An Insufficient Why, Part II

The funny thing about conversation is that it has a way of bringing to the fore and making articulate ideas that were perhaps there, in your mind somewhere, but which were hidden. Perhaps they were active as motivations of actions, as half understood feelings or prejudices, or just as a gut reaction to something, but when you talk about them with someone else, and answer someone else’ question, they have a tendency to take shape in quite surprising ways.

The conversation with P was somewhat like this. I have been pondering Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” for several years now, especially his dictum, borrowed from Frederick Nietzche, “A man can endure almost any ‘how’, so long as he has a sufficient ‘why’.” It seemed self-evident to me at the time, since I was going through the Special Forces ‘Q’ course. It was not easy, but I endured it because I had a sufficient ‘why.’ At least it seemed to me that I had a sufficient ‘why.’

Perhaps I was a bit naive, but I more or less thought that the Special Forces motto, “De Opresso Liber” (To Liberate the Oppressed) was a serious job description. I envisioned them as being sent off to other countries to battle evil warlords, topple ruthless dictatorships, and rescue refugees. Perhaps at certain times and in certain places they have done these things. Afghanistan is a good example from recent history. However, after getting to know a number of Special Forces guys as instructors in the course I realized that most of them (not all, but most) regarded it as an opportunity to travel to exotic places, sleep with exotic women, and kill exotic people with no repercussions.

After that my sufficient why was pure cussedness. I decided God had put me there for a reason and I was learning a lot, so I was going to hang in there simply for the sake of hanging in there. I decided God had a plan, and I was just going to hang out and see what it was.

There was something that both P and I saw about the job, once we got here. It is fun. There are a lot of fun things that we do. We get to travel, we get to see strange places. I got to jump off the highest canyon swing platform in the world in Nepal, drink fresh chilled coconut milk out of a coconut on a beach in Thailand, ski for free at Mammoth Ski resort in California, learn to climb rocks at Red Rocks in Colorado. We have fun times. I get to shoot thousands of rounds, workout in world class gyms, and learn medicine for free. I get paid for it all.

The problem is that there is a corollary to Frankl’s statement. It is true that you can endure any circumstances, no matter how awful, if you have a sufficient reason. I have found that it is also true that if you do not have such a sufficient reason, the circumstances, no matter how fun, simply do not matter. This is why the richest people in the world, with the most leisure and recreation opportunities, cannot enjoy them. They do not have a reason.

There is an insufficient why in this job. No matter how cool some of the things I get to do are, they do not matter unless there is a reason for them. The older I get the more my priorities shift, and the more my priorities shift the more the army, the government, the whole question of politics and economy, nationalism, (dare I say it) Americanism, etc. all begin to seem too small. They feel claustrophobic, as it were. It isn’t that they are bad things. They are not, and the world is a better place for those who give themselves unselfishly to any of these goals, and the ends for which they rightfully exist (except, perhaps, nationalism.)

I, on the other hand, have seen that there is more in life. There is something worthier of time and effort and sacrifice. You see, America, the government, the nations of the world, programs, conflicts, all of these things are temporary. All of them are no more than dust in the wind. With the shifting of political and economic climates all of them will simply vanish and no more trace of them will be left.

Sometimes we get sidetracked by the fact that they are more visible than we are. We can see them stretching out for centuries, so there is a sense of history and heritage in them, but from the point of view of eternity that a thousand years are a blink of the eye.

The older I get, the more I figure, “Why bother?” There must be something more.

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