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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part V: The Place of Handicaps in Human Achievement

Chapter 1

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.
     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 added responsibility.
     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

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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 2:18).
     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 total restraint.
     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 to

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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:

     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.

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     An early 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.

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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 faith.
     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:

     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.

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Indeed, for two periods, each of several years, any attempt at bookish occupation would have been merely suicidal.
     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.

      It has 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 reads:

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)

5. Lewis, R. B. W., The American Adam, Chicago Univniversity Press, Phoenix Books, 1959, p.81.

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     Yet in a peculiarly exasperating paradox the very abundance of peace and good will in the new Eden seemed to be making creative activity impossible. . . .

     People often 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: (6)

     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 do.
     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, p.212.

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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

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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 time.

     In a somewhat similar vein, the anthropologist, A. L. Kroeber, in writing about two tribes of natives in California, the Yurok and the Karok, said: (8)

. . . 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 invaded them.
     (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.

     Here, then, 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 (9)

. . . 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 infrequent.

7. Daily Commercial News, editorial, July, 1950.
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.

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     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 destroy it.
     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:

      Relations between groups, even of different tribes, are almost equally amicable. No such thing as a chronic state of hostility exists.

      Claude 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, 1952, p.28.
12. Dixon, Roland, The Building of Cultures, Scribners, New York, 1928, p.278.

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     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.

     Toynbee popularized 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. (14)
     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:

     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.

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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:

     [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, 1971, p.22.

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     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.

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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 in Christ?

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.

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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