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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Victor Frankl’

Pursuing Positivity In The Digital Age

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl noted that “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Simply put, our emotional response to events has much to do with how we process events and the lens through which we view those events.

Born of this philosophy is the methodology of cognitive behavioral therapy developed in part by psychologists Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck, where the reduction of self-destructive thoughts and behaviors occurs through a process of examination and cognitive reframing.

More recently we hear about the field of positive psychology developed by individuals like Martin Seligman and advanced by Tal Ben-Shahar, who seek to not merely address negative thoughts and behaviors reactively, but to pursue happiness and life satisfaction through positive thoughts and behaviors.

In one study of positive interventions, “participants were asked to write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week. In addition, they were asked to provide a causal explanation for each good thing” while a control group did nothing. At the end of the study period, not only was it was found that the experimental group had higher levels of subjective well being (happiness) than the control group, it also displayed “increased happiness and de-creased depressive symptoms for six months” following the study.

The power of positive intervention and the active pursuit of meaningful happiness may be one of the most powerful tools we have to finding existential satisfaction. Nationally syndicated radio host Dennis Prager dedicates an hour each week to just that purpose. During the “happiness hour” the sole focus is the exploration of what happiness is, where it comes from and what we can do to maximize our connection to it.

One of the issues that emerge is how our ever-deepening relationship with technology affects the lens through which we view the world around us. While people report that their connectivity through cell phones and the Internet are critical and life-enhancing, numerous studies find that the greater degree of connectivity we have with our technology, the greater are our levels of anxiety and the lower are our levels of subjective well being.

While seeking to reduce the degree of connectivity may have some positive impact, for many of us this is not a realistic and lasting pursuit. However, addressing the qualitative nature of our connectivity and the lens through which we view digital engagement may have an even greater impact. Just as that aforementioned study suggested positive journaling will result in a more positive attitude, perhaps the nature of how we blog, text, status update and tweet could have similar results on our attitudes and perspectives.

In a 2011 study about twitter sentiment, Kouloumpis, Wilson and Moore, found that negative hashtags (i.e. #fail, #ihate, #worst) appeared at twice the rate of positive ones (#success, #thingsilove, #bestfeeling). Other studies find similar behaviors where individuals use the digital realm as a medium to impulsively and without inhibition express negativity, anger and discontent. Perhaps it is these behaviors that serve as reinforcement in viewing events through the lens of negativity, further cementing feelings of increased anxiety and decreased happiness.

I recently read a Facebook post from an unnamed source that stated, “Miserable people focus on the things that they hate about their life. Happy people focus on the things they love about their life.” A more correct statement would be “People who focus on the things in their lives that they hate tend to be unhappy. People who focus on the things in their lives that they love tend to be happy.”

A Jew Grows in Prison

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

David Arenberg has been many things – a tenants’ rights activist, a University of Chicago student, a deliveryman, a coke addict, a slum housing receiver, a swindler, a drug dealer and a prisoner.  But now he’s become a Torah aficionado, and is organizing the first Torah study group in a state prison in Arizona.  And soon, after nearly 12 years in prison, he’ll be free.

This reporter only recently became aware of an exceptionally compelling article written by Arenberg that was published in several places, including a 2009 report of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In that article, Arenberg describes the peculiar position he found himself in, as the only Jew in a state prison in Arizona, surrounded by white supremacists and various minorities, every single one of whom rejected and despised him because of his religion.

Arenberg’s loathsome status as a Jew placed him at the very bottom of the prison social strata.  He was not permitted to eat with any of the various ethnicities – black, American Indian, Mexican, Americans born of Mexican descent (mutual and virulent enmity), each of which dined it its own self-imposed ghetto, and he sure as heck was not allowed to eat with the whites.  Why? He explains,

Jews, as we all know, are not white but imposters who don white skin and hide inside it for the purpose of polluting and taking over the white race. The skinheads simply can’t allow me to eat with them: that would make them traitors of the worst kind — race traitors! But my milky skin and pasty complexion, characteristic of the Eastern European Ashkenazi, make it impossible for me to eat with other races who don’t understand the subtleties of my treachery and take me for just another ‘wood [poor rural white]. So the compromise is that I may sit at certain white tables after all the whites have finished eating.

His article is a must-read, both because it provides insight into a prison culture of southwestern America that resembles a nightmarish throwback to nazi-era Jew-hatred, combined with prison brutality, as experienced by someone utterly alone – there were no other Jews, no support system, and no way out.

But as vivid a vision as Arenberg paints, our interest at The Jewish Press was unquenched – how and why did Arenberg finally turn to Judaism while in prison? He was a completely secular Jew; his parents spurned any form of religious observance or rite.  They sent David to “socialist summer camp where I was taught that the most important spiritual value is “‘thou shalt never cross a picket line.’”

After a search that took days, and a request process that took longer, The Jewish Press finally scored an interview with Arenberg.

The biggest surprise was that despite the pain and loss and isolation, Arenberg comes across as a self-confident man with a belief in his intellectual abilities and an eagerness to rejoin society as a reoriented human being.  He was reluctant to use the word “rehabilitated” because he vehemently rejects the idea that prison is what rehabilitated him, or at least that it did so intentionally, with any successful effort or inclination.

There is no doubt that the David Arenberg who will emerge from prison in approximately five months is a different, a better and a more spiritual human being than the one who went in more than 12 years ago.

But the losses and the pain have been profound.

After his conviction and sentencing, Arenberg’s wife divorced him.  He’s not bitter, he said “‘for worse’ does not include long prison sentences.”  Both his mother and his father died while he was in prison, and he never had the chance to reconcile with them.

He’s never had children, and now he’s 57.

VICTOR FRANKL PHILOSOPHY

But Arenberg believes that the past 11 years have been the most productive – certainly the most constructive – of his life.  That is because he ascribes to the philosophy of the well-known psychiatrist who spent three years in Nazi concentration camps, Victor Frankl. Arenberg paraphrased Frankl’s philosophy, “you can’t choose the circumstances you find yourself in, but you can choose how you deal with them.”

Of course it is not true that Arenberg was blameless for ending up as the lone Jew in a prison populated by violent, vicious anti-Semitics, but it most definitely is true that he responded to the circumstances with astonishing resilience and a unique capacity to develop valued skills.  Those qualities rescued him from any number of cataclysmic mental and physical horrors beyond the ordinary ones faced by people doing serious prison time in a state prison filled with seething hatred and violence.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/a-jew-grows-in-prison/2013/05/25/

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