Table of Contents
Part V: The Place of Handicaps in
Where Hindrance is Help
HISTORY IS FULL
of surprises. Time and time again it is the most unlikely people
who achieve great things, whereas the most promising and favoured
individuals turn out to be dismal failures. This is as true of
secular history as it is for the children of God.
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The two Sauls of the Bible are
a case in point. One was "a choice young man, and a goodly:
and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person
than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any
of the people" (1 Samuel 9:2). Here, surely, was the stuff
of human greatness; and yet he failed miserably in his calling.
And the other Saul was precisely the opposite: "His bodily
presence is weak, and his speech contemptible" (2 Corinthians
10:10). And yet he proved to be a giant among men in the things
of God. The first lost a crown that he seemed ideally suited
to wear, and the second achieved a crown for which he must have
seemed totally unfit.
One might suppose from this that
the natural endowments with which we have been born and with
which culture and education have provided us should be dispensed
with if we wish to serve God acceptably. God does indeed seem
to delight in choosing men of inability rather than men of ability,
as the world views these things, and therefore it would seem
to be an advantage to be unimpressive in stature and speech if
we wish to serve the Lord acceptably. But I'm sure this is a
mistake for reasons which will be discussed later. Such "gifts"
should be viewed as talents to be used, and they bring with them
But one of the most surprising
things about human nature is the capacity to suffer handicaps
graciously, even when those handicaps appear to be totally debilitating;
and by contrast people are unable to benefit in the same way
from prosperity and the possession of outstanding gifts. We meet
people who seem to have had every opportunity and are endowed
with many natural gifts and yet who achieve little
or nothing, and whose
lives are filled with frustration and boredom. By contrast we
meet people whose circumstances of life are (or seem to us to
be) absolutely appalling because of some congenital deficiency
or acquired sickness, and yet they are delightful people whose
company is stimulating, whose conversation is rewarding and whose
achievements put us to shame. Handicaps which one would suppose
must be totally destructive of all hope of accomplishing anything,
prove for them to be stepping stones to achievements which are
beyond belief. In the world, one constantly runs across this
apparent anomaly -- among writers, among soldiers, among explorers,
among artists; indeed, in every area of human endeavour. And,
interestingly enough, even in the physical order of things there
are many illustrations of the fact that bondage of some kind
is essential to freedom, that restraint is necessary to flight,
or, to shift the metaphor somewhat, in a unique way glory involves
a kind of weight (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I do not mean by this that all
handicapped people are achievers, nor that we should seek handicaps
as an aid to success. Just because Paul's speech was contemptible
and yet so powerful in its effect, we should not cast away any
eloquence we may happen to have in the hopes of achieving the
same effect. There may be a temptation sometimes to lower one's
standards, to scramble one's diction, in the presence of an audience
of the less educated in order to become "one of them."
But this is, I believe, to adopt a posture of "voluntary
humility," that sort of conscious humility of a deliberate
kind with an ulterior motive, which Paul condemns (Colossians
I mean only that handicaps do not,
in themselves, prevent achievement: indeed, a case may almost
be certainly made for the thesis that the absence of hindrances
of some kind is more likely to lead to failure than their presence
is. While we are chafing at the bit and feel how good it would
be to have the bit removed, this very restraint may be unconsciously
the source of our encouragement to proceed. It is only when the
restraint is total that we may be totally incapacitated.
A little restraint may actually be an encouragement, whereas
no restraint at all may surprisingly serve the same purpose as
I remember a nice dog who was chained
to his kennel quite close to a country road along which we used
to enjoy taking a walk. When we went by he would bark furiously
and tugged for all he was worth at the end of the chain, ending
up supported entirely on his hind feet. Then in his eagerness,
his hind feet would carry him further forward until he toppled
over backwards. We used to wonder whether the chain would really
protect us. But one day it snapped while he was going through
this performance, and the effect of the sudden freedom was comic
behold. After a moment
of shock, he turned around and fled to the shelter of his own
front door, where he lay down meekly and gave all the appearance
of being thoroughly ashamed of himself. We don't really know
what we would do if all the hindrances in our lives were suddenly
removed and we were given complete freedom. Probably most of
us would have a nervous breakdown, a fact which Erich Fromm explores
in his Escape From Freedom.
