Viktor Frankl, and the life of a forest

[T]here is no form of progress on which we can trustingly rely … inner progress is only actually possible for each individual, while mass progress at most consists of technical progress, which only impresses us because we live in a technical age. … How unconditionally do we have to believe in the meaning and value of human existence, if this belief is able to take up and bear this skepticism and pessimism?

-Viktor Frankl

I have been watching a documentary on the life of a forest. A forest is a good place to go with disillusionment about the many excruciating turns of technical ‘progress’ — a powertool that bores through every age to clamp people’s mouths shut while stripping their rights and starving their children, that drives human experiments on an increasingly global scale, to enrich and empower a few. Yes it brings us incalculable relief from disease and hard labor. And I am grateful for that. But …. Frankl cites a myth that the world is upheld by a mere 36 hidden righteous people: technical progress is too often owned by a handful of folks who are not righteous. ‘They bring ruin, and they practice abominable deviancy’ -Psalm 53.

Yet Frankl says that in the worst outward circumstances, inner progress is possible — he says that it is the only kind of progress we ever can make. And the forest reminds me that one individual’s progress is a rich life for many others.

A huge tree is not just there for itself: it shelters thousands of smaller lives, and rains down seeds. How did it begin this immense giving? — A fragile spiral of cells broke through a tiny hull.

Only one in thousands of these spirals will tower up into a shelter — but no seed goes to waste. They fuel the whole organism of the forest: they feed countless animals and enrich the floor that nourishes flowers, and the huge trees.

This documentary pointed out that fires are necessary for the health of a forest. A charred landscape can look like the end, but it isn’t. Intense heat kills parasites on the bark of old trees, and cracks some hulls that lie dormant until catastrophe forces them open.

‘… everything depends on the individual human being, regardless of how small a number of like-minded people there is, and everything depends on each person, through action and not mere words, creatively making the meaning of life a reality in his or her own being.’ -Frankl

In a forest, nothing self-giving is wasted. Even catastrophe isn’t wasted.

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