at all, as in, you have 10 gold and you simply save it in your house for the right reasons. But isn't there any feeling of giving it away to someone who needs it more?

Some are blessed with time to spend with their children, some strives everyday just to have a way to meet their children. Some have good relationship with their family, yet some yearn just to repair the bonds between family members.

We can keep 10 gold for safety reasons or for rainy days, but we can also give 3 gold and keep 7, to ease a person of his/her burden. Both are good. It's simply a matter of choice.

I mean you no offence at all, but what I feel is that you should (and I honestly think you already are- blogging, teaching etc.) contribute more with what you have, without sacrificing too much that it will jeapordize your responsibilities as a loving father and husband.

*I say this with due respect that you have more experience in life than me. A piece of my mind :)

Zaki Samsudin said...

Salam Brother Shams,

Thanks for your wonderful comments. I probably should put it as a new post by itself :)

All-in-all, I believe it all comes back to the challenge of keeping a balance between one's responsibilities to the family and the society. Some people are capable of doing that while some others tend to overdo either one of it. For example, I can never understand and accept how some Tabligh brothers that I know spend many months every year in khuruj leaving their family behind. In fact, I used to know one family where both the husband and wife went for khuruj and left their children to the maid!

On the other hand, someone like me who prefers to almost always stay home with his family deserve to be criticised too. I appreciate your view that by teaching and blogging, I'm already contributing to the society to a certain extent but definitely I can do more without significantly effecting my duties at home. Even my wife at times has urged to reactivate my commitment to some of the organisations that I used to be part of. I do hope to do so but... an excuse I normally use is I no longer have the health and energy to do many things at the same time. Allahu'alam.

May Allah guide us all!