The physical order is filled with
illustrations of how restraints of various kinds are essential
for progress. The derailed train soon comes to a halt. While
the rails limit its freedom, the very nature of these limitations
provide the basis for its forward movement. Anyone who has tried
to fly a kite will know that the string must be secure at the
ground or the kite will come tumbling down. It must be held against
the wind or it will not fly. In Olympic Games we are constantly
seeing old records shattered and new records made. And were it
not for certain regulations governing how men are to compete,
there is no question that even more surprising feats would be
performed. Wendell Phillips speaks of the native African Watusi
who with a little training can jump to a height of well over
seven feet. (1)
But they are barred from national tournaments because they refuse
to jump without the aid of a rock held in each hand. The principle
is that as the initial thrust is given from the ground by the
legs, the hands are also thrown upwards so that the stones have
the effect of increasing the thrust against gravity with the
result that a higher jump is possible. But this is not considered
"cricket" in Olympic competitions.
Yet, curiously enough, in the forerunners
of modern Olympic Games, this principle of enhanced performance
was quite acceptable. One report has it: (2)
Stone weights were used by six
century B.C. athletes in an application of a principle of physics
that plays today an important role in jet propulsion.
Greek broad jumpers held a weight
or a "haltere" as it was called, in each hand behind
their backs. When they started their jump, they swung the weights
forward so that their legs and arms were almost parallel when
in mid-air. Just before landing, the weights were swung back
again. This caused the jumper's legs to shoot forward, thereby
lengthening the distance of the leap.
The physical principle, conservation
of momentum, as applied to early sports, is discussed in the
October, 1954, American Journal of Physics by Prof. E.
C. Watson of the California Institute of Technology.
1. Phillips, Wendell, "Further African
Studies," Scientific Monthly, Mar.,1950. p.173.
2. "Early Greek Athletes Used Jet Principle," The
Science News Letter, Nov. 20, 1954.
sports writer by the name of Aristotle comments on this by writing:
"that is why athletes jump further with weights in their
hands than without."
I believe that
this principle has been adopted even in Nature. I have read that
Canada Geese, before they make their long migrations in the spring
and fall of the year, have been observed to ingest a number of
small round pebbles. The purpose of this does not seem to be
to assist in the processes of digestion, and it is possible,
therefore, that these stones do not find their way into the bird's
crop but further along in the digestive tract. Ornithologists
have suggested, very reasonably, that by increasing their body
weight the birds are adding to their inertia and thus improving
the action of their wings. A very light bird with a strong thrust
in its wings would inevitably lose a fair proportion of this
thrust if the effect of it was to lift the body each time rather
than to depress the wing. By increasing the inertia of the body
the thrust of the wings is favoured and the bird's forward movement
is made more effective.
Thus in all these instances we
have a parable of sorts. We may jump higher or further, or fly
better by carrying an additional load. What must seem superficially
to be only a handicap then turns out to be a help.
Under the title, "Disabilities,"
the English medical journal, The Lancet, some years ago
published a series of articles providing firsthand accounts of
what patients themselves thought of their disabling diseases.
(3) One of these
accounts was written by a doctor who contracted Encephalitis
lethargica at the age of 29.
In vivid language he describes
the relentless course of this disease. First his hands began
to vibrate, then writing became illegible, then he could no longer
remember the names and faces of patients. Later on, walking became
so difficult that it was easier to walk backwards than forwards;
and eating also became a most difficult task, salivation being
excessive. In time his eyelids began to stick to his eyeballs.
Finally only one finger responded to his desires and it was with
this finger that he tapped out the articles he wrote. In spite
of this, in due time he became known as an author, and two of
his plays were broadcast by the BBC. Then this one finger began
to fail. Despite these terrible handicaps, the author described
himself as "a happy man with dozens of compensations."
The closing words of his article are remarkable:
How has this disease affected my character
and my temperament?
3. "Disabilities," Lancet, Dec.
4, 1948, pp.904 ff.
All for the better, I think. I can bear
the keenest disappointment with almost complete equanimity. .
. . I'm now much more sympathetic, and can better understand
other people's foibles, peculiarities, bothers, and ailments.
My belief that man possesses a
separate entity apart from his husk of a body has been greatly
strengthened by my experiences. I sit, as it were, inside my
carapace, watching my person behaving in its vile fashion, while
my being is a thing apart, held a prisoner for a time.
