Living Life Creatively

The upside of a downturn...

Point of view is essential in thriving during difficult circumstances. In his book Man's Searching For Meaning Viktor Frankl made a crucial observation about the psychology of those who survived the Holocaust and those who didn't. It was in the art of living. While in concentration camp he was determining that if there was meaning in life, then suffering had some meaning and mental attitude towards it determined the outcome of having suffered. This lead him to the conclusion that inner strength and refusal to surrender to the horrors of the concentration camp and instead looking to the future made the difference in who made it and who didn't.

While we live in an economic downturn that means a long term recovery period is ahead it cannot be compared to the horrors of a concentration camp. It means difficult times and the need to readjust standards of living but it is not the tragedy some people will take it as. Those are the people who will not do well because they are not looking toward the future down the road to better times but are living in the past and not accepting the present. Those of us who look across a barren empty lot and see the one flower blooming will flourish and see the future as blossoming into something better.

Yesterday I was driving through the high desert of dry grassland and off in the distance I could see the one large hardy tree that had drilled a taproot deep into the earth and was drawing water to live. I saw beauty in that landscape and that tree. It was a marvelous thing and had nothing to do with economic indicators being all down, whether the debt ceiling was raised by Congress, whether Obama settled for "The Deal." There was only one person who had any beauty in the questionable politics of the vote in Congress, although she may not match the political beliefs of some of us, in the ceremony of mockery our politicians made of our country she stood out.

It was Gabrielle Giffords who exemplified someone who tragically suffered at the hands of someone else and saw the future and fought not only to survive but thrive and come back from the calamity that struck her.

If we are to not only live and survive through the next decade in rebuilding our lives and our country we must adopt a vantage point of survival that is conducive to thriving and conquering arduous times. My suggestion is not only to live creatively, but devise ways to make what appears at first to be ugly, turning them beautiful. You do not need to be an artist to do this. You don't have to be able to paint, draw, take photographs or create videos, do crafts, lathe fine furniture, grow a beautiful garden. You simply have to find the aesthetic out of even the bleakest of scenes.

When I was growing up my father did work that took him to third and fourth world countries, some are now emerging economies but at the time they were not. Although we had to be mindful of our safety it was not as dangerous as today and we went to far flung places. The education I received was more than I could learn in any school. I will share one story that has stuck with me my entire life. It was in a place quite close to the US and under the most deplorable conditions we went to visit a family that he had come to know. They treasured knowledge and were especially grateful to him because he would bring them books. All over the walls of the shack they lived in a shantytown were cutouts from magazines or any source they could find of pictures of things of beauty. They might have come from advertisements that depicted something unique or a work of fine art. Outside the home was ugly, inside they were surrounded by pictorial items to inspire and comfort them.

There is a lot we can learn from that.


  1. This is beautiful and perceptive and timely in ways I can't begin to explain. But of course I'll try. :)

    I've always thought of myself as an upbeat and strong person, and I guess I usually am those things. Every once in a while, though, I'd be hit with feelings of...impossibility, I guess would be the best word for it. I don't know that it would be called depression (though it certainly feels depressing when it's happening, or as close to depression as I know, anyway) but it's just like every once in a while it feels like there's no hope. I don't mean the normal, "ahh, what ya gonna do?" sort of thing. I mean...hopeless.

    The thing is, even when I've felt these rotten feelings, there was always some tiny thing inside me which...I can't say it knew better, but it seemed to, enough to keep me going until something came along and kicked my butt back into positivity. I don't know what little part of me perceives this when everything seems bad, but I'm thankful for it. It's never let me down.

    I think it's extremely hard to keep perspective in our country these days. I also think it's probably always been that way in one way or another. I also think it's the feeling people among us who take some things much more seriously than we should. And on the flip side, I think a lot of us underestimate the value of things which no media outlet (I mistyped it "poutlet" and it fits LOL) or politician or maybe even any other average human being would care about. Life is tough enough without "fitting in" in any way, but when it comes right down to it fitting in is fashion, and style eclipses fashion every which way.

    Personally it's time to turn off the talking idiots, write some songs, smile at the sky (and the earth), get a decent job, and vote every chance I can. I'm not sure that's sanity, but it seems like the right approach.

    Awesome post, JR. Thank you for posting it.

  2. Your discussion here is thoroughly amazing. Victor Frankl is one of my heroes and Man's Search for Meaning is one of my favorite books. It is essential reading I think. You have taken it to a new level by applying it to a modern dilemma with the economic downturn and the debt crisis. That is sensible since, in this country anyway, we are not experiencing genocide. But many people do choose to take their own lives because they lose hope when they experience financial crisis and feel that their is no Light left and no solution for them. Their personal identity and self esteem is interwoven with their ability to maintain a decent job and a stable income to support themselves and their family. When they can no longer do this, they feel all is lost and their inner strength and reserve to continue on the journey dissipates.

    I love your image of the tree with its taproots deep in the soil drawing water to live, despite its dry environment and your allusion then to Gabrielle Gifford who suffered such an intense setback and could have easily given up, but whose life and heart were so deeply rooted in a love for her country and her constituency that she came to congress to vote on the debt ceiling and make a difference. She not only fought calamity, she once again made her mark where she felt it counted.

    Lastly, I love that you mentioned your father's work in countries where there was little to no economic infrastructure and people suffered greatly, yet found ways to make their lives beautiful and bearable. The image that struck me when you said it was that the house they lived in on the outside was ugly but inside, they were surrounded by pictures that inspired them. It is very much like a person isn't it. Outside, they may be poor and wanting and people may scoff at them and find them unacceptable but inside there may be an unimaginably beautiful soul and a perception of the world that if others only shared it, it might be utterly life changing. Thanks for this great post. I normally don't write this much but you inspire me. Hope that is okay.
    Peace and Light,