Several months ago, before anyone imagined the current crisis, I read a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl.
Frankl was a Jewish Viennese psychiatrist who was captured by the Nazis during World War II and managed to survive four concentration camps including the infamous Auschwitz and Dachau.
He went through the ordeal observing human behavior, and the result was his formulation of a system of therapy he called logotherapy.
Frankl found that those who were most successful, surviving under the most challenging circumstances, were those who retained a sense of meaning in their lives. That is, the real challenge that every person faces is not what’s happening outside of themselves but what’s happening inside.
In Frankl’s own words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
He continued: “Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
With all our talk about freedom, somehow its essence has gotten lost: human beings taking responsibility for their own life and the world around them. Human beings are causes, not results. They are free agents, not victims.
I can’t think of a more important message as we face these great challenges today as a nation and as individuals.
The whole idea of America was, and hopefully still is, freedom, which means America must be about individuals taking responsibility.
The country now faces two huge areas of uncertainty and lack of clarity.
One is regarding the nature of the health threat we are dealing with. I am still reading different opinions from knowledgeable sources about how lethal this virus is and the best way to stop it without totally shutting down and destroying our economy.
Second, we’re suffering great absence of clarity in government regarding who is responsible for what.
Times of uncertainty are times, in the spirit of Viktor Frankl, for individuals to step up and take responsibility.
But, unfortunately, we’re getting the opposite.
It’s obscene that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who held up the emergency stimulus bill to insert left-wing nonsense, accused President Donald Trump of fiddling while “people are dying.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer complained to the press, “We’re not getting what we need from the federal government.”
But this isn’t new. Back in February, Whitmer delivered the Democrats’ response to President Trump’s State of the Union address and went on for her full 10 minutes about the federal government not doing enough.
She touted her efforts to expand health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, meaning more bureaucratization of our hospitals and health care delivery, and creation of government health care incapable of flexibility to changing market realities, let alone dealing with a crisis.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking deserved heat for his delayed action in response to the crisis in his city. Weeks ago, he was on television talking about how this crisis could only be addressed by the federal government.
This is all the result of generations degrading the clear constitutional lines between the federal government and the states, resulting in massive growth of the welfare state.
But while Democratic governors and mayors and Speaker Pelosi use valuable time looking for who to blame, America’s private business is already churning to develop better and faster testing procedures, and soon we’ll see a drug to eradicate COVID-19.
Small and large businesses are deploying resources in new and creative ways that will pay great dividends when we emerge from this crisis.
Challenges are met by free, responsible people stepping into the void: exactly what Viktor Frankl was talking about.
Star Parker is president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education and author of the new book “Necessary Noise: How Donald Trump Inflames the Culture War and Why This is Good News for America,” available now on Amazon.com.