This rather queer sensation of
being outside one's self has been exaggerated by my complaint;
it is most comforting, and strengthens my faith that there is
not complete extinction ahead, but a better deal in a new life.
It would be
a mistake to suppose that this is always the effect of suffering.
Some men are not ennobled by it, but embittered. What it does
demonstrate is that handicaps will sometimes bring out in people
extraordinary hidden resources. Such is the potential of human
nature. Nor is this potential limited by any means to those who
are the Lord's children. I have observed or read about as many
such cases among those who make no profession whatever of Christian
For example, one of the most entertaining
and informative works dealing with the discovery and exploration
of North America by the White Man is a book by Francis Parkman
entitled, "Pioneers of France in the New World."
Parkman undertook to re-traverse all the voyages taken by
the great explorers, such as Champlain, whose history he traces.
Moreover, he made the journeys thus undertaken using virtually
the same modes of transportation. This policy was, of course,
time consuming indeed, but it enabled him to describe what he
experienced in a uniquely firsthand manner, and it also, unexpectedly,
enabled him to identify certain landmarks recorded by Champlain
which hitherto had not been confirmed. Parkman's descriptions,
as a result, are remarkably vivid. Without the somewhat lengthy
introduction with which he prefaces his record, one would certainly
not imagine under what extraordinary handicaps he had undertaken
a tremendous task. Here are his own words: (4)
To those who have aided him
(the author) with information and documents, the extreme slowness
in the progress of the work will naturally have caused surprise.
This slowness was unavoidable.
During the past eighteen years
the state of his health has exacted throughout an extreme caution
in regard to mental application, reducing it at best within narrow
and precarious limits and often precluding it.
4. Parkman, Francis, Pioneers of France
in the New World, Little, Brown, Boston, 1897, p.xxv.
Indeed, for two periods, each of several
years, any attempt at bookish occupation would have been merely
A condition of sight, arising from
kindred sources, has also retarded the work since it has never
permitted reading and writing continuously for much more than
five minutes and often has not permitted them at all.
often occurred to me on a number of occasions that two circumstances
may contribute to a fruitful pen. One is that writing per
se, as a physical act, should be very difficult; and the
other is that there should be no time to do it, that life should
be so busy, so filled with other necessary occupations. I used
to suppose that the great literary giants of our own and of former
times, sat down at a desk, touched pen to paper, and beautiful
English flowed effortlessly. Undoubtedly there have been a few
who worked in this way. But on the whole the record seems to
be otherwise. Some of the greatest of literary figures of the
past have left on record how great a struggle they had to produce
a decent English sentence. Occasionally they were inspired so
that writing was effortless. But most of the time they had to
polish and rewrite again and again. John Galsworthy was one of
these for whom the process was very slow, occupying many years.
Charles Lamb apparently rewrote everything three or four times.
What seems so effortless when we view it as a finished thing
from someone else's hand and which discourages us because our
own first efforts compare so badly can serve to teach us that
very few great things are achieved easily and that those with
the greatest handicaps or -- which is somewhat the same thing
-- with the least self-evident aptitude, can often produce the
greatest work. So much depends upon the stamina and internal
fortitude of the individual. There is a little quatrain which
One ship drives East, and one drives West
With the self-same winds that blow.
'Tis the set of the sail, and not the gale,
Which determines the way they go.
R. B. Lewis,
in his book The American Adam, which was described by
Malcolm Cowley as the first really original book on the classical
period in American writing that had appeared for a long time,
described how American literary efforts seemed to be only meager
while the country was still in a struggling pioneer stage and
while it was seeking to establish a true autonomy against much
opposition. He told how, once this struggle was essentially over
and nationhood truly born, it was optimistically predicted that
a great American literature would emerge. But Lewis observed:
5. Lewis, R. B. W., The American Adam,
Chicago Univniversity Press, Phoenix Books, 1959, p.81.
a peculiarly exasperating paradox the very abundance of peace
and good will in the new Eden seemed to be making creative activity
impossible. . . .
find, when much studying is demanded of them, that absolute quiteness
can be a hindrance, not a help. In an article entitled, "Laziness
and the Scholarly Life," Leonard Carmichael wrote:
Many students find it helpful
to set mild punishments for themselves if their allotted daily
tasks are not performed. Most scholarly workers indeed find that
they must solve the problem of not allowing apparently unfavorable
environmental conditions to interfere with work that they must
It is helpful to remember that
psychological experiments on distraction show that interpolated
noise or other unpleasant interruptions, instead of cutting down
work actually may at times have a so-called "dynamogenic"
effect, and make the individual do more and better work when
the distraction is present than when it is absent.
Thus the scholar who complains
of the radio in the next room, the glare of the library light,
or the whispering of his companions is beginning to show dangerous
signs of blaming his surroundings for his own shortcomings.
On one occasion
we had a visitor from a nearby city who was sitting in the dining
room with us drinking a cup of coffee. After a few moments in
which the conversation had lagged, he suddenly looked up and
said, "I couldn't stand this!" I said, "What do
you mean -- the silence, the quietness?" And he said, "Yes.
It would drive me to distraction." How often do we ourselves
complain that we cannot meditate, study the Word of God, or turn
to the Lord quietly in prayer for others -- when the Spirit moves
us -- because there is too much distraction, too much noise.
David said, "Oh for the wings of a dove! Far away would
I fly and be at rest" (Psalm 55:6). But I believe he was
wrong, though the sentiment sometimes appeals to us all. The
truth is that men and women do retreat from the clamour of life
into monasteries and nunneries, and have been doing so for nearly
2,000 years, in the belief that only by so doing could they fulfill
an earnest desire to live as unto the Lord. And yet history has
shown that the disciplines which the world imposes upon us are
absolutely essential for a healthy spiritual life and that to
remove such disciplines entirely is to court disaster unless
some other kind of discipline can be imposed upon us by other
means. In those monasteries where discipline was very rigid,
a fair proportion of
6. Carmichael, Leonard, "Laziness and
the Scholarly Life," Scientific Monthly, April, 1954,
the cloistered developed
a godly character, though often of a very narrow sort. But those
which did not impose an adequate discipline become hotbeds of
corruption of the worst kind.
Returning again to what may
loosely be called the non-Christian world, we may consider the
extraordinary circumstances surrounding the life of Helen Keller.
Here was a child who enjoyed a more or less normal life for only
a few months and who then had the appalling misfortune of losing
both sight and hearing together. Thereafter she lived in the
most profound of all tombs, a sightless and soundless world.
It is quite impossible for us to conceive of what this means.
Fortunately for Helen, her father was able to provide a remarkable
teacher, Miss Sullivan; and equally fortunate was the fact that
the family enjoyed the personal friendship of Alexander Graham
Bell, whose special interest was in the field of sound and of
hearing. Although it was not until Helen's early teens that Miss
Sullivan was able to break through into her consciousness and
find a way of opening up an effective means of communication
by "speaking" into her hand, the story of Helen's first
awakening to the meaning of speech and to the significance of
the spoken word, even though only tapped out with the fingers,
is a moving one indeed. For the first time in her life, Helen
seems to have discovered how to break out of this tomb of silence
and darkness, and communicate with those who were living in another
world, a world of light and sound. From that moment, and it all
happened in a moment, Helen came to life as a human being.
The handicaps under which she continued to live were still unimaginably
great, and yet such is the potential of the human spirit that
she learned first to speak with her fingers, and then to read
and write. Later she learned to speak audibly as a result of
the patience and devotion of her friend, Graham Bell. She learned,
by actual contact with musical instruments, to enjoy music and
even, in her own way, to respond to music in song. Her face became
animated, her life became full. She proved to be an inspiration
to thousands of others who were either blind or deaf and dumb.
Very few others, as far as records
go, were handicapped in both these ways as Helen was handicapped.
That she should become an inspiration to those who suffered only
one such handicap should silence all those who believe that great
achievements are only possible where circumstances permit. In
a way, like Napoleon, Helen did not wait for opportunities; she
created them. Yet there is an element of truth, nevertheless,
in the fact that some of us are more limited in our capacities
than others, and that whether we were given opportunities or
denied them, we should remain much the same as we are. Once
again it is necessary
to emphasize the point that handicaps do not in themselves promote
achievement. It is only that they need not hinder it where the
will to achieve is present.
Interestingly enough, even in the
matter of willpower, there may be a sense in which it also is
dependent to some extent upon resistance. Curiously, a life lived
at ease does not have the appeal that one might suppose it would
have. A few years ago, an editorial appeared in The Daily
Commercial News which reads as follows:
People are funny. Mention of
a tropical South Sea island brings visions of an idyllic life,
of happiness and ease, with complete freedom from everyday cares
and worries. But it doesn't work out that way.
Take the case in New Zealand, for
instance. The Socialist Government administers numerous islands
and island groups in tropical waters, and it has been found that
the more pleasant the surroundings appear to be, the unhappier
are the residents. There are lots of volunteers for service in
these Edens, but it has been noted that even with cooks and a
surplus of native servants to wait upon them, the men quarrel,
develop nervous troubles, and are only too glad to leave when
the opportunity arises. Most of them never volunteer a second
In a somewhat
similar vein, the anthropologist, A. L. Kroeber, in writing about
two tribes of natives in California, the Yurok and the Karok,
. . . in a climate of no rigors on a river that gave them
an abundance of salmon, in a land full of acorns that were their
staple food, and for centuries no foreign foes nor even pestilences
(Yet) all the members of the society
whatever their congenital individual dispositions, had fear and
pessimism pounded into them from childhood on. They were taught
. . . that the world simply reeked with evils and dangers against
which one sought to protect oneself by an endless series of taboos
and magical practices.
is an environment which seems almost paradisiacal and yet, as
Kroeber observed, "the culture had gone hypochondriac."
This is by no means a unique situation. George P. Murdock wrote
descriptively of the Samoans who in times past, while still uninfluenced
by the White Man's bad manners, were living in an environment
which was bountiful indeed. And yet he said the Samoans
. . . live in a chronic state of war. Rarely is there a time
when neighboring villages somewhere in the island are not in
arms, and great wars involving two or more districts are not
7. Daily Commercial News, editorial,
8. Kroeber, A. L., Anthropology, Harcourt and Brace, New
York, 1948, p.309.
9. Murdock, George P., Our Primitive Contemporaries, Macmillan,
New York, 1951, p.63.
The Bible itself is not without an illustration, for
when Lot and Abraham found that the land could no longer accommodate
their vast flocks, they agreed to choose what was available,
namely, the plain of Jordan and the rest of the land of Canaan.
Genesis 13:10 says: "And Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld
all the plain of Jordan that it was well watered everywhere .
. . like the garden of the Lord." And this beautiful fertile
land became Lot's choice; yet it was the breeding ground of what
was perhaps the most utterly wicked fragment of civilization
at that time, so wicked indeed that God took unique steps to
By contrast, an Australian aboriginal
people, the Arunda, who live in desert conditions, where the
possessions of an individual can easily be carried in one hand
and where there is little clothing or shelter of any kind from
the weather even when there is frost, and no fixed or settled
abode of any kind since the people must be constantly on the
move either to keep warm or obtain food, are completely peaceful.
The same writer, Murdock, said: (10)
Relations between groups,
even of different tribes, are almost equally amicable. No such
thing as a chronic state of hostility exists.
Levi-Strauss said of these same people that they had developed
sociology -- the rules governing interpersonal relationships
-- to an extent unknown in the Western World. (11) We have here the contrast between an environment
which was almost entirely favourable, one would think, for the
promotion of human leisure and well-being, contrasted with an
environment which provided an extreme challenge in the opposite
direction. And in both situations we find the results entirely
the reverse of what one might suppose. In his book, The Building
of Cultures, written a number of years ago, Roland Dixon
rightly concluded: (12)
The great cultures of the world's
history, in the majority of cases, attain their commanding station
largely because a gifted people had the chance to become numerous
in a location favorably placed to receive the benefits of diffusion.
But something more was needed,
as a rule -- a habitat where nature was not too kind [my
emphasis]. For where environment supplies the ordinary human
wants with little labor, the urge of need does not seem enough
to lead to great achievements.
A "happy valley" has
rarely bred an outstanding culture. . . . Most of the great
cultures of the past had their rise in regions where, on the
borders of a harsh environment, keen and persistent effort ensured
a rich reward.
10. Ibid., p.45.
11. Levi-Strauss, Claude, Race and History, UNESCO Publication,
12. Dixon, Roland, The Building of Cultures, Scribners,
New York, 1928, p.278.
It might be thought obvious that a life of complete
ease and freedom from all stress would result in the development
of a peaceful character. One generally supposes that the native
who spends half his time sitting at ease under a tree reflecting
upon the beauties of Nature while completely freed from any anxiety
about how he would feed himself, clothe himself, or keep warm
in the months to come would be good-natured in every respect.
With animals this may well be true (in so far as they reflect
at all) -- the contented cow for instance: but with man this
is certainly not true historically. Uniformity of environment
in its total sense (food, clothing, etc.) reduces man to something
less than he should be and introduces into his nature a measure
of instability which he is not trained to deal with. As a matter
of fact, this may not only be true in terms of psychological
well-being but even of physiological well-being. In a recent
BBC interview with Sir Charles Tennyson (I think a grandson of
Alfred Lord Tennyson, the poet), Sir Charles -- who is 91 years
old and considers himself typically healthy for his age -- stated
his belief that the measure of health he enjoyed was really due
to the fact that he had never been completely healthy during
most of his life. He said: (13)
I'm not arthritic, or deaf,
or blind, or fat. I do not seem to have a weak heart or lungs.
My brain has retained its abilities, such as they are, reasonably
well. I cannot eat, drink, or smoke as much as I would like --
but then I never could. I console myself with a saying of my
beloved stepfather, Augustine Burrell (who in spite of chronic
indigestion lived to be 83), that the surest recipe for a long
life is never to feel really well.
the generalization that the type of environment most conducive
to human development is one sufficiently changeable to pose constant
challenges, but not so severe as to prevent successful responses.
It is important that the challenges,
the threats, the tensions should not be so severe as to cripple
the individual. As Kluckhohn observed in his attempt to form
a conception of what personality is and how it is formed: (15)
It is important to note that
it is not a tensionless state, as Freud supposed, which is generally
most satisfying to a healthy organism, but the process of
reducing tension; and, other factors being equal, the degree
13. The Listener, BBC, London, July
8, 1971, p.39.
14. Toynbee: quoted by Rene Dubos, So Human an Animal,
Scribners, New York, 1968, p.165.
15. Kluckhohn, Clyde and Henry Murray, Personality in Nature,
Society, and Culture, Knopf, New York, 1950, p.15.
of satisfaction is roughly proportional
to the amount of tension that is reduced per unit of time.
This is a generative
idea because we are easily misled. Supposing that if all our
handicaps, our sources of frustration, and physical restraints,
in short all the bases of tension were removed, we should probably
not surge forward productively but die of sheer boredom. It may
well be, in fact, that the violence of our time is unconsciously
a search for tension, because survival now presents so little
challenge in our affluent society.
I suppose if we were searching
for the opposite extreme environment, where it might be assumed
that man as a human being would be utterly destroyed, it would
be either in a concentration camp or in prison in isolation under
sentence of death in a foreign land. To suffer with others may
conceivably soften the burden by reason of its being shared,
and yet for the sensitive soul the very sharing of it with others,
in whom the worst elements of human nature are brought to the
surface, may only contribute to the agony. At any rate history
of recent years demonstrates that in spite of the fearfulness
of such conditions, men may be curiously benefited, even during
the experience and not merely as an after effect.
One of the great humanitarian psychiatrists
in central Europe was himself confined, and survived, in a Nazi
concentration camp. Viktor Frankl, now internationally known
for his work as a psychiatrist in Vienna, unhesitatingly admits
that his experience in the camp enormously extended his understanding
of himself and of human nature in general. He found himself able
to stand aside and observe what was taking place, almost as though
his real self was free and independent of the circumstances which
enveloped him as much as they did the rest of the prisoners.
In a sense he was purified and "emptied," in so far
as purification and emptying of self is possible apart from conscious
Christian experience. Certainly the situation did not present
insuperable barriers to further personal growth, and afterwards
his capacity for understanding of others was enormously and rewardingly
increased. Charles Hampden-Turner said: (16)
[Frankl] had to experience the
degradation of a concentration camp to discover how powerful
was his human capacity to emit [i.e., to formulate], meaning
in the face of chaos. His light shone all the more brightly because
the darkness was so total. When aid and comfort were finally
extinguished in his surroundings, he discovered a personal power
which . . . sustained him.
16. Frankl, Viktor: according to Charles Hampden-Turner,
Radical Man, Schenkman Publishing Co., Cambridge, Massachusetts,
Similarly, both Arthur Koestler and Anthony Grey were
in some extraordinary way set free in an entirely new sense by
solitary confinement in a hostile country, the former under the
Spanish authorities and the latter under the Chinese. It is often
said that solitary confinement is the most inhumane of all punishments
inflicted on human beings. Whether it always is so or not is
hard to say, for there are some kinds of people to whom loneliness
is unbearable whereas others are not greatly troubled by it.
So much depends upon previous associations and the extent to
which one has been surrounded by friends or family. At any rate,
in a recent conversation between Koestler and Grey (17) arranged for broadcast
by the BBC, there is an interesting measure of agreement, to
the effect that both men began to discover a new sense of freedom
in their confinement, almost a sense of enjoyment, of sufficient
intensity that release brought with it not only relief but in
a small measure a feeling of regret. In both cases these men
gained something by the experience. Total deprivation was not
a total loss. Koestler was only thirty-two when he was imprisoned
under sentence of death and daily witnessed the removal of other
prisoners one by one to be taken out and shot. Under the impact
of this "shattering experience" and during the first
two months after his release, he wrote his Dialogue With Death.
Though the experience was indeed shattering, it nevertheless
opened up to him an entirely new sense of the meaning of life.
When asked by Grey if others would experience a similar gain,
such as he himself and Koestler had both shared, Koestler said,
"I think the opposite. I think it depends on the individual.
I have seen the opposite -- people becoming nastier and bloodier."
While Koestler and Grey felt that solitary confinement was better
for them individually than confinement with others, they agreed
that most other people would prefer company. But Koestler observed
of such company that if it were a crook, he would come to hate
his crookedness, and even if it were a saint, he would come to
hate his saintliness. He felt that solitary confinement was like
a kind of spiritual hothouse, and that in it he developed a sympathy
with other people, which he had never experienced before. In
his Dialogue With Death, he said that in the Seville death
house there was a paradoxical sense in which he felt strangely
most free. Grey seems to have shared the same feeling.
Confinement per se may have
surprising compensations, even though the whole idea seems repugnant
to most people. There are a few lone spirits who prefer solitude
to company, but even these people
17. Koestler, Arthur and Anthony Grey: The
Listener, BBC, London, July 1, 1971, pp. 9-11.
would object if isolation
were forced upon them. Curiously enough, a few who have
known nothing else than confinement in solitude from childhood
onward, have found freedom and company less to their taste than
they expected. One of the most famous cases of this kind involved
a certain Caspar Hauser who was kept in a tiny dungeon (in which
he could not even stand up), separated from all communication
with the world, from early childhood till about the age of seventeen.
(18) He was "discovered"
on May 26, 1828. Naturally, he was made much of thereafter, having
survived the ordeal with remarkable little damage to his body
or his spirit. Pictures of him show a dignified bearing (though
he had some difficulty walking), and a quite sweet and gentle
face. The thing which is of interest here is that on many occasions
after he was freed, he said he longed for his solitary confinement
again -- despite the almost total darkness there, the absence
of even room enough to lie down stretched out (he had to sleep
sitting), with only just enough food to keep him alive. His sole
companion was a worn out toy horse. He constantly referred to
this dim, dark, silent tomb as the place of his former happiness.
He longed to go back "to his home in the hole." Just
before his most unfortunate end (he was assassinated in circumstances
which suggest that he was in fact a person of some consequence)
he said, "I wish I had never come out of my cage."
It does not appear from the evidence
that there is any circumstance involving handicaps, even of the
most extreme kinds, which may be not merely overcome by the individual
but turned into a channel of blessing. And this, it should be
remembered, is the evidence derived from the experience of men
and women who have not made any specific profession of faith.
It includes people who were reduced to the movement of one finger
and lost even that, who were reduced to total silence and darkness,
who were reduced to solitary confinement virtually without hope
of survival, who were reduced to living where the chances for
achieving any amenities in life were virtually absent. If this
is the potential of human nature in Adam, what ought we to expect
18. Singh, J. A. L. and Robert M. Zingg, Wolf-Children
and Feral Man, Archon Books, Harper & Row, New York,
1966, pp.294, 305, 319, 320, 355.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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